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Niabi Zoo a Giraffe Experience!

Niabi Zoo Giraffe

Cindy of Traveling Adventures of A Farm Girl shares her adventure at the Niabi Zoo in the Quad Cities. When is the last time you were in Iowa or Illinois exploring this area of the state?

What could be more fun than a trip with Allie, my adult daughter and a chance to see some wild life up close and personal?  This past July, I had the chance to see what was new and different in the Quad Cities on a sponsored trip and one of the places I was fortunate enough to visit was the Niabi Zoo.  Located near Coal Valley, we arrived early to experience the Giraffe Encounter.

Giraffe at Niabi Zoo

The zoo is located in a rural area and we were amazed at how big the zoo was.  Niabi zoo offers more than 600 animals representing over 200 species from around the world.  We parked and entered the offices and caught up with Tammy Schmidt, the assistant director.  Tammy took us on a whirlwind tour as we wound our way to the giraffes.

The first thing we saw when we entered was the new exhibit called Oceans.  This educational exhibit is an aquatic-themed habitat that includes a giant Pacific octopus, a moray eel, jelly fish, fish eating anemones and more.  What we loved was the bright colors of the fish and a placard explaining how the slim chances of being bitten by a shark. With a husband that watches and believes any and every shark threat, Allie and I were quite amused by this and took a photo to share with Keith upon our return!

Shark Retreat

Tammy shared that the zoo sits on over 40 acres and that the zoo has a deep commitment to preserving nature and ecology.  Allie was quite excited when she viewed the Big Cat exhibits on our way to our giraffe encounter that was the big draw for her.  There is a Big Cat Encounter and if it is as cool as the giraffe encounter, we may have to go back!

The giraffe encounter was amazing.  We got a chance to see the two species of giraffes and we were amazed by how much larger the male was than the female.  Our guide told us that it has only been recently that they have learned that there are distinct differences in some of the giraffe species, it is astounding what we are still learning year after year about animals, their environments and interactions.

Niabi Zoo


The animal trainers have taught the giraffes to move through a shoot from place to place.  They play with toys they have mounted on bars and the male giraffe was quite attracted to scratching his head against the bars.  Never having been this close to a giraffe, I didn’t really realize how big and tall they really are.  After watching them and learning about them for a bit, we had the chance to feed them large lettuce leaves and see their beautiful faces up close. What a wonderful thing to see and do.  Elementary school and older children would love this opportunity!

reptiles at Niabi Zoo

After our encounter, we wandered through the zoo and saw the reptiles, the beautiful cats and we were entranced by the lovely snow leopard.  We saw birds, goats that stood on high rocks and more. The heat of the day was the only downside to our visit.  I would love to go back again in the cool of early spring or fall!

The  Niabi Zoo has educational opportunities for kids and a zoo ranger program as well.  When we traveled to our next stop, the Creekside Vineyards, the young man there said he was a zoo ranger and expressed how wonderful he thought it was to have the chance to be at the zoo and share information with the public was.

There is something for everyone at the zoo; there is a lovely carousel and even a train ride to travel around the zoo.  They even have birthday parties, family reunions and other events that can be arranged.  To find out more information, log onto and make plans for your very own wild life encounter!

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Anderson Japanese Gardens: Rockford, Illinois

Meditating area japanese gardens

The Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Illinois, is a place for you to experience the scents and stunning views that accompany any garden. Who knew that such a beautiful waterfall existed in the heart of the midwest, in Rockford, Illinois?

Go Rockford Illinois waterfall

We were pleasantly surprised to find such stunning falls in one of the flattest areas in the midwest. The one thing we keep learning about the midwest is that there is always a new garden experience waiting around the corner.

Each section of the gardens seemed to speak to us in a unique way. Upon entering, you will find yourself greeted by a lake. The best tip we can give you is to stop and let your mind wander as you begin your visit. There’s something about a stroll around a lake and how it brings you back to reality.

garden flowers in lake

The Anderson Japanese Gardens prides itself on the fact that they maintain the highest standards that touch the souls of their guests, and we can attest to that. The Japanese culture, as well as respect, are exemplified throughout the venue.

