Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Farewell to the Palm Beach Zoo -- hello to a new career adventure!

Two years ago today, I began my journey in a field I never thought I would work in-- at a zoological society! Since then, I've been called "the Zoo Lady" by people who know that I work at the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society. I have loved being the Media Relations Manager, AKA the public spokesperson for the Zoo.

My first day on the job! We've changed our logo since then-- actually, a lot has changed

I remember how confused I felt when I would wander around the Zoo-- and how I actually got lost with a reporter my first week on the job when I was trying to take her to the Wildlife Carousel! Obviously I have memorized the Zoo map since then.

My job duties range from writing press releases and pitching media to taking photos of special events. Since we are a non-profit organization, we all wear many hats. 

One of my most fun duties is taking photos and video of our animals. If you see an animal photo on the Zoo's FacebookTwitter or Instagram, I took it (unless I give a photo courtesy, then obviously it was taken by someone else). Here are some of my favorite animal photos I have taken below...

I'm partial to the primates like the capuchins, because they're so fun and active

Russell the peacock was named after the son in the Pixar movie "Up"

You can meet Oz the Queensland koala in the Zoo's Koala Experience

The Zoo has four adult Malayan tigers on grounds-- they are highly endangered, with only an estimated 250 left in the wild

The four ring-tailed lemur brothers, Herbie, Avery, Milo and Otis are always leaping around because they're so young and energetic! This type of lemur is like King Julian from the Dreamworks movie Madagascar

There are tons of perks of working at a zoo, such as getting to hang out with awesome zookeepers who are way more knowledgeable about animals than I am. For instance, this past weekend I worked with local media as they covered our howler monkey habitat renovation. At one point, the mother howler monkey was bouncing up and down on her branch as a Palm Beach Post photographer was trying to take her picture. I was like, "Awe, she likes you," and the associate curator was like, "Nope, that's some serious aggression." This is why I am not a zookeeper!

I may not be an animal expert, but I sure do love them critters! ;) Like Wilbur here, one of our Hoffman's two-toed sloths!

"Oh, ya know, just FEEDING A BEAR is all! How's YOUR workday coming along?!"

It took me a month to pass the tests and get certified to be able to hold this turtle. This is not a joke. The Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which means we hold to the highest standards of animal well-being and safety. We don't play, even with a turtle!

It's been a fun part of my job that I still get to hang out with my former WPTV coworker and friend Ashleigh Walters plus meteorologist Tyler Mauldin. Animal Trainer Sara Travis brings a cool animal (like Goose the scarlet macaw, pictured here) on television once a month and I stand there and smile :) 'Cuz I'm not cool since I'm not holding an animal, LOL!

I love love love love Noto, the allegedly 88-year-old giant Aldabra tortoise! You can meet him and his big ol' friends in the Aldabra Tortoise Experience

The Zoo earns more than a million dollars in one night during our annual gala-- I had to do tons of publicity leading up to it, and that was a BEAST (although not in the animal sense) learning how to do society PR!

There have been some high points in media, like this May we were featured on the National Geographic channel and TLC. We've also been in the Women's World magazine twice, and the Associated Press has picked us up a bunch of times. We have had a surprising amount of national and international publicity! I am so grateful for all the amazing media hits in the past two years, and I am both proud and humbled that I had some small part in that.

I was proud to represent the Zoo on the national SmartCar website for our Carbon Fuel Reduction Initiative! We encourage employees to carpool or take alternative transportation like biking or a bus to work to save fuel emissions. We are all about conservation and saving the planet, y'all.  :)  This photo was taken in our Cornell Tropics of the Americas section! Yes, I totally drove my car inside the Zoo. It fit easily, as you can see.

I try not to "toot my own horn," because my role is to gain coverage for the Zoo -- not myself. Although I'm the go-to person for media coverage, I know that I am the last person a news reporter wants to interview-- they want the zookeeper who worked directly with the animal we are covering! So I have tried to shine the spotlight on the hardworking and deserving staff members who make the magic happen. That means I don't courtesy those photos I take, because my philosophy is that they belong to the Zoo.

