Friday, October 31, 2008

Crazy week, but next week will be worse...

So, this week in Susyland, Logan cut his hair. He chopped two hunks out of the front of his already buzzed head. It looks kinda dumb, but will grow back quickly. After he did it he lamely made a comment "Huh, some of my hair fell out." Yeah.

I was in St. Louis to train Monday through Wednesday. I got to see their five adorable tiger cubs and got to touch a baby elephant. Otherwise, I worked with giraffes and other antelope and then with rhinos and red river hogs. It was fun, but exhausting.

Wednesday was my birthday and I got home from St. Louis just enough before bedtime to have cake and enjoy the decorations the kids put up. They were really excited. I wasn't too excited about my birthday in general, but the kids made it fun.

Today my boss told me she's switching my days off from Sunday and Monday to Friday and Saturday. That probably means that I won't have any days off this week. She also said I'd be working 7 days a week for a month or two while the new animals get situated and we get used to working with giraffes and rhinos. That pretty much means that a week ago Sunday was my last day off until probably Christmas. Ugh. I won't have to work 8 hour days on my "days off" but will have to go in for at least a few hours.

Our first new animal shipment comes tomorrow and then I'm not even sure how many new animals are scheduled to come next week. A lot! For sure the giraffes! It's terribly exciting, but I sure wish I had a day to catch up on laundry and bills!!!!

Tonight we took the kids to the Halloween party thrown by my parents' neighborhood association. They have tons of fun games that are rewarded with candy. The candy this year was fantastic! It was ALL good stuff like Hershey's and Kit Kat. The kids both left the party with about 20 candy bars and then went trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. I couldn't believe their haul! Absolutely no Tootsie Rolls or nasty peanut butter kisses. No Smarties or Sweet Tarts or crap candy of any kind. Logan dressed up like Batman and wore his entire costume, including mask from the time of his party at school until we got home at 8:15pm. Kaylin dressed up as pageant queen "Miss Messy." She covered an old white Salvation Army dress with paint and markers and dirt. I ran it over with the car several times. We made a Miss Messy sash out of an old tee-shirt and covered an old princess tiara with foil. It was pretty cute and totally appropriate for my slob princess.

I better get some sleep and gear up for my crazy week!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Psycho Susy

Yesterday when I arrived home from work a few minutes later than usual, the kids were carrying bowls of mac and cheese to a picnic blanket in the front yard. Gene made a lot and gave some to each of the neighbor kids as well. All of the kids seemed to be happily eating outside, Gene was happily watching a home improvement show and I was happily checking email, completely oblivious to everything around me.

I looked up and mom from next door was standing in my living room. Uh, hi. She was acting kind of embarrassed and her little girl was sobbing and clinging to her. Ugh. What did my kids do??? Turns out, the neighbor girl didn't want to eat her mac and cheese. The Ultimate Queen of Bossiness, a.k.a. Kaylin, told her "I" would be very angry if she didn't eat her food. Little Girl wasn't too concerned with that so Kaylin upped the threat to "I" would "cut her back" if she didn't eat. Grrreat. I was pretty surprised and asked "Cut your back, like with a KNIFE???" Little Girl sobbed and nodded, Neighbor Mom looked like she wished the floor would open and swallow them both.

I then had to spend several minutes trying to convince a not-quite five-year-old that I would NEVER EVER hurt her and that I most certainly would never dream of threatening her with a knife! The neighbors left for the night (which almost made the whole incident worthwhile because it was a full hour earlier than they usually go home) and now I had to deal with Kaylin. She came slinking out of her room and made a lame excuse about how I don't like wasted food.

I'm all about the psychology of laying blame on superiors to get others to do what you want. I'm talking minor stuff like while training a new person at work, emphasizing that the BOSS likes the barns to be free of cobwebs. This is certainly not a lie, but it makes a much deeper impression than trying to convince someone to spend time on extra work because "I" want it done. Kaylin has the basics down, she just needs to tweak her skills so "I" don't get a visit from Peoria's Finest.

