A Day on the Dairy Farm

I like milk. ¬†I like butter. ¬†I LOVE cheese. ¬†So when my mom asked if I wanted to go to Fair Oaks Farm for dairy tour, I said, ‚ÄúWhy not!‚ÄĚ ¬†We arrived around 8:30 and were first to line up outside the red barn doors for our tickets. ¬†It was a good thing too because about ten minutes before opening, a bus load of, I kid you not, Amish families arrived. ¬†I thought it strange that the Amish would visit a dairy farm. ¬†Don‚Äôt they do this kind of work every day of their lives? ¬†I guess the appeal is in the modernization. ¬†We had limited time on this Saturday, so I was just glad that we wouldn‚Äôt have to be on the second or third tour of the morning due to the size of their large group.

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After purchasing tickets, we were ushered to the bus line to wait.  Inside the main building were some interactive displays and games like out-milk your opponent.   Since we would be on the first bus of the day, there was no time to really explore this area.  A few minutes later the Holstein-colored bus was arriving to take us to one of the eleven dairy farms in the cooperative.

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As we rode through the corn and alfalfa fields, an informative recording explained what we were seeing and what we would be seeing.  First stop was the feed area and barns. Our driver pulled us into the barn far enough to see that the pregnant cows were free roaming.  It was a hot and humid day so the fans were blowing as the farmers tried to keep the cows cool.  Apparently cows can handle temperatures from  10 to 75 degrees.  Anything cooler or warmer slows milk production.  The cows we were seeing were in their dry period the couple of months before giving birth.

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From the maternity barn we ventured on to what reminded me of the calf playpens.  New calves were lined up on both sides of the bus.  Each calf had its own dog house looking shelter.  Each calf came to greet the bus as we slowly drove through.

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From there it was into the milking barn.  Here is where farming meets technology.  We disembarked the bus and made our way to a gallery looking over a cow carousel.  72 cows ride the carousel at a time and are milked every seven hours producing about 70 pounds of milk per cow per day.  Three men ensure that the milking process is sanitary.  The first one disinfects the utters, the second attaches the milking contraption, and the third applies some kind of iodine, if I remember correctly, to keep the udder healthy.  The cows are conditioned to this process and know when their ride is over.  They back out and return to the barn just like kids getting off the ride at a carnival.

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A short ride deposited us at the main complex where we were encouraged to visit the birthing barn and watch a cow give birth. ¬†They claim that there are between 80 to 100 births each day on their 11 farms. ¬†To help people come to the birthing barn at the opportune time, there is a stoplight outside the barn. ¬†Red means nothing is going on, yellow means the hooves are showing, and green means the head is out. ¬†The first time we entered the birthing gallery, the light was yellow. ¬†The cow was on display behind a glass wall giving us a full show of her calf about to be born. ¬†Unfortunately we were not able to wait for the entire birth to take place because we had to catch the pig bus for our ‚ÄúPig Experience.‚ÄĚ

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The pig farm is only a few years old. ¬†Pigs are extremely susceptible to diseases, especially respiratory ones, so the farm has measures in place to make sure that none of the visitors’ germs come in contact with the pigs. ¬†Even the farmers that work there each day are required to take a shower upon entering and then put on their uniform.

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Again, pressed for time, we just wandered around the building at our own pace.  This allowed us to see many sows with their new piglets.  In fact, as we walked in, one sow was in the process of giving birth.  The slippery little piglet shot out like a greased watermelon before an employee came over and wiped it down and moved it so mama pig wouldn’t crush it.

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We continued our self guided tour coming upon a window where one of the employees was holding one of the newest arrivals.  It was squealing something awful until she stuck her finger in its mouth.  Then through a two-way intercom, she answered any question posed about pigs.

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After a quick lunch at The Farmhouse Restaurant it was back to the birthing barn because who doesn’t want to watch a cow give birth after eating three beef sliders?  The light was green when we arrived, but we could only see the hooves.  Mom and I waited while Dad went to raid the cheese and pastry shop.  He returned and there was still no calf.  The poor cow looked like she was struggling and not much later she was removed from our view to the barn.  So my quest to see a live calf birth would not be fulfilled this day.  We ended our visit with a walk through the nursery.  Two calves had been born that morning while we were on our other tours.

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While the Fair Oaks Farm tours were interesting, my favorite part was the restaurants, especially the cheese served at said restaurants.  So the next time I drive up to my parents’ house I would probably stop, but just for the cheese. Oh, and I also hear the ice cream is to die for.

