National Geographic’s ‘The Splendor of Birds’ Is Simply Breathtaking [REVIEW]

Blue-Footed Booby

The blue-footed booby is only one of the many birds featured in National Geographic’s The Splendor of Birds. (Photo courtesy National Geographic)

Birds. There is something truly special about these creatures that captures the imaginations of all of us. Whether we’re feeding ducks at a park or hummingbirds nectar outside our window, watching predatory hawks soar high in the sky or an ominous flock of grackles loom overhead on power lines like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock film, or laughing at the antics of waddling penguins and precariously poised flamingoes, these winged animals are everywhere and yet each is stunning in its own way. Over the years, National Geographic has shared our fascination with them, and now they are revealing all their hard-won wisdom and stellar photographs and artistry in one incomparable volume, The Splendor of Birds: Art and Photographs from National Geographic.  Read more of this post

Big Bone Lick State Park

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On our first day of vacation, we awakened to a gorgeous, sunny day in Cincinnati. Clear, azure skies seemed filled with promise, and after sitting through a three-day convention in Dayton, we wanted to stretch our legs a bit. So we packed a picnic lunch and drove south 30 miles along I-71 to Union, Ken. to investigate a park we’d never visited before.

The drive alone delivered a beautiful respite from the city. We left behind the skyscrapers and smog of downtown Cincy and within minutes we found ourselves surrounded by rolling hills, shady groves and green pastures. Long white picket fences separated family farms and hand-painted signs offered fresh eggs for sale. We had entered “God’s country,” as we heard one woman call it later that day.

A big wooden sign surrounded with flowers and decorated with mammoths and mastodons welcomed us to Big Bone Lick State Park, “birthplace of American vertebrate paleontology”. We headed straight for the visitor’s center to get a lay of the land, which proved to be the best initiation to Big Bone Lick. There we gathered a map of the park and perused the museum that educated us about the history of the area, then we began our journey back in time along the Discovery Trail that recreates the savannah as it once was.

Some 20,000 years ago, a huge glacier stretched from Wisconsin down to the Ohio River. As time passed, the ice receded and soon giant sloths, bison, mastodons, mammoths and other beasts gathered to drink and feed among the salty bogs there. Because the soft land sucked at the feet of these creatures, many animals got caught in the mud and mire and died. Their massive bones would later be discovered by scientists excavating the area. A diorama showcases this scene in vivid detail.

Today, however, the marshland has all but disappeared, leaving behind only one salt-sulphur spring, rolling grasslands, mounding flowers and lush forests that are home to a bison herd, deer, countless insects, amphibians and other wildlife. As we hiked along the Bison Trace trail, the day began to warm up, but the towering deciduous trees offered a shady reprieve from the heat as we enjoyed a meandering hike through the woods.

If you visit, be sure to wear good hiking shoes, because the ground along the hiking trails can be slick, muddy and rocky in places, and some points deliver a rather steep climb. Still, the scenery is beautiful and offers a lovely diversion to an urban lifestyle. On our next trip, we want to camp out for a long weekend, bring our swimsuits to relax by the pool and don our visors or hats and test our putting skills on the 18-hole miniature golf course.

Big Bone Lick State Park offers so many amenities there is truly something for everyone. Fishermen can enjoy bank-fishing on the 7.5-acre lake which is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill and catfish. Athletes will love the tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, softball fields and horseshoe pits. To make the camping experience even more pleasant, the 62 spacious campsites offer utility hookups, grills, a playground, showers, restrooms, laundry facilities and a grocery store.

When you go:

  • Grounds are open year round, from daylight until dark.
  • Museum and gift shop are open between April—December, Monday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Friday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Campgrounds are open April 1—November 15. Check-in time begins at 2 p.m. and check-out time is 1 p.m. Make camping reservations by calling 1-888-4KY-PARK or visit www.parks.ky.gov.

© 2011 Jadeworks Entertainment

Celebrate our planet this April

April 2011

Earth Day is in our hands 2011

Earth Day is celebrated worldwide on April 22, although it may be commemorated on other dates in your community.

Dear friends,

Despite tax season, April is a fun month. The weather is generally a little warmer, spring is officially in full swing, and people’s spirits are generally much better than they were during the chilly winter months. Plus there are several great events to look forward to!