As with any garden, we always advise visitors to visit several times throughout the year. When the seasons change, the experience changes as well.

Though most Japanese garden materials are not unusual, the way that all these basic elements are brought together and the emotions that they provoke is what makes a Japanese garden unique. Stone, water, and plants are very common in Japanese gardens, which you will find in abundance.

Stone and waterfall in Japanese Gardens Rockford

Other beautiful parts of this attraction includes pagodas, stone lanterns, water basins, arbors, and bridges.

bridge in Anderson Japanese Gardens

The best thing about all of this is the fact that this is located in America’s Heartland. We considered these Japanese Gardens to be one of our most exciting finds when it comes to gardens.

As with any attraction that offers guided tours, we would highly encourage you to take a guided tour on your first visit. You will learn about the current happenings around the gardens and what you can expect on a return visit. Self-guided tours are available and we’d highly suggest you do this after your guided tour. Revisit the place in the gardens that spoke to you and we know you will feel refreshed and ready to conquer the world.


Connect with Go Rockford on Facebook.

Connect with Anderson Japanese Gardens on Facebook

*Thank you to Go Rockford and the Anderson Japanese Gardens for hosting us.


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Midwest Finds For Spring/Summer 2017

Sara and Lisa on horses

We have been on the road on and off this spring and summer experiencing a lot of fresh food, midwest history and adventure for years to come.  The midwest holds many treasures with stories that are untold. We are working on finding as many stories as we can. Here are some of the highlights we have stumbled on the past few months.


When you visit Abilene, Kansas, be sure to swing over to the rose garden. The garden area was peaceful and offered beauty that will be imprinted in your mind for quite some time.

Rose Gardens Abilene

I have no doubt that you can visit any time of year, and find a time of reflection. There’s something magical about a garden when it’s located in an area that showcases one of America’s presidents.


Overland Park is home to an arboretum and botanical gardens that embraces train enthusiasts. Be prepared to walk and explore this beautiful area, as you can stroll all the way to an area for train lovers.

Overland Park Arboretum Train


Who knew that Elgin, Illinois had so many fun characters? Trust us, as you walk into any coffee shop in Elgin, you will have a new friend or two. The Blue Box Cafe is where you will embrace Dr. Who and a laugh or two.

Blue Box Cafe Elgin

What’s not to like about being served a hot breakfast, a smile with a little Dr. Who in the area?


A nice dinner with live music was what we found at Franchesco’s Ristorante in Rockford, Illinois. Sara’s ears perked up when our waiter said, “Iowa grass fed beef.” When she hears her home state of Iowa, she pays attention quite quickly. How does this steak look?

Steak at Franchesco's

Cooked to perfection with delicious sides. We both are counting the days until we return.


If you follow the two of us on our travels, you know that we enjoy a donut now and then.

Kenosha Donuts

Mike’s Donuts & Chicken is not to be missed when visiting Kenosha, Wisconsin.


The Fenelon Place Elevator prides itself on being the steepest and shortest scenic railway, 296 feet to be exact.

Sara and Lisa Dubuque, Iowa

Board the elevator for a view of historic Dubuque, the Mississippi River and three states. Tip: Visit different times of the year to get a different view. Iowa prides itself on the fact that they do have four distinct season.

This is a glimpse of where we have been this spring and summer. We continue to fill our calendars with more midwest destinations. The beauty of the midwest is that we have a variety of experiences to offer.. 24 hours is usually not enough time to explore a community. Several of these destinations warrant a 2nd or 3rd visit, as there’s so much to do.

Where have your 2017 spring and summer travels taken you? We’d love to hear about your travel experiences in the midwest.









