Saturday, November 30, 2019

Kayaking in the Great Marsh Preserve

Just north of Lewes is an amazing place, where bird song and tranquility dominate your senses. I'm talking about the Great Marsh Preserve -- 17 thousand acres of coastal wetland near the mouth of the Delaware Bay at Broadkill River. The preserve is adjacent to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. We visited in mid-October, after the summer migratory fowl had left for the season, but before most of the winter migratory fowl had arrived.

Still, the marsh was noisy with birdsong and activity. We saw numerous red-wing black birds and king fishers, several heron and egrets, and on our last day, we spotted two eagles.

One of Delaware’s few remaining wetlands, the Great Marsh Preserve offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy a variety of unique local fauna and wildlife. From towering pines, oaks, tulip poplars to a variety of long grasses, all home to a variety of bird such as red-wing blackbirds, wading birds such as egrets and heron, hawks, falcons, jays and kingfishers, and bald eagles.

Its vast natural network of waterways and inlets provide excellent fishing, bird watching, kayaking, and even hiking. It's really close to Lewes Beach and Cape Henlopen State Park, and well worth its own exploration -- it's a wonderful place to visit if you’re planning a daytrip to Lewes or if you’re staying close by.

We spent three days paddling around the Great Marsh Preserve in mid-October, experiencing its moody and surreal landscape at water level in late afternoon and at sunrise. Due to a nor'easter making its way north, the water level was about four feet higher than normal, but as the weekend progressed, the water levels lowered to normal levels.

Although we launched directly from the Lazy L Bed and Breakfast Inn, which is located on the shores of the Great Marsh Preserve, there are other access points. Visitors staying at the bed and breakfast are able to rent kayaks from Quest Kayaks directly from the inn.

I've got to say, kayaking in the Great Marsh Preserve reveals another world – a fascinating and complex ecology governed by the ancient forces of its tides. To experience this marsh is to experience a disappearing landscape -- less than half of Delaware’s original wetlands still exist.

We noticed several kingfishers, all nattering at us with annoyance for invading their space. We also saw numerous great blue heron, all keeping their distance and occasionally squawking at as they flew gracefully away. As we explored various inlets, we started several groups of ducks of one sort or another.

On our final paddle, early Sunday morning, we were startled by two majestic bald eagle, flying from a tree so close to us we could hear the air against their immense wings. I'd never seen a bald eagle in the wild so close, and the size of their wing span was impressive.

As we returned to the Lazy L at Willow Creek, we saw the two eagles again, perched high up above the bed and breakfast.

Getting there: 1 Great Marsh Cir, Lewes, DE 19958


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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth with a Chocolate Truffle Experience

A chocolate truffle is a type of chocolate confectionery, traditionally made with a chocolate ganache — a mixture of melted chocolate and warmed cream — cooled until firm, rolled, and coated with  chocolate, cocoa powder or chopped toasted nuts, usually in a spherical, conical, or curved shape. Their name derives from their resemblance to truffles, edible fungi.

Kelly, the owner of Chocolates by Kelly, and a fifth generation chocolatier, started us on our truffle-making journey by giving each of us a half bar of COLD butter, chopped into quarter-inch or smaller chips.

Then she instructed us to fold the butter bits into 6 oz dark melted chocolate, folding and mixing until melted. When the butter is all melted and the chocolate looks smooth as silk, add 2 oz chilled heavy cream and mix until the chocolate solidifies enough to hold up a spatula.

Kelly, the owner, dished out the melted dark chocolate for us.

After letting it rest a few minutes, using a teaspoon chunk out bite-size amounts of the chocolate mixture until all the chocolate is in the bite-sized amounts. Cut down on the mess by putting on gloves, but plan on there being a mess!

We poured out our finishes into little bowls: chopped nuts, coconut, sugar, coco powder, and so forth. We also picked out some spices. Kelly encouraged us to experiment with flavors. She suggested savory spices -- mint flakes, cloves, sage -- as well as chai powder, tumeric, sweet curry.

After we selected what we wanted to flavor the truffles with, we started rolling the truffles. For the flavorings, we put just a sprinkle or a few flakes in our palms as we quickly rolled the truffle. Then we dipped it into its covering.

It was a messy operation.

Our table got messy, our hands got messy, and yes, I may have licked the spatula, and of course, my face got messy. It was soooo much fun! It took about 90 minutes, but felt like 15.

There are several chocolate truffle recipes on the internet. Find one that works for you and start making that chocolatey goodness!

Looking for a fun outing with friends? Contact Chocolates by Kelly to determine when the next class in chocolate truffle-making will be!

Getting there: Short Pump Town Center, 11800 W Broad Street , Suite 2136, Henrico, VA 23233

Hours: Please check the website below for future truffle-making class offerings.


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Saturday, November 23, 2019

Going Wild at the Virginia Safari Park

I've enjoyed drive-through animal "safari" zoos several times, always delighting in seeing (and usually getting to feed) the animals. Kids will love it, but so will any but the most cynical of adults. And believe it or not, this makes a great winter daytrip!

The Virginia Safari Park was no different, and cool -- it's open all year round.

We got to see and feed a variety of animals, from an inquisitive elk cow to an curious ostrich, as we drove the three miles of gravel road through the park. During the drive, we fed animals through the car windows.

Other animals watched us from a cautious distance: a friendly pot-bellied pig, several wise-looking camels, and either rhea or emus (I couldn't tell which).

