North Georgia Zoo & Petting Farm

One of the day trips we made this summer was to the North Georgia Zoo & Petting Farm. We had been aware of this zoo for a long time, and we’d always wanted to check it out. My boys had a great time at this zoo.

This is a small and rustic zoo. Don’t expect paved walkways or cool buildings to walk into occasionally. The petting farm (and you can pay just to walk through the petting farm only) is fun. There were sheep, goats, alpacas and a cow to pet. Exotic chickens roamed the area too.

To see the exotic animals, you have to go on a tour, which is included in your admission price. Someone will walk you through this area, and there you’ll find all kinds of interesting animals from different parts of the world. We had a very friendly and knowledgeable guide. I do not remember seeing every animal on their full animal list, but there were plenty of animals to see. I know they have areas of the zoo that we were not permitted to go to because some animals were under special care. You can also purchase tickets for “animal encounters,” which we didn’t do.

At the end of the tour, our guide let us meet three small animals and get a chance to pet them: a small python, armadillo and chinchilla. That was pretty cool.

My husband and I were disappointed to see that some of the animals were in cages that seemed too small, such as the cougar and the New Guinea singing dogs. I realize this is an issue with many zoos, and I also know it takes a tremendous amount of money to care for these animals, which is why we didn’t mind paying the admission fee. However, the admission price is similar to the admission for Zoo Atlanta, which surprised us, considering how much smaller this one was. Perhaps Zoo Atlanta gets more donations, which allows them to keep their prices down?

If you are in the North Georgia mountains and you have children, I would say go visit this zoo. However, I wouldn’t make a special trip again just to see this zoo. The area around the zoo, however, was gorgeous. There are a lot of vineyards in the area. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to combine a trip to the zoo with a visit to a vineyard. 😉

P.S. Sorry there are no photos here of the petting farm. I was too busy petting the animals!

Winter Habits

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on January 16, 2013.

When we walk through the woods this time of year, most of the animals and insects are burrowed under the ground or huddled together in whatever holes they can find. My son’s favorite animal, the snake, will find a place to burrow underground and sleep through the cold weather. Rabbits and deer don’t hibernate. They’ll be on the lookout all season for any leaves, barks or twigs they can find to eat.

Frogs don’t hibernate either, but they go into a dormant state where they sleep most of the time. They may wake up on warmer days and go out for a bite to eat. They have a chemical in their bloodstream that’s kind of like antifreeze, which is how they can survive the freezes.

The black bears in Georgia are probably sleeping now, and the females may have their babies in the den this winter. The cubs will stay with mama for a year before she urges them to fend for themselves in early spring or summer of next year.

Did you know that this is the time of year that Right Whales migrate from New England to the coasts of Georgia and Florida, and the females will give birth here anytime between December and March?

The squirrels huddle together in their nests on cold days. We can see the squirrel’s nests high up in the trees now that the leaves have fallen. Their nests are big and messy, and they have spent the warmer months collecting acorns and other food for the winter. Sometimes they like to bury their food in my garden beds, but they forget about it, and I have to pull the tiny beginnings of trees from the soil in spring.

Many birds are migrating south this time of year, and fortunately for us, Georgia is a winter home for many of them. I’ve spied more hawks sitting on electrical wires along our roads, and my son made a peanut butter/bagel bird feeder in his winter mini-camp that will feed a variety of them. My favorite feathered friend, the northern cardinal, is a year-round resident of Georgia. It’s especially beautiful in the winter when its red feathers brighten up the brown landscape.

In my house, I have one little boy who refuses to wear coats in the winter, so he prefers to play indoors. The other one (who refuses to wear shorts in the summer) is happy to wrap up and take a hike during his camp.  But they’re both finding more time to pull out the art supplies and fill one of the walls in our kitchen, a.k.a “the art gallery,” with their masterpieces.

I have a husband who is back at work after a winter break and burrowed in front of his computer screen.

I may not be an animal that hibernates or goes dormant during the cold months, but I sure wish I could.  Usually I crave time spent outside, but lately I’ve been happy to wear my sweats around the house and not get any exercise at all. If it weren’t for the demands of my children, I would curl up on the sofa with a good book all day.