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Make it a Lincoln Summer in Springfield, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
The Lincoln Family at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Abraham Lincoln is one of our most beloved Presidents and you can come to the Land of Lincoln to learn all about him.  Plan a day or a couple and choose the sites most suited to your family.  Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President and his connections to the Springfield, Illinois area are numerous.   Here he worked as a lawyer, married Mary Todd, lived in the only house he ever owned.

New Salem

First stop visit that offers family fun is Lincoln’s New Salem, less than 40 minutes from Springfield. It was here in the streets of reconstructed New Salem, that Abraham Lincoln lived as a young man. In New Salem, you can see the store where Lincoln clerked and served as postmaster and about his presumed romance with young Ann Rutledge.  You can also learn life through the costumed characters of the people who lived here more than 150 years ago.  New Salem is tree lined and lovely and offers a great stop to stretch your legs and interact.  This is a good stop for people of all ages.  Open from April to October, learn more about it at .

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

The second stop I recommend would be the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. This is the number one attraction in downtown Springfield and rightfully so.  The museum as their website states, “documents the life of the 16th U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln, and the course of the American Civil War. Combining traditional scholarship with 21st-century showmanship techniques, the museum ranks as one of the most visited presidential libraries.”

While the library offers an extensive collection on Lincoln, it also houses the collection of the Illinois State Historical Library, founded by the state in 1889. The library is neat to stop and see, but for family fun, the museum is the place to go.  Do note though that for children under seven, that some of the exhibits may be a bit too dramatic. Don’t miss this great stop you will come back again and again.

For a unique way to get to know more about the personal life of Abe and Mary Lincoln, think about joining in on one of the Abe & Mary: Quite Contrary Walking Tours that are offered on Tuesdays during the summer.  Two tours are offered at both 10:00 am and 1:30 p.m through the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.  The tour offers you a chance to get the low down on the Lincolns in a way that goes beyond the politics. The tour is a 1.5 mile, 60-minute tour that explores downtown Springfield and tells the story about the people and places that helped Abraham and Mary’s relationship blossom, and in some cases tear them apart. While free, you need to make reservations in advance for this neat walk.

For details about the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum log onto

Lincoln’s Home

Visit Lincoln's Home
Lincoln’s Home

Third on the Lincoln trail is Lincoln’s Home.  This site is a National Historic site and while free, you get tickets to tour the Visitor’s Center.  At the center, you will learn about Lincoln and get a ticket and scheduled time to visit.  The home is quite interesting and shows insight into Lincoln’s home life.  Lincoln was a push over where his children were concerned and it is fascinating to peek into how gentle this man who ruled the nation during our most difficult time dealt with him rambunctious boys.  The Lincoln neighborhood is a nice walk and tour as well with some of the houses also open.  I found that even if you went a few years back, this is a fun place to return to.  The website is to plan your visit.

Lincoln Pew at First Presbyterian Church

Fourth, while downtown, consider a stop at the Lincoln Pew at the lovely First Presbyterian Church. I have seen the pew, but never had the honor of joining in on one of the tours.   On the website ( it states,  “During the summer, the docents offer weekday tours in June, July, and August. Hours are Monday thru Thursday 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. The red doors on Seventh Street are open for these weekday tours…”

Lincoln’s Tomb

Number five should be Lincoln’s Tomb. While inside may be a bit daunting for kids, outside they would enjoy a chance to rub Lincoln’s nose. For some, this is supposed to be associated with good luck! Inside the tomb, it is a bit more somber and brings home the fact that Lincoln’s was cut short by an assassin’s bullet on April 15, 1865. It was Mary’s wishes that his remains were returned to Springfield. The tomb is located at Oak Ridge Cemetery and here there is also the story of the first site where Lincoln was buried and the attempt to steal his body from the temporary grave. Log onto for more information.

There are other stops as well you can make that have Lincoln associations as well when in the area, but these are my top five. Come to the Land of Lincoln, have a Springfield horseshoe* while you are here and visit some other iconic Springfield stops.

*The horseshoe is a wonderful artery closing dish of meat (hamburger or ham) served up on toast with French fries, then covered with cheese sauce!)