Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Como Park Conservatory and the Tropical Encounters Exhibit

This winter, like most winters, I've been feeling a little cooped up and longing for some warmth and flowers.  So when hubby asked me what I wanted to do for Valentine's Day, I suggested we go to the Como Park Conservatory in St. Paul Minnesota.  The conservatory, like the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, is also attached to the zoo.  And like the zoo in Chicago, it's also free but they ask for a donation.

I will cover the zoo also, but I'm going to do that in next week's travel post otherwise this post will be way too long.

It was a beautiful, sunny 33 degree day when we visited the conservatory.  Now I know my warm weather blogging buds will think "33 degrees!  That's freezing!  How did you walk outside in that weather?".  But trust me, 33 and sunny is a warm winter day for us northerners.  The park was packed  with hikers, and the zoo and conservatory were so busy it was hard to get a photo without a person in it.  Everyone seemed to really be enjoying the warm weather.

The conservatory is made up of three sections:  the Sunken Garden (flower shows which change seasonally), the North Garden (tropical plants), and the Fern Room.  Connecting the three rooms together is a beautiful dome called "The Palm Dome".  In addition,  there is also a Bonsai Garden and lots of outdoor gardens as well, but I will have to cover that another time as it was winter when I visited.

First up is my favorite garden (and probably everyone's favorite...who am I kidding?). the Sunken Garden.  Oh, stepping inside this garden anytime is so refreshing to the spirit, but it is even more refreshing in the middle of winter.  To feel the warmth and see and smell all the flowers that have been absent from our lives for so many months, is a wonderful, rejuvenating experience.

They change the flowers out with the seasons.  When we there I saw lots of azaleas, a few miniature daffodils, cyclamen, snap dragons, violets, and amaryllis to name just a few. 

One thing that struck me about our visit that day was how everyone was just taking their time and soaking it all in.  I could tell how hungry everyone was to experience the sensual pleasures of flowers again.  People were either walking very slowly looking at every detail, or they were sitting or standing still for long periods savoring the moment before they had to venture back outside in the cold, barren wasteland.  I said to my husband "Flowers make people happy."  I've never met anyone that didn't like flowers.

I love the contrast of all the pretty pinks with the purples and whites.  There was lots of green filler plants to balance it all out.

The amaryllis was beautiful and they smelled like heaven itself!

I spotted a few early blooming miniature daffodils.

This red amaryllis was truly stunning!

The stone retaining walls really add to the beauty of this room.

Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is almost a two hour drive from my home.  Although I had been there before, it's been years since my last visit.  I was amazed at all the new buildings they added to both the conservatory and the zoo.

One of the buildings I don't remember is the Fern Room.  This is a beautiful room.  It's very moist and I had to watch my camera lens as sprays of mist are shot into the air constantly.  This room features a pond, waterfall, hanging gardens, and many different species of ferns.

The other part of the conservatory is the North Garden where the tropical plants are held.  This area also has a pond with a water feature.

There is color in this green garden as well with lots of blooms on tropical plants and of course everyone's favorite:  orchids.


In the palm dome is a gorgeous path leading to a fountain.  I felt like I was back in Savannah, Georgia when I saw that fountain!

 All the orchids are truly unique and stunning.

 You will also find many common houseplants here too!

 I couldn't believe the size of these banana leaves and I had to put my hand in the photo for reference.

This is quite a large statue in real life, and yet it looks dwarfed in comparison to the banana leaf plant.

 Now the last building I'm going to show you is also in this area.  It opened in 2005 (gosh, has it really been THAT LONG since I've been to Como Park?) but is new to me because it wasn't here the last time I visited the conservatory.  It is called the Tropical Encounters Exhibit and it was one of my favorite experiences of the day.

The park website describes this exhibit as such:  "Tropical Encounters takes guests on an adventure through a Central and South American rainforest through the eyes of experienced Minnesotan field researchers and hundreds of plants and animals. Guests will encounter freshwater stingrays, river turtles, frogs, toads, fish, free-roaming birds, an anaconda and Chloe the sloth. They will also view rainforest trees and plants including strangler fig, kapok, cecropia, annatto, mahogany, peach palm, balsa, ice cream bean and more. An integral part of the natural ecosystem is the insects that are essential to its survival, including the leaf-cutter ants that will be featured in Tropical Encounters."

I was absolutely giddy with excitement over the exhibit because it combined two of my favorite things in life:  plants and animals!  And the best part is, some animals like the birds, turtles, and even a sloth, were not in cages!  They were freely roaming the building and you could get so close to them!

Now I know most of you don't like snakes, but I thought this one was beautiful!  I was surprised he was not poisonous and the staff person could hold him.  Usually the colorful snakes are poisonous.

They had lots of beautiful and large fish in this exhibit.  This yellow one was one of my favorites.

But perhaps what brought me more joy than anything was seeing all the birds!  They were freely flying about the building.  They were so pretty and their song was enchanting.

This anaconda was huge!  I find it so interesting that anacondas live in the water.

 The turtles seemed so interested in human attention.  They came right up to the glass, like they though we would feed them.  I thought it was so cute the way one turtle rode on another turtle's back.

 The pond was only a few feet tall and the top was open, so we got a really good look at them as we could get so close.

And finally, the biggest surprise of them all, a sloth!  Oh my goodness, I would have missed him if there weren't all these people standing below this tree looking up.  How exciting to get so close to a sloth.  They are such funny creatures.  They move like they are in slow motion.  God had a sense of humor when He created this creature!

I had such a fun and refreshing time visiting the conservatory and the Tropical Encounters Exhibit, but we weren't done yet, as we still had lots of animals to see at the zoo!  Be sure to come back next week to hear about our experience at the Como Park Zoo.