I’ve been spending less time on social media, less time reading the news, and generally wanting to get away from my usual habit of doing too much. It’s a good season for that, so I’m just going with it.

Today the weather got a little warmer, and I talked my children into going for a walk with me. I pulled the three-year-old in our wagon, and my six-year-old walked beside me, playing make-believe as a he held onto a toy frog.  Both of my boys kept pointing to things as we walked. Two geese flying over our heads, decorative yard art, litter, and a patch of dirt on the road were all topics of conversation.

I love living in Georgia because I can depend on warm spells in winter that will stir me into action. But on the colder days, I’ll have to drag myself out of bed and hope that the enthusiasm of these boys will be enough to rouse this sleepy mama.

Knee-High Naturalist Class at the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, Georgia

This autumn, my five-year-old and I have been enjoying the knee-high naturalist class at the Sandy Creek Nature Center.  It takes place every other Wednesday from 3:30-4:30p.m.  Children ages 3-5 are eligible and must be accompanied by an adult. Click here for more information.

In the class the children have met and touched several live animals, and many times we go outside too.  My son was in his element during the “creep walk” when we waded through a stream in search of critters!  We’ve learned about the cardinal directions and how to use a compass and also about recycling, just to name a few of the activities.


“Miss Sarah” is a wonderful teacher/facilitator.  Her patience and ability with kids is amazing, and once she talked an extra twenty minutes with just my son after class because he had questions about snakes!  (Thanks, Sarah!)


I took a lot of good photos during one of the classes, but I don’t want any parent to be mad at me, so I’m only sharing photos of the backs of heads of the other children.


Below my son is awaiting to get his jar filled with compost in hopes of creating a mini bug habitat in a jar.


We have also been attending the Homeschool Science classes at the Nature Center, and we love those classes too.  If I take any photos during one of those classes, I’ll be sure to share.

What classes/activities do your children enjoy around town?

Pets Are Good for Children

{pictured above left to right: Sophie, Banjo, & Millie}

I found a great article in the Fall 2011 issue of “Healthy Pet,” which we receive through our vet’s office.  The name of the article is “Kids and Pets: Growing Together” by Lynette A. Hart, Ph.D.

Many times as I watch my boys interact with our pets, I’ve been thankful that we are in a position to own pets.  That is, nobody is allergic to the animals, and we have time to care for them properly.  We have two dogs, one cat, and six little fish.

The article begins by stating that many parents think giving a child a pet is a great way to teach them responsibility, but unfortunately, most children are not mature enough to care for a pet’s daily needs.  My husband learned this lesson when he bought that fish aquarium for our then three-year-old.  Although he didn’t expect our son to take care of the aquarium, he thought he would be more interested in watching the process.

Interestingly, I have observed how our son started out by being fascinating with the aquarium, later losing interest, and yet later finding a renewed interest.  Sometimes he does “help” his daddy clean the aquarium, and ever since we added an algae eater to the mix, he and his little brother like to sit and watch the aquarium for a few minutes in the mornings.

I never expected my son to be responsible for the aquarium or sustain an interest, but over time the aquarium has given him much more knowledge about fish and the work that goes into keeping a tank.  There are probably other lessons in there that I’m not aware of either.

The article also says that pets can give a child a sense of self.  Since most dogs and cats love their owners unconditionally and offer constant companionship, this “can be restorative” and helps kids “build self-esteem.”

I don’t know about my kids, but I know that the companionship of my little Siamese cat, Sophie, is very restorative.  It’s relaxing at night when she curls up next to me, purring like a little motor is inside of her.

It’s probably also relaxing for her to be with me after a day of being pounced on and chased by two little boys.  God bless her for being so patient.  I admit there have been times when I was in a pickle, needing a moment for myself, and I would say, “Look, boys! There’s Sophie!”  She is great at distracting them for me.

Another benefit of having pets, according to the article, is that kids learn how their behavior affects others.  This is true.  As I mentioned, Sophie is very patient, but she will not tolerate actions that could possibly hurt her, and I don’t blame her for that.  When she hisses at the boys, I tell them they need to be more mindful and gentle.

“Gentle” is one of the first words my children learned, thanks to Sophie.  This has come in handy many times outside the home too: at petting zoos, with friend’s pets, or other people’s toys.  (I wonder why it doesn’t work when I tell my eldest to be “gentle” with his younger brother?)