It ain't about me, it's about the Zoo!

Since I'm leaving, though, I'm like, "Hey! I did that!" I do feel pride that I have seen the fruits of my labors get the Zoo positive publicity.  :)  It's a good thing!

Now, as I embark on a new journey, it is with mixed emotions that I begin my last days and say farewell to the Palm Beach Zoo. The good news is that I will still have the opportunity to promote the Zoo on an even larger scale-- because I will be the new Public Relations Manager for Discover the Palm Beaches!!! It is the official tourism marketing organization for Palm Beach County. Tourism is the county's number one industry, and I already consider myself as part of their team-- because I have been promoting Florida since I first moved here four years ago!

So be prepared to see even more beach photos on my personal Instagram and Twitter because I'll be ALL about letting everyone know why Palm Beach County is the best place on earth to live, work and play! The slogan is "The Best of Everything," and I truly, 100% believe that.

But there is a small part of me that will be sad that I won't get to hear the distinctive siamang calls anymore-- that always made me feel like I was working in a jungle. The best part of my job was feeling like I was truly helping the animals. Even though I may not be the one directly training them, by being able to tell their unique stories, I was bringing their issues to light!

 Nabalam, the 20-year-old matriarch jaguar -- it took me a very hot hour of waiting for her to walk in order to get this photo!

When I interviewed at DTPB, I was asked, "Why are you looking to leave the Zoo? You light up when you speak about it," because I had been bragging about how our Kimelman tiger habitat doubled in size and how our flamingo pathway expanded, etc. etc. etc. If you haven't been to the Zoo in the past six months, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much it has improved and upgraded!

"Why you wanna leave me?!"  #FennecFox #GuiltTrip

The main reason why I am choosing to leave the Zoo is because this new role is an opportunity I just couldn't overlook. These jobs are rare, and it is definitely a professional step up for me. 

So I am only sharing these next facts because I predict I am going to get a lot of "Can I have your job?" messages from news friends (because I have been getting those messages for two years now, LOL!) -- and keep in mind this is not a bad thing, it just "is what it is" when you work in PR-- another reason I am choosing to leave is because I work a lot of weekends. I mean, a LOT. 

It's not like this is some big secret, because if you saw my monkey video on TV or read my name in print in that article, then you could tell I worked those days to make it happen.  :)  Sorry if you were hoping this article would be a "tell all" type of blog-- not gonna happen, I love the Zoo too much, haha!

That howler monkey story? I shot and edited a VOSOT for it on Saturday, which took a couple of hours. Then on Sunday, I'm playing organ for the prelude of a church service in Boynton Beach where I'm currently substituting, and my phone starts blowing up with texts from the Palm Beach Post reporter who suddenly got assigned to cover the howlers! Guess what? I had to go back in to the Zoo. And I have to work again this weekend to take fresh photos of our Food Truck Safari. So as of this Saturday, I will have worked 13 days in a row. Par for the course in this role-- you do what you have to do to make sure you get media coverage. I literally sleep with my phone by my head in case Wilma the mama gator ever decides to go for a midnight stroll again.

"Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

I do not say all of this to complain. It is a labor of love, and a true PRIVILEGE to do what I have been able to do for the Zoo-- tell its stories to entice the public to visit and support animal care and conservation. Although I am leaving, I still intend to be an advocate for the Zoo "from the outside in" and continue to fight to gain it more publicity and attention.  :)  It's a bittersweet feeling, but I am optimistic that I will still be helping the Zoo-- this time, on a global scale!

Thanks for the #ZooLove

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Amsterdam: 3 steps in the "correct" way to drink beer!

After a really fun (and fattening) flight to Europe, I was so excited to make it to Amsterdam! It was my first time to visit the famous destination. I was struck by the beauty of the Netherlands' capital city, and it felt amazing to view in person the historic buildings that I have only seen before in movies.