Have A Great Day!  Amy

Linking Up with these Fabulous Blogs HERE!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

A Sweet Labor of Love Recipe Swap And Blog Hop

Hello to all my visitors from Danielle's Blog  and to my regular readers who came here expecting a Tuesday Craft Post, well you are going to get a delicious recipe instead!  I suppose cooking is kind of like crafting as you are creating something!  I haven't done a recipe post in so long, but if I do one I usually post them on Saturday.  But my good blogging friend Leslie asked me to join her in a recipe swap blog hop, so here we are!

Now I think Leslie's intention was that we were to make a romantic meal for our loved ones over Valentine's Day weekend and then post the recipe.  My sweetheart was actually sick all last week and he still had a little bit of sickness over the weekend.  We still celebrated the holiday, but we did something a little more low key.  We drove to the Twin Cities to the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.  You will hear more about that trip in tomorrow's travel post;  Because we took a small trip, I didn't make him a romantic dinner.  However, because he was sick I did make him SOUP! 

This is THE BEST SOUP TO MAKE IF YOUR SICK, because it's so spicy it makes your nose run!  Seriously, I can't eat this soup without a Kleenex nearby.  If spice isn't your thing, just switch out the Hot Italian Sausage for Mild.

My husband was thrilled I made this soup.  It is his favorite soup and he calls it "Restaurant Quality". I must admit, of all the soup recipes I've ever made (and I have made a lot of good ones!) this is my favorite too.  I make it every time my kids are home, and they rave about it.  And here's the best part:  It's a KETO recipe!  If you don't know what Keto is, it is the latest diet fad everyone is on right now.  I started eating Keto in the fall and LOVE it!  It is seriously the best diet I've ever been on because the food is so good!  A lot of people don't like Keto because they find it too restrictive.  I think those people just might not be cooking enough.  There are so many great books out there on Keto recipes.  You can also find a lot of great recipes on Pinterest, and that is where I found this one.

The name of this delicious soup is "Instant Pot Keto Tuscan Soup" and I found it on Eatwell101.  Now the recipe instructions are for an Instant Pot, however, if you don't own an Instant Pot don't fret, because neither do I.  I made mine the good old fashion way...on the stove top!  If you have an Instant Pot, feel free to follow the directions on Eatwell101, otherwise, follow mine below.


Stove Top Instructions:

1.  Remove the casings from the Italian sausage and brown the meat in a large soup pot.  

2. Add the garlic, onion, and oregano to the sausage and cook another 2-3 minutes until the onions are translucent. Be sure to stir constantly!

3.  Add the chicken broth and the sun-dried tomatoes.  Season with pepper to taste.  I have  found that you don't need much pepper because the Italian Sausage is already so spicy.  Cook for  5 minutes

4.  Add kale and stir until the kale is wilted, about 1 - 2 minutes.  I have also made this soup with fresh spinach, and it works just as well.

5. Stir in heavy cream and heat till warm, about 1 minute.  Then adjust the seasoning of the soup with salt and pepper to taste.  I added salt in mine, but I didn't add any more pepper.

Garnish with fresh parsley and serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese.  You really MUST serve with parmesan cheese as it doesn't taste the same without it.

This is such a quick and easy soup to make.  It only takes about 30 minutes to make and serves 4.
If you need the nutritional information, it is available on Eatwell101.

Now, head on over to my good friend Marilyn and see what she made.  Marilyn's a real food blogger and always has something yummy to share!

And if you came here first and want to start the hop from the beginning, start at Deb's Blog.    There are nine bloggers participating in this recipe blog hop, so you will get nine recipes at the end of the hop!  I'm always looking for good recipes, so I'm pretty excited about this hop, are you?

And here’s the total list of all the bloggers involved in this hop:
  1. Deb Keyworth
  2. Juhli Newkirk
  3. Danielle Park
  4. Amy Johnson
  5. Marilyn Lesnik
  6. Penny Struebig
  7. Anne Green
  8. Laura Bambrick
  9. Leslie Clingan

Oh, and you're welcome to share your favorite recipe with us too by joining the link party below!  Now get hopping and linking and have some fun!

Have A Great Day!  Amy

Linking Up with these Fabulous Blogs HERE!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

Monday, February 17, 2020

What I Wore In January

Once a month I like to do a round up of my daily outfits.  I always post my daily outfits to my Instagram and Facebook Stories, and at the end of the month I round them all up and show them on the blog as well.

This month, I didn't get out much so I don't have a whole lot of outfits to show.  And when I did get out, it was either super cold or snowy so I have mostly "extreme cold snowy" outfits this month.

First up is an outfit I wore the day after we were hit with a monster snowstorm.  The roads were clear the next day, so it was safe to drive, but there was still a lot of snow on streets and parking lots so I wore my snow boots.

It was a warm day, so I went without a coat and just wore a thick puffer vest with a warm sweater and hat.

I first tried this outfit with a burgundy Pom Pom hat, but the burgundy in the hat clashed with the burgundy in the vest, so I changed the hat to a black/grey one.

I wore this outfit to run errands.  Grey skinny jeans, a black v-neck cable sweater, and black combat boots.

It was below zero the day I wore this outfit shopping and out to lunch with the hubs.  I've had my OTK boots for several years now, but I still don't feel comfortable wearing them so I only wear them on extremely cold days.  These OTK boots keep my legs so warm!  I never feel cold air on my legs when I wear them.  I wore burgundy skinny jeans with the boots and a beige cowl neck sweater.

And finally, an outfit I wore to church and then over to a friend's house for lunch.  The sweater is a chenille belle sleeve and is so soft and warm.  My pants look dressy, but they are made of a legging material so they are very comfortable.  I completed the look with black booties.

Have A Great Day!  Amy

Linking Up with these Fabulous Blogs HERE!