As we’ve told you before, one of our favorite charities is the Nature Conservancy, whose motto is “Protecting nature. Preserving life.” This year in celebration of Earth Day (on April 22nd), they are encouraging all of us to get outside, have fun and explore nature as a family. They’re also urging people to “picnic for the planet,” by hosting picnic meetups in 199 cities around the globe.

The Earth Day Network is also urging people to pledge to live and act sustainably. You can find great resources about how to reduce your carbon footprint on their Website, find ways to get involved and can even make donations to the cause.

But Earth Day also means the release of a brand new film from Disneynature, African Cats! The film follows two feline families striving to make a home in the wildest place on earth. See African Cats during opening week, and Disneynature will make a donation in your honor to protect the savanna these cats call home. And before you watch the movie, be sure to visit the African Cats Website for educational information and downloads that can help you teach your children about the science and geography themes in the film.

And if you’re in Cincinnati, you can join us down at Sawyer Point at noon on Saturday, April 16th for the 41st Anniversary Celebration of Earth Day! There will be tons of stuff to see and do for the entire family, including animal presentations featuring an aquarium and petting zoo, a rock-climbing wall, great food and live music.

Then, on Friday, April 29th, head on down to Great American Ball Park for UC Night at the Reds! The Reds will take on the Florida Marlins and the park will be packed with UC alumni. Buy reduced rate tickets, then be sure to show up early for the pre-game activities and FREE giveaways in the Reds fan zone!

The reptile house at the Cincinnati Zoo during Zoo Blooms

Color explodes at the Cincinnati Zoo during Zoo Blooms throughout the April 2011.

Get out your garden gear and prepare to plant a tree, because the 29th is also Arbor Day. For those of you who aren’t sure what the Arbor Day Foundation is or how the day gained popularity across America, you can check out two articles Jathan wrote last year about the trees in our lives and the origins of Arbor Day on his philanthropy blog, Some People’s Lives.

April is also a great time to start planning your summer garden. You can visit the Cincinnati Zoo for ideas during the entire month of April as the park explodes with color during Zoo Blooms. This event always fuels our imaginations, particularly since spring makes us anxious to plant tons of herbs, veggies and flowers of our own. Because we plant the majority of these plants in containers, be sure to watch for a future blog post about that. We’ll give you some great tips on gardening, including inexpensive ways to make your yard look phenomenal!

And in case you missed them, be sure to explore our site for great food ideas, including everything from kitchen basics like heart-healthy Chicken Broth to our favorite Southern Fried and Southern Barbecued Chicken recipes. Then check out family favorites like Tomato Soup with Mozzarella Croutons, Classic Cinnamon Buns and No-Bake Peanut Butter Rice Krispies Cookies. If you love Italian cuisine, try our authentic Italian Minestrone and Rigatoni with Rapid Ragu. For something spicy, kick up the heat with Hoppin’ John, a traditional Southern dish with just the right amount of heat. There’s something for everyone on Jathan & Heather!

So what are you waiting for? Get outside, commune with nature, plant a tree, take a picnic, watch a game, or plan your garden. It’s spring, and there is no better time to enjoy the great outdoors!

Love,
Jathan & Heather

p.s. Watch the preview to African Cats below!

3 charities that make a difference

Winston Churchill once said that ” We make a living by what we earn—we make a life by what we give.” Many at this time of year are indeed focused on giving, but many times it is difficult to know what to get the person who seems to have everything. Cash? Clothes? A gift card to their favorite store? This year, why not give a gift that makes a difference: a charitable donation to a great organization on behalf of your friend or loved one. But which organizations deserve your hard earned dough? Here are three of our favorites.

Oceana

Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna

Oceana protects many fish populations, like this Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna.

Although 70 percent of our planet’s surface is covered by oceans, until 2001 very little environmental funding went to protecting them. That is the year a group of leading foundations created Oceana, which has become the world’s largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation.

Since its inception, Oceana has launched international campaigns to create policy changes with real results that preserve and restore marine life. For example, in a recent campaign, Oceana sent the Chilean Minister of Economy a report that analyzed the annual quota for jack mackerel during the past 10 years. The study found that for the past eight years, the National Fisheries Council set the catching limit higher than was recommended by the Institute for Fisheries Development. Upon reading this study, the Minister of Economy vented his frustration to the National Fisheries Council and asked them to set smaller quotas for next year.

