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Birthday gifts between my wife and I are a bit different from the norm.  We generally eschew the traditional material gifts and arrange for some sort of experience that we can enjoy together.  This has, in the past, been everything from concerts to day trips.  We try to make the rule that it has to be something we have never done before.  That makes the search for a birthday gift a bit of a challenge at times. 

The other problem it presents is timing.  Often an event will take place well before or well after the actual date of the recipients birthday.  And, because we are looking for unique events, these dates are not often repeated at a later time.  Thus, sometimes we have to seize an opportunity and do a miniature birthday celebration weeks, or even months, off the actual date.  This was the case this past weekend as my wife took me on a mystery trip that was an early birthday gift. 

The trip was revealed en route to be to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore for a special event:  Breakfast with the Penguins.  Now, many who know me know that I love penguins.  I have a collection of penguin paraphernalia.  I have watched “March of the Penguins” several times.  I can identify most species by sight.  I am a true admirer of the penguin.

Thus, when I learned as we neared Baltimore what it was we were doing, excitement abounded.

It was a wonderful morning.  We got to talk to the keepers and handlers of the Maryland Zoo’s African Black-Footed Penguin colony.  We learned that the colony is the largest in North America and the most successful breeder of the endangered species in the country.  I learned all about the cute, little critters.

We also had the opportunity to see one of them up close as they brought one of their Animal Ambassadors out to meet the attendees.  He was an outgoing little fella names Tails.  After hobnobbing with Tails for a bit we participated in the day’s first feeding of the colony.

It was definitely an experience I will always remember.

My wife gave me, with this gift, something better than anything she could pull off a shelf or order online to be shipped in a box.  She gave me a memory that I can pull out and remember.  All the sights and sounds of the early morning zoo.  Watching the penguins play in the water.  Eating breakfast while gazing at the Rock Island habitat and hearing the keepers tell us about life there for the penguins.  Memories are much more durable and lasting, especially when shared with loved ones.

And besides, I got to feed the penguins.

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