I told Kaylin that if this situation happens again she will be deeply sorry and will suffer extreme punishment that doesn't involve knives or cutting or violence in general.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rhino training

I've now worked with the two adorable, sweet giraffe boys we'll be getting soon! It was an incredible experience and I can't wait to work with them every day! This training trip was perfect because we were stationed in a building with giraffes, rhinos and small antelope- the exact things we needed to work with.

The giraffes were fun because we got to hand feed them and they would bend down to sniff our hands or heads. The rhinos were possibly my favorite animal I've ever worked with. I heart rhinos! I think Roz was a bit disgusted with me because I was so much more interested in working with rhinos we'll probably never see again than I was in working with "our" giraffes. I couldn't help it! Rhinos are so huge and scary-looking while at the same time so calm and gentle. (Don't get me wrong, they are certainly potentially quite dangerous.) The rhinos would come up to the bars to be scratched and petted. I've always known their horns are made out of hair, but never been close enough to OBSERVE that fact. The entire trip was a learning experience and we learned an amazing amount about giraffes and rhinos.

As a zookeeper at another zoo, you tend to get plenty of behind-the-scenes tours and other extras. Zookeepers love showing off their animals. We saw the insides of most of the buildings in the general area we were working. We met and played with a hand-raised kangaroo. We talked with the keeper who trains a gibbon that came from our zoo. When we were offered a tour of the elephant barn we were only mildly interested, but in for a major surprise. We assumed we'd be looking at the building itself and possibly get close to one or more elephants. It was sooo much more :) We were led straight through the building into an enclosed training yard. We watched a couple minutes of a training session and the trainers invited us to come pet the elephant. Cool! We petted her a couple of minutes, thanked the keepers and started walking back toward the people we came with, when they said "Don't you want a ride?" Roz about flipped. I wasn't so sure. I'm not crazy about heights and elephants are big. Really big. Roz took her turn and as she was getting off they asked if I was SURE I didn't want a ride? I figured there was a good chance I'd never get this opportunity again so I went for it. This was no saddled elephant with a stairway to get on... This was a bareback ride. I had to climb onto the gigantic beast and practically do the splits to straddle its back! The only thing to hold onto was her ears. It was pretty scary going up and down but the ride itself was a blast. I'm very glad I did it.

The entire trip was a blast. We had a fun dinner with a former coworker and had a great time catching up. The only downside was our complete dive of a hotel. It was booked without any consideration other than distance from the zoo and the price. It turned out to be located in Trucker Heaven. We were surrounded by two huge truck stops. Within two minutes of walking, we could reach TWO CB shops, an adult book store, a strip club, a seedy-looking bar and a gas station that offered pay showers. The hotel itself was dirty. All the rooms opened to the parking lots. We had VERY little hot water- our showers were luke-warm. They left us two towels, one washcloth and one hand towel daily. Our original bar of soap had mold on the wrapper. There was no iron or hair dryer (and I couldn't use the shower steam trick because the shower didn't make steam...) The lobby window had a bullet hole. The "free breakfast" consisted of two cereal dispensers that sat out 24/7 and a tray of old-looking Hostess donuts. Oh, and a jug of milk in a bowl of ice and a cheap coffee pot.

We took pictures of all this stuff and went and had them printed. While waiting for the pics, we found a poster board, some markers, glue and tape, colored paper and some stickers and feathers. We then returned to the hotel and made a lovely thankyou poster for the boss :) We also included several photos of us with different animals. We apparently got our point across because we're booked at a Holiday Inn for our St. Louis trip next week. Score!