Now Oceana has turned its attention toward protecting bluefish tuna and sharks, because overfishing is pushing these fish toward extinction. Some shark populations have already dropped by an astounding 99 percent! If something’s not done soon, oceans will be irreparably changed when these top predators disappear forever.

“No other organization does what Oceana does,” says ocean protection advocate and actor Ted Dansen (of Cheers fame). “No organization works exclusively to fight ocean threats on a global scale.”

One of the reasons Oceana is so successful is that it chooses “battles that are big enough to matter, but targeted enough to win,” Dansen says.

To find out more about Oceana, visit their Website or check out their Guidestar report today.

The Nature Conservancy

Nature Conservancy Santa Fe Canyon Reserve

Hundreds of birds call the Nature Conservancy's Santa Fe Canyon Reserve home.

Our first contact with the Nature Conservancy occurred during one of our many trips to Santa Fe, New Mexico. There they manage the Santa Fe Canyon Preserve, which consists of 525 acres and is home to a colony of beavers and more than 140 species of birds. The preserve offers a 1.5-mile interpretive loop trail and also serves as a trailhead for the 20-mile Dale Ball Foothill Trail System. The preserve is a gorgeous sanctuary where you can exercise, commune with nature and discover ruins from Santa Fe’s historic past.

The Nature Conservancy is dedicated to protecting the lands and waters on which the diversity of life depends. And they are successful in doing just that! In fact, with over 1 million members, the organization now  manages 1,400 private nature sanctuaries which are equally important and as fascinating to visit as the Santa Fe preserve. Together, they protect over 14 million acres in the United States and more than 84 million acres in Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific.

One of the reasons for the Nature Conservancy’s success is that it has partnered with numerous agencies and organizations around the world, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service in the United States. They’ve also teamed up with other non-profit organizations like Conservation International, NatureServe and WWF to create campaigns like the Natural Capital Project which makes conservation an aesthetic and economically sound choice and Rescue the Reef to protect coral reefs worldwide.

Now you can help make a difference too! Simply visit the Nature Conservancy home page or find out more by reading their Guidestar report online.

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Big Brothers Big Sisters
Little moments truly are big magic when mentors share activities like reading with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

In his bestselling novel Dead Even, our pal Brad Meltzer wrote about husband-and-wife lawyers who were pitted against one another in the courtroom. At home, however, they were like any other couple, with shared interests and passions. One of those passions was their involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters, an organization that paired them as mentors to a little girl. That story changed our lives.

In the ’90s, Jathan contacted Big Brothers Big Sisters and became a “big” himself to a young man in Dallas, Texas. After he moved to Cincinnati, Jathan took another step and interned for the organization’s offices where he helped with fundraising and created a radio campaign for BBBS at the University of Cincinnati’s radio station, Bearcast. Shortly thereafter, both of us became “bigs” to an 8-year-old Hispanic boy named Junior. It was a marvelous experience that taught us that simply being a strong role model and good friend to a child in need can change a life forever, in as little as four hours per month! This is a perfect example of why the organization’s motto is “Little moments, big magic.”

The organization got its start in 1904, when a young court clerk in New York City started seeing an increasing number of boys coming through his courtroom. That clerk recognized the need for trustworthy adults in the boys’ lives and started finding volunteers to mentor them, and as a result the Big Brothers movement was born. By 1916, the movement had spread like wildfire to 96 cities across the country. At the same time, a similar movement began for girls elsewhere in New York. It wasn’t until 1977 that the two movements joined forces and became Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Now the organization operates in all 50 states and in 35 countries worldwide!

BBBS has three wonderful mentoring programs that help children in various situations. With community-based mentoring, Bigs and Littles meet in their community for as little as one hour each week to share fun activities, such as going to the park, bowling, reading, visiting the zoo and more. Site-based mentoring allows Bigs and Littles to meet once a week in schools to talk and have fun, help with homework or simply chat, draw or play games. Some cities also have a program that provides mentors to children of prisoners which helps these kids beat the odds of winding up in jail themselves.

Whether you can open your hearts and serve as a mentor yourself or simply make a donation, your help is greatly appreciated and makes a huge impact on the life of an otherwise at-risk child. To find out more, visit Big Brothers Big Sisters online or check out their Guidestar report for details.

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