Amsterdam from the air

My sister, Alicia, and her daughter, Elizabeth, drove in from Germany to meet my husband, Nathan, and me. We spent the first day being complete tourists!

We did stroll through the "red light district," but we didn't make too big of a deal about it since Elizabeth is only seven years old. I did spy three young ladies with rollers in their hair, and assumed they were, *ahem*, ladies of the district.  ;)  

The first stop for us after a long, HOT walk through town, was the Van Gogh Museum. I enjoyed learning about the master painter's life and struggles, and it was wonderful to see so many of his pieces in one place.

One of Van Gogh's many self-portraits... ears still intact

Next stop was the Heineken Experience, and it was SO interactive! I don't have enough to describe it, but it was educational and entertaining. You walk through the historic brewery, and learn about the beer brewing process plus the history of the brand. 

I was so impressed by how much there was to do, and how fun they made it. There was even a room that was almost a "ride," but not really. You are supposedly beer that is going through the process of being brewed. It was like one of those 4D cinemas that move and spray water and air at you, kind of like the Soarin' ride at Disney's Epcot. That was my favorite part!

This lady talked us through each ingredient that makes Heineken unique-- she said it's all about the "A" strand of yeast, which is still only used today by the company

Then they teach you the "proper" way to drink beer in order to get the best taste. Here it is in 3 steps:

1. Swirl and smell your beer-- just like with wine, it helps you better appreciate it. Then go in for the drink...
2. Tip your glass (or stein) far back with a firm hand.
3. Take a big swig! If you take sips, you are drinking the bitter foam at the top.

Nathan's happy face after finishing his beer samples-- I don't even like beer, but I confess that I drank some just to say I did. The Experience is REALLY GOOD MARKETING!

Elizabeth and her traditional Dutch pancake, served with syrup and powdered sugar

After the Experience, we wandered around the city a little bit more before heading back to the hotel. Nathan had to head back in to work, so my sister, niece and I explored Amsterdam on our own the second day.

Westerkerk Church

 Lovely canals wind throughout the city

 Obsessed with the Anne Frank House, but the line was more than 3 hours long and we didn't have time for it-- my sister went before, and said it is worth the visit

So pretty!

We stepped into the Amsterdam Tulip Museum, but it was burning up hot inside, so we immediately left. This part of Europe is experiencing a "heat wave," although I'm from Louisiana and Florida so this is nothing to me. However, I am indeed saddened that most places don't have air conditioning! 

We loved the Amsterdam Cheese Museum, which helps you "relive the experience of cheese-making" and allows you to taste the "unique flavor of the best cheese in Holland." It was so much fun to read about making cheese!

Say "cheese," please! #CheeseSelfie

I was all excited to taste the raw milk flavors-- I ended up purchasing the Truffle style

My sister likes the iconic Delftware, so we peeked into one of those stores

After a wonderful two days, my sister, niece and I left and made our way five hours south to her home in Germany. I'm throwing in a couple of village photos, because these are ALL over the country! My sister says they're called "bergs"... she lives in Weselberg, one of these tiny villages (population: 1,340). The view is AMAZING. Country living!

Have you ever been to Europe? What parts did you visit? Comment below, and let me know! Thanks for reading, as always.  :)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The high life - flying first class for the first time!

My social media friends are probably ready to punch me because I just posted this selfie... But please forgive my excitement, it's my first time to ever fly first class! #DeltaAirlinesFan

These are lie-flat seats, and they come with "heavenly comfort Westin bedding." You even get a cute little Tumi amenities bag with toiletries!

I'm going to wrap myself in plushness and sleep this 7-hour flight to Amsterdam-- if I can stop watching movies long enough! Delta Airlines has the BEST in-flight entertainment, and that's the truth.

Got some ginger to ward off any motion sickness... accompany some fancy eats! Filet mignon and buttermilk ice cream, anyone? So swank! THE DIET IS OFF, PEOPLE!

See y'all in Europe!  :)