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Today I took Gene and the kids on a tour of the new Africa! exhibit at the zoo. Once the animals begin to arrive in a couple weeks, no one will be allowed over there because it will be a quarantine area. I wanted to show Gene everything while it's still new and pristine. We had a lot of fun posing in the different animal areas. The new header photo is the kids on a bench in one of the lion stalls. We also checked out the giraffe barn as well as the indoor monkey and red river hog exhibits, the zebra stalls and the huge boardwalk surrounding the giraffe yard. It's a beautiful new area that everyone MUST come and see next spring :)

The newest addition to the existing zoo is two adorable young male takin (rhymes with rockin'.) They are basically giant goats, but are soooo cute. The older takin Patrick is nearly full grown but Burt is only 6 months old. He's a "dinky" little guy and stinking cute. Takin love to climb and like rocky areas. They're very strange and cool animals.

Monday, Roz and I leave for Indy to train with giraffes and rhinos for three days. We get to spend Monday night so we don't have to leave Peoria at 4am Tuesday. We called a former coworker who now lives in Indy and plan to meet up with her one of the nights we're there. I'm more excited about seeing and catching up with her than I am about the animal training :) The whole experience should be a good time. It is especially exciting that we'll be working with the giraffes that will be coming to our zoo!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Zoo To-do

Work has been insane. Everyone is scrambling to get ready to start receiving new animals in less than two weeks!!! On Monday (my usual day off and Colombus Day so no school) I was supposed to help load the zebras onto a trailer, have Kaylin at the zoo for a photo shoot at 9:30am and then ride along to Racine, Wisconsin to help deliver the zebras. I begged Gene to take the day off work to stay with the kids. Fortunately, he didn't mind...

Gene got Kaylin all dressed up in a mini zookeeper uniform and brought her in to pose with the camel and the giant tortoise. The photo is for a fundraising calendar for the proposed children's museum. They wanted pictures of kids doing adult jobs and when they contacted my boss, she volunteered Kaylin for the job. Kaylin loved it :) Logan was happy to get to go into the yards with the animals, but NOT have to get his picture taken, thankyouverymuch!

Loading the zebras onto the trailer was relatively uneventful. They weren't overly nervous or stressed-out the entire trip. Every time we stopped to check on them, they were contentedly munching on hay. The trip was probably more stressful for my coworker Doug and me. The drive each way took five hours. The truck's air-conditioning didn't work so we were hot and sticking to the vinyl seats. We got such a late start due to problems with the truck/trailer electronics we got to the Racine Zoo after close and didn't even get to see any of their animals. It was a bummer to drive all that way, spend 40 minutes unloading the zebras and then jump right back into the truck for another five hour drive. Oh well. The zebras did great unloading and seemed to enjoy their new grassy yard.

Logan started in his new classroom on Tuesday. He likes his new teacher and is adjusting well. I figured out this week that Logan has been eating breakfast at school. I don't know how he figured out he could do this, but he was really enjoying it :) A few weeks ago, I added $50 to his lunch account, thinking I wouldn't have to think about lunch money for a long time. Tuesday night I received a notice that he OWED money. WHAT???? Not possible! I checked Kaylin's account and she still had more than half her lunch money! There must be some mistake! Nope. Brat Boy was eating at home and then again at school. A $25 discovery that if it wasn't so funny would have made me quite mad! I emailed his new teacher about it and she emailed back that the former teacher had him on the breakfast list. Seriously???

Next week I'm scheduled to train in Indy from Monday through Thursday. I CAN'T WAIT to work with rhinos!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Giraffe training

I made it through my first session of giraffe training! I think Roz and I both were a bit overwhelmed at how time-consuming it is to clean up after giraffes. Giraffes only sleep literally a few minutes every day so they spend most of their time pacing around, grinding their copious amounts of poo into the floor. The floor must be swept, soaked, scrubbed, sanitized and rinsed daily to clean their mess. Wow.

