Sunday, February 28, 2010

Quicky cast update

By the end of my work day, I feel like I have a toddler clinging to my leg. The Aircast really gets heavy and awkward. It's only been 4 days, but it does seem to be helping. My swelling is way down and the pain is less. I'm icing my foot right now and it's just good to have the stupid cast off for a while!

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Boot

Ah, the boot! I picked it up at my doc's office Wednesday, had a tutorial on how to put it on, and then wore it all day at work yesterday. It is so much larger and more cumbersome than I'd imagined. (And I have a pretty vivid imagination for such things.) The boot is actually an Aircast (removable plastic cast) that goes up to my knee. It is meant to protect and immobilize my foot so my plantar fasciitis can heal. If I'm diligent about using it, I may prevent surgery and missing at least 6 weeks of work. I DO NOT want surgery!

The boot is so large my pant leg won't fit over it so it is exposed in its vast entirety, shown off for all the world to see. This also exposed the entire cast to my constant hosing at work. Therefore, I cover the whole mechanism with a garbage bag that I tie above my knee. It works fairly well, but makes me sweat so much the inside is probably equally wet (though MUCH less disgusting with animal manure, etc.) than if I just hosed it. I also need to figure a way to modify the garbage bag so I'm not constantly stepping on the "extra" with my good foot. Otherwise, the boot is surprisingly easy to work in. It's hard to kneel to clean out drains and it's hilariously hard to walk backwards (something I never realized how often I do) but it's actually pretty comfortable and not even close to as heavy as it appears. The boot has a really good slip-resistant sole and our floors are so textured I haven't slipped at all.

The goofy thing is so dramatically large and obvious it shocked a bunch of my coworkers who didn't know about my ongoing foot problems. It seems like I should have a much worse problem- like a broken bone at least. I think a lot of people thought I had been injured "yesterday." I suppose the important thing is that when I got home from work my foot hurt much less than it has in ages! I can take it off if I'm at home relaxing. I sleep with a much smaller night splint that keeps my arch stretched. I've had the night splint for almost a week and it seems to be helping some on its own. I really feel like I'm taking a major step in helping my problem. I will continue stretching, ice and orthotics, but it seems like if I'm diligent about using the boot and night splint my problem will either get better or at least I'll feel like I did everything possible if I end up needing surgery.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Neighbors, ugh

Grrrrr. The neighbor kids. I am sick of them. Logan and I went all the way to Morton for breakfast this morning so we could eat at Cracker Barrel and especially shop at their store and get a giant checkers game. We had been planning this for a week. He's really into checkers and his junky $3 set is falling apart. I was gone all week and was really looking forward to this time together. We had our (ugh, I almost can't stand Cracker Barrel food) breakfast and excitedly looked around the store for the giant checkers set. We found it, paid and he talked about playing as soon as we got home the whole time we shopped at Wal-Mart and Farm and Fleet. He held the set on his lap the entire drive home. I told him I had to put groceries away first, but would play as soon as I was done.

We grabbed a bunch of bags and hurried into the house. There they were. All three of them. 9:30am. Well, there goes my special morning with my son. There goes my Super Mario Bros Wii time with my daughter. The brats have been sent over to be babysat. I put away groceries as Logan showed off his new game and started playing with the (way too young) neighbor kids. The hours ticked away. I did laundry and paid bills. I checked email and did some online banking. It was now 12:30 and I was hungry. Time to go home, guys. Maybe the kids can play later. Bundle, bundle, bundle. Find the missing gloves and hats. Help the baby put on every piece of clothing.

Ahhhhh, silence. We all grab what we want for lunch and start to eat. Ding-dong. Little Girl is back! It's been maybe 20 minutes since she left. I about had a fit. We will NOT be babysitting these kids all day! I have one day off each week with my kids and I want to spend at least part of it with my kids! I totally understand that Neighbor Mom probably looks forward to the weekends when Kaylin and Logan are home and she can send her kids away for a while. I get it. But tough! I do not work hard all week for one full day off with my kids so I can watch someone else's! A few hours? Fine. The entire day including meals and snacks? Absolutely never again!