When my boys begin to chase and torture the dogs, they see firsthand how the dogs run and hide.  I’m not sure that has taught them anything, though.  They still like to chase and torture the dogs.

But I’m glad we have the dogs because my boys are not afraid of other people’s dogs.  We have had two sets of friends whose children quake with fear at our neighbor’s sweet, lumbering lab that wanders into our yard from time to time.  I’ve also noticed that my boys don’t fear animals in petting zoos either.  Though I teach them to be cautious, of course, I’m glad they feel comfortable with animals.

The article also says that losing a pet is often a child’s first experience with death, and dealing with it in a respectful way can be a valuable lesson for a child.  Also, showing a child how a pet needs healthy food, grooming and exercise can teach them about healthy habits for themselves as well.

Finally, helping to train a dog can give a child leadership skills.  This is a great idea. I have always wanted to get a German Shepherd, but I want to wait until my boys are old enough to participate in the obedience classes.  It would be a great experience for a child to help care, train and love a dog from a puppy into adulthood.  But all in due time…

If only there were obedience classes for young children.

This column was originally printed in the September 21, 2001 edition of the Barrow Journal.  You can view on the online version by clicking here.

How to Build a Wildlife Habitat in Your Yard

First off, you need to care about wildlife.

My latest column for The Barrow Journal was about how the kiddo and I built a wildlife habitat in our yard.  It’s very easy to do, and you can do it too.  Be sure to click here to read my column and learn how you can do it.  Then scroll down and take a look at our wildlife habitat for yourself.

Besides the fact that I love wildlife, I wanted to do it because I thought it would be a good project for the four-year-old.  In order to teach him and help him remember the elements needed in a natural habitat, we created the poster you can see below.  I fully admit this was not completely child-led.  I made him do it!  But he loves animals and wants to learn about them, so I thought this would be important for him to learn.

He used his camera to go around the yard and take photos of our habitat.  Then I used my camera to go around get photos of our habitat that would be in focus.  (ahem.)  We made the poster.  He traced the title at the top (I have blotted out our address for the web).  I wrote the elements needed for a wildlife habitat on the side.  Then I printed out the photos, and he cut them out.  Then I helped him glue the photos in their appropriate places.

There’s white space beside “water” because we still have not purchased a bird bath, and I wanted to save room in case we do.  However, we have put an additional dish of water on the back deck beside the bird feeders, and the birds are using it!

So the elements you need for a wildlife habitat are:

1. FOOD ~ Natural food like berries, nectar, acorns and other nuts.  You can also provide food like bird seed.

2. WATER ~ This was the one thing we didn’t have.  We don’t have any water source on our property, so we have to provide water in dishes, a bird bath or fountain.

3. SHELTER ~ Dense shrubs, vine tangles, dead trees, underbrush, wood piles, bird houses, gourds, shelves….you get the picture.

Our butterfly bush attracts a lot of butterflies and bees. We also have many other flowers on the property.

We have wild blackberries and other berries growing on our property.  I’m sure there’s plenty left over after my four-year-old picks his lot.


We have also begun to feed the birds using bird feeders and pine cones.  For the pine cones, we mix peanut butter and corn flour and then press it into the pinecone.  You can then roll it in birdseed if you want.  Wrap thin wire around it and create a hook to hang.  (I thank my sister-in-law for giving us our first pinecone bird feeder!)

This little terra cotta dish quenches the thirst of a little frog that lives under our porch and hopefully some lizards and birds too!

We have woods that we keep wild.  In doing this project, I learned that it’s good to not be so neat!  Don’t clean up the underbrush because it’s home to many wild critters.   This old wood pile is also a great home for critters.

 We’ve had this birdhouse for a few years, and it’s been home to several families of bluebirds. 

                        This is a our new birdhouse…..

Not a pretty picture, but I’m including our water barrel here to illustrate that conservation, mulching and eliminating nasty chemicals in your yard is important to the environment too.  If you create a healthy habitat, you’ll attract beneficial critters too!  We still have more work to do on our habitat, but it’ll be a fun project to work on during the next several years…

As I mentioned above, be sure to read my column for more information.  You can also go to or