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Near Cardiac Arrest and Kelly Park

I have lived in the Orlando area for nearly fifteen years, and in those fifteen years I’ve experienced a lot of what Central Florida has to offer.  Yet I have never experienced the hidden gem that is Kelly Park.

When I saw some list of non-theme park activities in Orlando, I was intrigued with the idea of tubing down the spring run.  Geoff and I had made several attempts to visit Kelly Park over the past year, but every time we got there the park was closed due to the crowds.  Finally, the first Monday of summer break, we got our chance to explore.

We arrived around 10 AM thinking that it would not be as crowded on the weekdays.  It wasn’t crowded, but it wasn’t empty either.  We found a patch of grass under a couple of oak trees dripping with Spanish moss and tossed down our blanket and cooler.  Then tubes in hand, we brought our own, we strolled towards the spring head.

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After a few stairs, we were on the edge.  Between several rock formations ran the spring.  I set my raft in the creek, took in a deep breath, and plunged into the 68 degree water.  Before I had time to arrange myself on my raft I was twenty feet from where I started drifting with the current.  Geoff plunged in beside me and we rode the run together.

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I’ve tubed down the Blue Springs run before and never gave a second thought to alligators or snakes.  Yet as I floated down this run, it was all I could think about.  Every time my raft veered to the bank, I’d frantically paddle back to the middle convincing myself that the middle was safe.  I spent the entire thirty minute, half mile float completely tense.

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Arriving at the departure point and realizing I had not been eaten by an alligator, I convinced myself that this was actually fun. ¬†We walked the half mile back to the start and completed the run all over again–this time much more relaxed. ¬†That is until we passed the swimming area. ¬†After¬†we passed the swimming area, manned by lifeguards or alligator spotters as I liked to think of them, we were alone. ¬†No one was watching our backs but ourselves. ¬†We heard a rustling on the right bank. ¬†Pulse racing, I moved closer to the left bank trying to put some space between myself and the gator that was clearly hunting me. ¬†Just as I was about to enter cardiac arrest, two river otters tumbled off of the bank into the water. ¬†I love otters. ¬†They were¬†not the cold blooded killer reptiles that I saw camouflaged in every muddy bank. ¬†They were¬†warm and playful. ¬†Their sleek brown fur formed¬†perfect arches as they completed dive after dive chasing each other through the thick aquatic vines lining the bank. ¬†Mesmerized by their graceful swimming, my pulse returned to normal as I tried my very hardest to fight the current and snap their picture. ¬†They, unlike me, were able to swim against the current with the slightest of effort putting too much space between us to get a decent photograph. ¬†So I returned to my raft and continued on feeling less anxious than¬†I had five minutes earlier.

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Our next few hours were spent alternating between eating lunch on our blanket, floating in the swimming area, and watching the otters play hide and seek among the lily pads until they finally had enough of prying human eyes.

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Kelly Park and its crystal clear waters is a true gem in the middle of The City Beautiful.  Three dollars for the two of us provided us with a relaxing afternoon of otter watching and sunbathing.  Not too bad for a Florida afternoon.  I highly recommend visiting, but do it on a weekday.

Stacy Liebman

Gliding on the Galien River

Next to running, kayaking has become one of my favorite outdoor activities.  I love to pull my paddle through smooth water.  I love the solitude of a quiet river.  I love being surrounded by nature.  I was able to find all of these in New Buffalo, Michigan while kayaking the Galien River.

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After a quick Google search, I found an outfitter that would rent me a kayak for the afternoon.  I packed a cooler, dropped my mom off at work and hit the road.  The rentals didn’t open until 11, so I spent the morning hiking around Indiana Dunes State Park.  From there, it was about 25 minute drive to the kayak launch.

The kayak launch is on the side of the Red Arrow Highway, and I almost overshot it.  Third Coast Surf Shop had a pretty nice selection of canoes and kayaks to rent by the hour or day.  I decided to rent by the hour and spent around 2.5 hours paddling  out and back towards Lake Michigan which ended up being about five miles.  This paddle set me back forty dollars, which I paid upon return.