We stopped allowing the neighbor kids to eat anything over here other than special occasion treats such as birthday cake or cookies they help make. They no longer get any juice boxes or milk or any drink other than water. It's an absolute rule that they leave at meal times. But they keep coming back and coming back. I've written notes to the parents that my kids can't play anymore that day, told the kids they can't come back, they keep coming back.

It's gotten to the point I feel we have to leave to get rid of them. But that's unfair to everyone! Why should my kids have to stop playing and go dink around at Big Lots just to avoid the neighbor kids they WANT to play with? What makes matters worse (for me anyway) is that Gene likes having them here. He can tune out all the noise and the kids leave him alone while he does whatever he does. I don't understand why they leave him alone and not me! If I'm in my chair with my laptop, at least one of them is trying to climb next to me, touching me and coughing in my face to see what I'm doing. Since 99% of the time it's nothing remotely interesting to them, WHY do they have to keep touching me and snuggling me? If I'm sitting at the table paying bills or balancing my checkbook I get "Watcha doing?" Paying bills. "Whyyyyy?" If I shut myself in my bedroom to fold laundry, they're banging on the door. If I fold it on the living room floor they're climbing on me. SERIOUSLY, do I emit snuggly, cuddly vibes??? I think not! (And no, these kids are not lacking attention and affection from their own parents!)

I guess I have to lay down the law on Saturdays. I need some neighbor-free time. At least a few hours in the afternoon. It's not like I dislike these kids or they're bad or anything! I just need some time without them. I'm glad we have neighbor kids my kids love playing with. I'm glad they're not destructive or disrespectful or worse. The "baby" I was so worried about is actually the easiest to deal with and has learned that if he cries he goes home to mama. I feel overrun in my own home and I know the adult neighbors are using me as a free babysitter. Guess I'll stop complaining and go write yet another note to the parents...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Snow part 2

The snow kept coming all day, all night, no school. Fortunately, it was light enough that we got to stay at work all day my third and final day. I did a lot of barn cleaning and spent a lot of time playing with rhinos. I distracted an old male GOH by brushing him with a scrub brush while Dave worked on his feet. Indian rhinos tend to have foot problems that require filing and trimming. We had a bit of extra time so I finally got to go see the carnivore area. They had many cheetahs, each with a large yard, a pair of dholes (sort of look like big red foxes) and African wild dogs that I didn't get to see because of the deep snow. I was sad to leave. I fell hard for the GOHs and especially loved the baby white rhinos. I fell in love with this place and can't wait to return in the summer when all the animals are in the pastures and there is NO SNOW.

This morning I woke up to light snow. I packed the van and grabbed my final hotel breakfast and hit the road a little after 6. I made it to Cincinnati Zoo a few minutes after 9. I couldn't bring myself to call ahead for behind the scenes tours because I wanted to see the zoo and head home. This is yet another zoo I'll have to return to in the warm months. Many animals weren't outside. It was still a really great visit, though. I got to watch the Japanese macques (aka snow monkeys) play in the deep snow. I also watched a pair of very active red pandas playing in the snow. Oh, and the white lions playing in the snow. And they put a group of penguins into a makeshift area outside the bird building so they could play in the snow. My favorite parts of this zoo were the cat house with many species of small cats and other small carnivores and the insect building. They had walking leaves and more varieties of walking sticks than I've ever seen. They even had the scariest giant walking sticks that look just like the ones we have around here but 10 times bigger. EEEEEK!

I left the zoo around noon Central time and stopped only long enough to get gas in Indiana and then stopped at Barnes and Noble in Champaign because I was getting sleepy and needed to get out and walk around. I grabbed a sandwich on my way out of Champaign and was fine the rest of the drive home. I got home a few minutes after 5. I'm exhausted and have a nasty cold. I can't wait to sleep in my own bed. The kids and Tiger were happy to see me, but Simon had to warm up for a few minutes I felt a little punished :) I'm so glad I have my weekend to recover before I go back to work. I. Am. Tired.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Let it STOP snowing!