On the bright side, they are amazingly cool animals. While not terribly intelligent, giraffes are very curious. They like to examine everything in their environment. A falling leaf is fascinating and then good to eat. Giraffes have very good senses of sight and hearing. Roz and I enjoyed making subtle noises while the giraffes were inside the building and watching them react. All four would stop eating and slowly turn their heads toward us, just staring with curiosity. Very cute. We got to hand feed them banana chunks. It was awesome to be so close :)

We also got a complete behind the scenes tour of the entire zoo. We got to watch big cat and elephant training sessions. We also got to watch a veterinary procedure on a constipated snake. The vet was elbow-deep inside a huge python, removing large chunks of impacted feces. Pretty amazing... I took video.

Roz accompanied me to the mall and took great pleasure in forcing me to try on many different potential outfits (as well as several different hideous tops she just wanted to see me in.) I now have an outfit for our coworker's wedding! I even bought shoes! I ended up with a pair of black dress pants and a shirt that is on the casual side, but nothing at all like anything I currently own. I tried on 17 shirts/pants/skirts and several pairs of shoes. Utterly exhausting. I don't understand why so many women love clothes shopping. Ugh.

While I was gone we received a letter from the school that Logan was switched to the new kindergarten class. Just like Kaylin. The principal "randomly" picks kids for the move. I imagine that since we share the same last name our kids kinda jump off the page at him. Logan was adjusting really well and making lots of friends. Bummer.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Corn maze? Check.

I have no idea why, but I've always wanted to do a corn maze. The two mazes I know of in the Peoria area are both at apple farms with so many other activities, we've never had time to bother with a maze. Today was my day. We went to the farm with fewer activities and headed straight for the maze. Unfortunately, we had to walk through the playground with the giant slide and the pedal cars on the paved race track before we got to the maze entrance. The kids were distracted and annoyed they couldn't play...

We excitedly entered the corn field and started wandering through the winding paths. It didn't take long for me to realize that whoopee, we're walking around a corn field. A hot corn field full of bugs. And stinky corn. And within minutes, bored, complaining children. The map had 30 fill in the blank answers for different questions posted around the maze. We found 6 before we were completely done with being in the corn maze and found our way out. I suppose I'm glad I tried it so I'll never be curious again, but I can't imagine ever bothering to do it again.

The kids had a great time on the playground. Logan found a wad of cash on the ground. No one was around to claim it, so we let him keep it. $16 bucks! Logan had no concept of how much money he found, but he did understand how jealous Kaylin was. He very much enjoyed allowing her to count the money while refusing to let her actually hold it. A happy moment for the younger child for sure :)

The farm had a new "gem mining" feature this year. It was a genius money-making scheme that was really fun. They sold you a bag of sand for $6, you dumped it into boxes with screens and washed away the sand in a wooden sluice. The kids loved it! I think we ended up with maybe 6 polished rock sized "gems" and a whole bunch of tiny ones like you would find inside a souvenir pencil. We also received a nifty postcard to identify our gems and a tiny ziplock bag to store them.

Thursday night was Donor Night at the zoo to honor all the donors who made our new Africa! area possible. I was stationed at the rhino house and my job was to talk to the many different tour groups about the rhinos that will be arriving next month and to point out all the interesting features of their barn. I'm not much of a public speaker, but it turned out to be a really fun evening. It was great to have so many people excited about the new area and it gave me an opportunity to express my enthusiasm. One woman approached me after her tour and complimented me on the fact that I'm a zookeeper, not a public speaker, but I managed to infect the entire group with my excitement over the arrival of the rhinos. That was pretty cool.

Tuesday and Wednesday this week I'll head to the Quad Cities for my first session of giraffe training. They have a nice little zoo with lots of great animals and I'm very much looking forward to working there two days. My coworker Roz will also be there and I'm hoping she'll force me to go shopping for something to wear to another coworker's wedding on Saturday. Or maybe I shouldn't go shopping with her... We're going to be together for several more days of training this month so perhaps I shouldn't annoy her too much! I'm quite possibly the Worst. Person. Ever. to shop with.