Laura Sutherland

March 3, 2015

Eight Wild Rides

Filed under: Uncategorized — Laura Sutherland @ 4:36 am

carousel frog

A ring of pretty ponies spinning around a circular track is one way of looking at carousels – but it’s definitely old school. How about circling around on a bald eagle, an okapi, a giant grasshopper or one of Dr. Seuss’s cowfish as the jolly pipe organ plays?

Carousels have moved beyond traditional carved horses and now include all kinds of exotic creatures. The brand-new carousel opening soon in Manhattan’s Battery Park puts the riders inside imaginative iridescent sea creatures that ride through a sound and light show. At the Bronx Zoo, children sit atop insects such as ladybugs, beetles and fireflies; the Philadelphia Zoo’s merry-go-round is all Amazon animals, such as a toucan, a jaguar and an iguana; and the Houston Aquarium, fittingly, has all aquatic animals such as seals and sea horses spinning around its platform. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Battery Park, New York – Iridescent glass fish – opening in 2015
2. Bronx Zoo, New York – All insect carousel
3. Totally Kid Carousel, Riverbank State Park, New York – Carousel animals designed by children
4. Philadelphia Zoo, Pennsylvania – Amazon rain forest animals
5. Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida – Dr. Seuss creatures carousel
6. Houston Aquarium, Texas – All aquatic animals
7. St Louis Zoo, Missouri – Classic zoo animals
8. San Diego Zoo, California – Rare and endangered animals


February 12, 2015

Put Yourself on a Packing Diet!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Laura Sutherland @ 7:26 pm

Eat a handful of almonds or peanuts every day for a month and you’ll put on a couple of pounds. Toss them in for a year and you’re going to be spilling over the top of your skinny jeans.

It’s the same with packing. The smallest items start to add up and before you know it, you’ve got a serious muffin top bulging up and out of your suitcase.

The formula for dieting is pretty straightforward: eat less, slim down, lose weight. Same goes for packing: pack less, slim down, lighten up.

But the benefit of packing light isn’t just about weight, it’s about convenience, too. It’s so you don’t find yourself pawing through your overstuffed suitcase hunting for your mini umbrella. If it isn’t jampacked in the first place, everything is easy to find and easy to put back.

Think back to the last trip you took – most people admit they wore the same few items over and over again and left many articles of clothing folded and unworn in the suitcase. The trick is to anticipate — and use self control.

1. Think small portions. Every item needs to go with absolutely every other item in your suitcase. No blouse going rogue, no skirt with an independent streak. All must happily hang together.

2. Make friends with dark colors. Or think patterns. Or even better, think dark patterns. Of course you’ll want to sponge off the red wine spill or ice cream drip, but you won’t see what you couldn’t get out if it blends into a busily patterned blouse or dark jacket.

3. Handwringing works. Test clothing to see how much it wrinkles by twisting it in your closet or crushing it in the store…the sales girls might wince, but you shouldn’t buy it if it creases badly.

4. Shoes are the chocolate cake of the suitcase –if you don’t resist you’ll pay later. Wear your biggest and heaviest pair of shoes on the plane and pack one other pair. One pair of walking shoes and one pair of dress shoes that you can easily walk a couple miles in if there’s a subway strike and you can’t find a taxi.

5. Think double duty. Flats can be bedroom slippers, a raincoat can be a bathrobe, a dressy tank top can be worn out to dinner or under a shirt for warmth if the weather turns frosty. A straightening iron can smooth out wrinkles in a pinch, and hey, a hair drier can even toast a bagel.

6. Forget all the tips about tucking small items in your shoes and the corner of your bag. Instead, throw small loose items like chargers, transformers, straightening irons and mini umbrellas and in a zippered mesh or plastic bag. It becomes your “junk drawer” and you won’t have to dig around and mess up your suitcase.

7. Pack strong deodorant – I once went on an African safari where one guest had a clean white t-shirt for every day of the trip – that was 14 different white shirts, plus dressy tops for dinner. I packed a total of four all-purpose tops for the entire trip. She might have looked pristine every night at dinner, but she was miserable lugging her enormous bag while I could practically lift my bag with my pinky.

8. Pack like a French Woman – Learn to wear a scarf. On a recent winter trip to London and Switzerland, I wore the same black sweater for eleven straight days. Different scarves saved my companions from screaming with boredom, a tank top added a light layer of warmth and cleanliness and gobs of deodorant kept the sweater fresh.

February 6, 2015

Zoos That Say, “Please Feed the Animals!”

Feeding the giraffes at the Houston Zoo

Whether it’s a rubbery-lipped giraffe gently plucking a leaf of lettuce from your hand or a rainbow-colored lorikeet sipping nectar from a tiny cup you hold, getting up close and personal with exotic animals is becoming a regular feature at zoos nationwide.

It can be as simple as buying an ice cream cone full of snack pellets to offer a camel or as involved as spending an afternoon feeding hay to the elephants or meatballs to a lion while you learn more in a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo.

But no matter what type of experience fits your interest or budget, children are much more engaged when they can interact directly with the animals and create a personal connection with them.  It makes the animals happy, too, and often has the added bonus of helping the zoos feed and fund the animals in their care.

Here are a few of my favorites:


Philadelphia Zoo, Pennsylvania – Offer a lorikeet a cup of nectar and watch its mop-like tongue soak up the sweet liquid ($2).

Southwick Zoo, Mendon, Massachusetts – Walk through the deer forest and purchase a handful of snacks to hand feed to the speckled Eurasian Fallow deer (50 cents).  You can also feed lettuce to the giraffes ($5) and seed clusters to parakeets in a walk-through aviary ($2).