I'm on my 3rd day in Ohio. Today was my second day working at the Wilds. I left home at 4am Sunday so I could have plenty of time to stop at Columbus Zoo. With the time change, I arrived at the zoo about 11:30am. I had an appointment to tour the rhino/elephant barn at 1:15 so I wandered around and saw koalas, manatees, gorillas and many other animals before an awesome behind the scenes tour. I got to feed and pet their three black rhinos and get very close to their 9 month old elephant calf. I also got to check out the rest of their elephants and talk to the keeper about rhino enrichment. I finished checking out the rest of the zoo and drove another 90 minutes to Zanesville and easily found and checked into my hotel around 5pm. I was exhausted and was probably asleep by 7pm.

I left around 6:30am and made the unbelievably long trek to the Wilds. It was absolutely nothing like I expected! It's 10,000 acres in the middle of nowhere. The many cold tolerant species are out in huge pastures (with shelters) year-round. The rhinos, giraffes, carnivores and probably others I'm unaware of spend their winters in huge barns. The rhinos have two huge barns, each with large play yards they are given access to for at least a short time on all but the coldest days. One barn currently houses 8 white rhinos and the other barn houses 6 greater one horn (Indian) rhinos. The office area is in the building with the GOHs, so I started there. GOHs are somewhat smaller than whites and have a single, sort of stumpy horn. They also have a prehensile upper lip used to pull browse off of trees or bushes. This was my first time working with this species and I love them :)

We helped finish cleaning that barn and then went over to the white rhino barn. I looked around and was shocked to see a 3 1/2 month old baby! I fell hard in love and want to somehow smuggle it into the Park District minivan. She is probably the cutest thing I've ever seen. They also have two 18 month old boys that are about half the size of an adult and already have proportionate horns. I could stay here forever and live in this barn! The baby loves attention and comes to the bars and begs to be petted. Too adorable to describe.

In the late morning Dave the rhino guy took me on a tour around part of the park. We checked out the giraffe and mixed antelope barns. He showed me the vet clinic and stalls. He then took me on the ride of my life through a few of the pastures. They already had at least 15 inches of snow on the ground, with 6-10 more inches predicted for that day/night. It had just started snowing pretty heavily when we went on our pasture tour in a crappy old 4WD pickup truck. He tore all over the pastures, even though snow was horribly drifted and the roads/paths were mostly invisible. There were all kinds of ditches and hills and ravines. Oh, and animals. I'm glad I don't get motion sickness because I probably would have lost my breakfast. After lunch he showed me how he uses a paint roller to apply mineral oil to the rhinos to help with their dry skin. It was awesome!

By early afternoon it was snowing really hard and everyone was sent home early. I could barely see so followed a truck out of the park and realized too late it was going out a different way than I came in. I couldn't turn around so I hugged the park, hoping to find where I came in. I thought I found the road, but apparently I was wrong. I spent the next hour driving through the winding, hilly forest, not seeing ONE other car or even one house. I had to brake twice for deer that darted in front of my car. The road was pretty bad,but could have been worse. After driving 20 miles, I finally came to a small business that appeared to have humans inside, but didn't really appear to be a "public" business. I went inside and just started babbling incessantly to the poor receptionist who just stared at me with her mouth gaping open. She called a couple of the guys to come help "the lady from Ella-noise" find her way back. Fortunately, it was very easy to find my way back to Zanesville. Unfortunately, I was 45 miles from Zanesville and it took me an hour and a half to get back to the hotel. Yep, I left the Wilds at 2:30 and got back to my hotel at 5. Ugh.

This morning all the area schools were cancelled. I allowed myself 45 minutes to make the 20 mile drive, but it took me an hour and fifteen minutes. We cleaned the rhino barns and then I got to watch an intern do a training session with two of the GOH females. We ate lunch, got a load of hay and then were sent home early once again due to more snow. I had recorded every step of my morning journey so there was no way I was going to get lost again, but this time I encountered horrible drifting. One stretch was so bad snow was blowing up on my windshield, completely blinding me, but I couldn't stop or I would be stuck. Fortunately, that was a small stretch of otherwise deserted road. The main highway wasn't bad at all. School's cancelled again tomorrow. I hope it stops snowing and I'll get a full day in my last day. I'd really love to see their carnivore center! I definitely have to come back to this place in the summer when all the animals are outside. It is amazing!