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Waiver signed, I sat in the kayak and was off.   The murky brown water offended my eyes since it was not the crystal clear spring waters I was used to paddling.  Despite the ugliness of the water, I was still surrounded by the beauty of nature.  Cattails stood sentinel guarding the river bank.  Lily pads floated in bunches dotted with yellow flowers.  Marsh grasses waved in the breeze.  I glided by three snapping turtles sitting in the sun doing what looked like turtle yoga, their feet stretch out to the maximum length.  As I rounded a bend of marshy grasses, seventeen mallard ducks floated by the front of my boat.  But what really caught my eye was a fast moving patch of grass.  At first I thought that it was just some debris catching the current the same as I was.  When the grass began swimming faster than the kayak, I knew it was an animal, and upon closer inspection, I spied a muskrat.  He must have been taking some marsh reeds to work on his house.   Camera 360Camera 360

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At about two and a half miles out, I found a nice boat ramp to haul out and eat lunch.  After stretching my legs and filling my belly, I turned around and headed back towards the launch.  On the return trip, I passed many families that seemed to be kayaking for the first time.  They were making tons of noise, so the animal sightings ceased.  Before I knew it, I was gliding under Red Arrow Highway and returning to land.  I returned my kayak, said goodbye to Michigan, and aimed the car for Indiana.  Not a bad way to spend a Midwestern day.

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Chicago Eats

Cori and I love to find fun places to eat when we travel. Even though we were in Chicago to run a half marathon, our eating adventures were no different.  Though we were only in town for less than 48 hours, we found time to hit some highlights.

Portillo’s was our first stop. ¬†We had spent the afternoon checking into the Palmer House and ¬†attending the expo for the Chicago Rock and Roll Half Marathon. ¬†We hadn‚Äôt done much walking, so we decided to walk to Portillos from the Palmer House. ¬†It was a little over a mile so we definitely had worked up an appetite by the time we arrived.

Portillo’s is always busy and chaotic, and I explained to Cori how the ordering process worked.  She reminded me that this was a lot like the ordering at Katz’ Deli which we had just visited in New York.  We both decided on Chicago dogs, shared an order of onion rings, and a chocolate cake shake.  Within 10 minutes we were walking to a table to scarf down a delicious dinner.

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Doughnut Vault was a new adventure for me too. Towards the top of the Trip Advisor places to eat in Chicago, it did not disappoint.  We were standing in line about 20 minutes before their sign said they opened, but they were already serving.  The line was already stretched to the end of the block, and we waited a good 30 plus minutes, but it was so worth it.  Located at 401 N. Lincoln, it is the tiniest shop I’ve ever been in.  No more than three or four people can fit inside at once making the line seem much longer than it actually is.  After purchasing, we sat on their community style patio and dove in.  We shared a raspberry jelly filled, gingerbread stack, buttermilk old fashioned, and chocolate glazed.  There we so rich and sweet it was hard to have more than a couple of bites of each one.  Stuffed, we couldn’t finish what we ordered but were pleased with our selections.

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Harry Caray’s, named for legendary Cubs announcer, it truly a tourist trap, but it became our lunch destination after hitting Oz Park and the Lincoln Park Zoo.  After a morning of walking, we were ready for a nice big lunch.  The wait for a table was about an hour, but we were able to snag a high top near the bar without waiting.  The only downside was that we were baking in the sun.  Starving, we started with the hummus plate which was delicious.  We contemplated sharing an Italian beef sandwich, but in the end our hunger won out, and we each ordered our own.  There are many great places to get an Italian beef in the city so I wasn’t expecting this one to live up to others I have had.  With the first bite, my taste buds exploded.  The sandwich was one of the best I’ve ever had.  This could be because I was starving, or maybe it was because I had not had an Italian beef in over a year, but either way I’m still salivating over that sandwich.

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Gino’s East, another chain restaurant, was our final eating expedition.  Cori wanted to try authentic deep dish pizza, and Gino’s East was a quick walk from the Palmer House.  We ventured over around 8, and were told there would be an hour wait.  Again, we snagged bar seating to avoid that wait which was good since our pizza took over an hour to receive.   I’m not the biggest fan of deep dish pizza, and this one was no exception.  The Gino’s Supreme had a grainy crust that caused me to scrape the insides of the pizza out and leave it behind.  The actual filling was decent, but paired with the wait and the rude staff it is not a place I would revisit.  Cori agreed that deep dish wasn’t for her either.  For me, the best pizza will always come from Lowell, Indiana.

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Next time I’m looking for places to eat in the city, I’ll probably stick to the hole-in-the-wall types and leave the chain restaurants for the tourists.