Virginia Zoo, Norfolk, Virginia – Behind-the-scenes tours give families the chance to learn about and feed peanuts to the kangaroos and feed and paint a picture with the elephants and more ($200 for up to five people).


Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa Florida – Feed the white rhinos and give their thick skin a scratch ($3).

Palm Beach Zoo, Florida – Bathe and feed breakfast to the giant Aldebara tortoises ($20) or learn about and meet black bears while you feed them – contact is protected and safe. ($50 per person)

Zoo Atlanta, Georgia – Special animal encounters let guests meet and feed Kelly and Tara, the African elephants ($75), or hand-feed millet seed sticks to 500 free-flying parakeets ($1).

Safari Wilderness Ranch, Lakeland Florida – Enter a ring-tailed lemur habitat with a guide and feed grapes to the friendly, furry creatures ($20).  Or, head into the wild guinea pig colony where they will whistle with excitement in anticipation of the food you bring them. ($5)


Lincoln Children’s Zoo, Lincoln, Nebraska – Buy a plain ice cream cone filled with camel food for $3, place it in a clever cup holder at the end of a long pole, and feed it directly to the toothy camels.

Fort Wayne Childrens Zoo, Indiana –VIP Experiences let guests learn about the animals and engage with them:  You can feed meatballs to the lions, fish to the penguins and something irresistibly delicious to the jellyfish (packages range from $150-450 for four people).

Cinncinati Zoo, Ohio – Behind-the-Scenes experiences offer special animal encounter opportunities. For example, give a bubble bath to a rhinoceros and feed her snack biscuits while you learn about the species and current efforts to save it ($1000 up for five people).


San Antonio Zoo, Texas – Guests can purchase a cup of nectar for the lorikeets to sip while perched on their hands or resting on their shoulders ($1.50).

Houston Zoo, Texas – Offer crunchy lettuce leaves to the Masai giraffe family from an elevated platform that allows you to see all the animals in their enclosure ($5).

Phoenix Zoo, Arizona – Pat the slippery stingrays and offer them some shrimp or fish – their mouths slurp like a soft vacuum cleaner hose ($3).


Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, Washington – Spend $5 for four tasty fish to feed to the penguins, or buy a seed stick for $1 to feed the birds.

Zoo Boise, Idaho – Paji, the zoo’s Sloth Bear, loves mealworms and visitors can send him a handful through a special feeding tube in the exhibit. ($3)  Or, offer Julius and Jabari, the resident giraffes, a handful of greens. ($3)

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado Springs, Colorado – Offer a leafy snack to the giraffes ( $2) or purchase a VIP experience that lets you select three animals from a list of creatures you can meet and safely feed:  moose, zebra, grizzly bear, penguin, tiger, or elephant  ($190).

San Diego Zoo –The Backstage Pass program ($99 per person) allows you to pet and feed the rhinos and touch and experience other exotic zoo residents. You can also custom design a VIP Zoo Experience for your group for a five- or eight-hour behind-the-scenes experience that includes plenty of animal interactions. ($599 and up)

February 3, 2015

Sampling the Big Island’s Bounty – Kohala Grown Farm Tours

The guide held out a pretty little red berry and explained that it had the ability to transform my sense of taste from sour to sweet. I felt like Alice as she listened to the caterpillar in Wonderland – a little uncertain, a little suspicious. I was handed a slice of lemon to taste first and decided I was game.  “Definitely sour,” I confirmed with a pucker.

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I popped the magic fruit, called a miracle berry, into my mouth, chewed off the pulpy red coating and bit into the lemon again. This time a rush of lemon candy filled my senses and I was transported back to the candy jar in my grandmother’s living room. I bit into the lemon one more time, and sure enough, the normally tart little wedge of citrus was still cloyingly sweet.

We were on an unusual farm tour on the Big Island of Hawaii, and on our way to the fruit tasting at a rise overlooking the ocean, we walked past small fields of taro, turmeric, three kinds of ginger, four kinds of avocados, mangoes, papaya, asparagus and dragon fruit growing in the fertile volcanic Big Island soil. The fruit platter held other exotic tropical delights, and we wondered which otherworldly fruit our guides would hand us next – the one with the fleshy fat green spikes, the fluorescent raspberry pink one or the gooey yellow one with seeds that looked like bb gun pellets.

“Try this,” our tropical plant expert guide from Kohala Grown Farm Tours suggested, handing us the gooey yellow one and a spoon – a welcome courtesy so we didn’t have to slurp. It was a liliko’i – the tart member of the passion fruit family that is used to flavor all kinds of island treats, like ice cream, fancy cocktails and jam. It was sweet and zingy and not at all tart, like it was about five minutes later when we tasted it again.

Once the effects of the miracle berry wore off, we sampled the other fruit so we could experience their true taste, like the starfruit that looked just like its name and was crunchy and crisp. Next up was a jackfruit. “Juicy fruit gum,” I said with recognition when I tasted it, and it’s true, it was thought to have inspired the flavor for the popular chewing gum. Then dragon fruit, white pineapple, papaya, and an array of other fruits plucked fresh from the neighborhood.

The Big Island’s startling variety of terrain – from tropical rain forests and volcanic deserts to high altitude peaks dusted in snow – contains all but two of the world’s micro-climates. Just about anything can be grown and everything flourishes.  This particular Farm Tour was showing us around the northernmost region on the island that has become a center of organic farming.

Our fruit tasting was just the first stop of our Big Island farm tour. Next up — coffee, chocolate, coconut and more.

January 27, 2015

Found Object Fixes for Unusual Travel Travails

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Laura Sutherland @ 5:16 am

A little ingenuity goes a long way when you’re a long way from home. That’s one of the things I like best about travel. Your bag of tricks is just a suitcase and your imagination so you have to be resourceful.