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Ugh. I have so much to do and don't want to do ANY of it :) I have laundry and packing and maps and phone calls and a Wal-Mart trip. The place I'm going is apparently in the middle of nowhere. The nearest hotel I can find (online, without having a clue where the place actually is) is 20 miles away from where I'll be working. It also appears to be a dink town off the highway. I already know I will have to bring my own lunches to work and will have to find stuff that doesn't need refrigeration. Hmmm, peanut butter and marshmallow cream? Individual packs of jelly? Ha! Maybe I'll take Logan to Bob Evans for breakfast and swipe some.

Otherwise, this should be a fun trip. I'm planning to stop at Columbus Zoo on Sunday and have a behind the scenes tour set up with their rhinos. I've never been there so I'm pretty excited. The rest of the week should be a good educational experience. I hope to learn a lot.

I finally got around to taking Simon to the vet yesterday. I had no idea how he'd handle being crated and driven and then how he'd act at the vet's office. I decided that even though we'd be early, I'd crate him and take him with me when I dropped the kids off at school, rather than take the chance that he'd hide and be impossible to crate when I had a short time limit. I need not have worried. Simon was great like always. When I was ready I grabbed him and shoved his big butt in the box. No problem. He wasn't crazy about the car ride and spent most of it meowing loudly, but he came right out of the box on his own and stood nicely on the scale. He then sat nicely on my lap for 15 minutes while we waited for a room, even with two large dogs next to us.

Unfortunately for Simon, the vet I never get to see because she only works every other weekend at this clinic was there. We hadn't talked for years. Possibly not since I worked there four years ago! We probably talked for close to an hour before we remembered the appointment was for cat shots, not for us to catch up. Simon just sat on the table, frozen in fear the entire time. He was great for his shots and exam. We finally went to pay and I ended up talking to the vet quite a while longer. We left home at 8:45 and got back at 11. Poor kitty! Simon was happy to be home, but unlike Tess (the old cat) he didn't punish me. I sometimes wouldn't see Tess for days following a vet visit. Simon was rubbing at my legs, begging for attention almost immediately.

Well, I better get to work packing.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Another vacation over

Sigh. It's the last day of my "forced vacation." We get E-time instead of paid overtime and are required to have our banked time under 80 hours before April 1st. This was the only full week still available so I took it at the last minute. I think I had maybe a week's notice before my time off and had nothing at all planned. It turned out to be a pretty great week, with the unplanned Legoland visit and then two days at Indiana zoos. I still have two 4-day weekends in March. Sadly, Spring Break is the first week of April, so taking the week off with the kids is costing me a week of vacation time rather than just getting to use up E-time. Oh well. Lots of time off is a good thing! This turned out to be a great week off.

I finally got the results of my MRI and they weren't great. So far I've only talked to my doctor on the phone, but he said my options are to wear an air cast for a while and see if that helps or I may have to have surgery. I don't know exactly what I'm talking about, but from what I understand, the plantar fascia is a band of connective tissue that goes over the arch of the foot and connects at the heel. Normal thickness of the band is 4mm and mine is 10mm. It's like the band is clenched up rather than stretching and elongating like it's supposed to. Normally, stretching and wearing arch supporting orthotics "fixes" this problem. For whatever reason, I'm well beyond that. The surgery would apparently partially cut through the thickened band, "releasing" it to be able to stretch normally. I would like to avoid surgery if at all possible. Duh. However, this foot pain has been the focus of my life for almost a year now. I would love to have it fixed. It is horrible. The doc's on vacation next week and I'll be gone for rhino training the following week so I have two weeks to figure out what I want to do. Um...