Although the animals are wild, they've also clearly adjusted to their situation. They're used to vehicles. They're used to being fed by humans -- this isn't quite the same as seeing a moose in the woods in Maine or a bison in Yellowstone National Park or a horned oryx in the deserts of North Africa. Same species, different behaviors -- no self-respecting elk is going to walk up to your car in Montana to scam a handful of feed.

Buckets of animal feed are available as you enter the park. The animals are free to roam, but they follow their instincts, which admittedly have adjusted for the free fed they receive from visitors to the park.

The llamas had clearly formed some sort of llama mafia and were working together to slow and then stop our vehicle, organized crime and criminal extortion, llama style. When one stopped my car, it was smirking. They don't move until you've given them their due.

Predatory animals, such as llamas, lions, tigers and wolves, and other more peaceful animals, including giraffes, rhinos, and giant anteaters, are held in a more traditional zoo setting, where you can walk from enclosure to enclosure to see and enjoy them.

Word of warning: All persons entering the safari park do so at their own risk. The park is not responsible for injuries to any individual or damage to any vehicle. Now, while that seems to be a fairly standard caveat, and you think, nothing can happen, weeeelll, we had an experience.

The water buffalo are very gentle but like the llamas, can be insistent. A cow came up to the driver's side window looking for food. I gave her some, and she then stuck her head in the back window, which was all the way down, looking for food there.

We gave her some there too. But then, as she pulled her head back, one of her horns gored the car's roof.

And she was stuck.

You have a lot of interesting thoughts when a water buffalo is stuck in your car and I'm not going to lie, I learned a lot about myself. Panic wasn't far away. I feared for my car. I vowed I would take up crocheting as my new hobby...

We called the park's staff and they came immediately to help the water buffalo (and us). We stayed in our car until they arrived, though. I reached back a few times to scritch between her horns -- she seemed to like that.

They were able to get her to move her head down and get free -- it didn't take long. She was very gentle, but a couple of times, she struggled, as if to say, "I'm done here now." During one of those struggles, she shattered the rear driver side window and slightly dented the door.

And of course, that's between me and my insurance.

Oh well. The important thing is, this gentle giant walked away unharmed by the experience, and unfazed, as she approached us again seeking food.

I did get a little nervous when the Texas long-horns (or they may have been ankole -- I couldn't tell you the difference and I'm not a cattle expert) showed up looking for food...

I'd go again in a heart beat. And again. And again. It was marvelous interacting with the animals and getting to see them up close. It was also pretty amazing to see how the llamas worked together to slow the cars and stop them so they could get more food. Smart beasts, those llamas!

Know before you go: Your vehicle will get messy and the animals specialize in knocking the buckets of food out of your hands. The llamas can be quite wily in their efforts to gain access to the feed -- they have incredibly long necks. The park offers car vacuum cleaners in the parking lot on the way out of the park, so you can clean up after your park experience. We were told we were the first to have our car window shattered, but I doubt that -- the water buffalo was way to unfazed by it -- it was almost as if she'd done it before...

Getting there: 229 Safari Lane Natural Bridge, VA 24578

Hours: The park is open year round, but check the website below for specific hours, as they change seasonally. Closed major holidays.


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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The National Zoo Can Be Daytripped on a Budget!

Visiting the National Zoo's 1,800 animals from 300 different species can be a great way to spend a happy day. I challenge you to visit them all!

Where a trip to the National Zoo starts to break the bank is for food. So simple solution: pack a healthy picnic -- there are several places where you can comfortably enjoy a picnic. Don't forget drinks, because you'll get thirsty.

Although there's a fee for parking, it's reasonably nominal, and for a carload of kids, since this is the only fee, a trip to the National Zoo is still budget friendly, but taking the Metro is an even smarter choice, because finding parking can be dicey.

Once you're inside the zoo, there are different approaches you can take -- go directly to see the elephants, then head over to the big cats, and dart around willy nilly. Or you can explore more systematically, by walking along the different trails, such as the American Trail to see the otters or the Asia Trail to see the pandas. There's also the Kids Farm, where you can see farm animals, only here they seem to be freshly scrubbed and not really muddy like farm animals usually seem to be -- there are donkeys, cows, goats, and llamas, among others.

Check the website for educational activities and demonstrations going on the day of your visit.

Make it even more fun for your family by trying one of the fun activities, such as the Sun Safari, the Zoo Crew Training Manual, or the Home Sweet Habitat Scavenger Hunt listed on the National Zoo's website. (Added plus, it'll teach your kids to read maps!)

There's also a Zoo app. I haven't tried it, but you may want to check it out: (or available at the AppStore).

For more information, read the original post about the Blog's visit to the National Zoo here.

Know before you go:  Parking at the Zoo is extremely limited, and thus, I recommend taking public transportation. If you do drive, know that parking lots fill up very quickly during warm-weather months, usually by 10 a.m., so plan to arrive REALLY early. Reserved parking is available within the Zoo and nearby lots. The Zoo has partnered with Parking Panda to allow for parking reservations.

Getting there: Because of parking limitations, your best bet is taking the Metro. If you plan on taking the Metro, then it's good to know that the Zoo is between the Cleveland Park and Woodley Park stops. The walk is uphill from the Woodley Park stop and flat from the Cleveland Park stop. Because of the ongoing repairs to Metro, check WMATA's website for updates, delays, or escalator outages. You can also learn more about getting to the Zoo here.

If you insist on driving, then here's the address: 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

Hours: The grounds are open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; the Visitor Center is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer.

Dogs: Dogs, no, but this is a great place for your kids!


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