It's weird that it's suddenly Saturday and I have to do my usual laundry and grocery run. I have been doing laundry all week but it doesn't make sense to do the kids' laundry before I have all of their school uniforms or I'll have to do an extra load later. As far as the groceries, Logan likes to come along and push the cart. We usually have an early breakfast out and then head to Walmart. He likes it to be just the two of us while Gene and Kaylin sleep in. It's pretty flattering that Total Daddy's Boy wants time with me so I try to make our Saturday mornings work as often as possible :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Zoo road trip

I just got back from a great little road trip that made my forced week off in (eye roll) early February completely worthwhile! My coworker Meghan has a friend at Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Indiana where they have baby jaguars. I have some friends at Indianapolis Zoo who work with two new baby giraffes. Meghan and I decided to visit both. It was a lot of driving, but a blast!

We left for Evansville at 6am Tuesday and arrived around 11am. Meghan's friend Loretta showed us around their amazing new Amazonia exhibit, including behind the scenes. It is a huge indoor area with monkeys, birds, fish, caiman, lots of small mammals and inverts and a mama and two baby jaguars. The babies tore around climbing trees, play fighting and jumping on mom. We then toured the rest of the zoo which included a trip to the camel barn to play with a baby Bactrian, a visit with a clouded leopard and a serval and a peek at a baby colobus monkey. Loretta had to get back to work so we checked out the lions and tigers and rhino and hippo and many other animals on our own. Then we had to go back to Amazonia to say goodbye to the jaguar cubs. If we had lion or tiger cubs at our zoo I don't think I could get any work done. I would be watching them all day!

We left the zoo at 3 and were starving! Meghan suggested Bar Louie, which was a great choice because their special was mac and cheese. Mmmmmmm. It was close to our hotel so we checked in and relaxed and watched a marathon of some reality show involving a scary-looking team of car repo-men (and terrifying woman.) Entertainment at its best! Loretta saved us from brain mush by picking us up at 8 and taking us to a restaurant to meet some of her coworkers. It was a blast swapping zoo stories and it's always good to reinforce that the same crazy stuff goes on everywhere, not just our zoo. I had a sandwich on a pretzel roll that was strange, but excellent. We got back to the hotel at (gasp) 10pm and I crashed.

We left for Indianapolis around 7:30am. My AAA directions were either wrong or else I copied them wrong. (My printer was out of ink so I hand copied.) My paper said 53 miles, but it was actually 93 miles before we got onto the highway that took us to Indy. I was a bit nervous for 40 miles, but everything was fine and we arrived in Indy around 11:30 with the time change. Susanne, Laura and Holly met us shortly after our arrival and we all went to lunch at a great little place with excellent club sandwiches. Again, it was fun talking to a group of keepers. When we got back to the zoo, Susanne and Laura took us to see the baby giraffes. They are full brothers to our zoo's two giraffes, so it was especially exciting. One was 5 months old and the other only 1 month old. Giraffes are born with their horns folded down and inward so they pass easier through the birth canal. The little baby's horns were still folded. It was stinking cute! We checked out the rhinos and addra gazelle in the rest of the barn and then were handed off to Holly. She took us to see the baboons and lions she regularly works with and then showed us the new cheetah exhibit opening later this spring. Then, as a surprise, she took us to the elephant barn where a rare play session with their two baby elephants was in progress. It was the cutest thing ever to watch two dinky elephants charging around, chasing each other, climbing on each other, pushing each other to the ground and then teaming up to steal hay from the adults housed around their play pens. We watched some training sessions with a couple of the adult elephants and then got to go inside one of the pens and pet one of the adult females. I've done it before, but it never stops being amazing to be standing next to a 9 foot elephant! I thought rhinos were big, but they are tiny compared to elephants! Extremely cool.

The zoo closed at 4 and it was now 3:30. Meghan and I rushed around the rest of the zoo and saw as much as we could. We were disappointed the walruses (including the one featured on Animal Planet's Growing up Walrus) weren't out on display, but we got to see penguins and polar bears and play in the shark touch pool. We didn't linger (though it was hard to not stop for a long time at the dolphins) and managed to get a quick glimpse at most of the animals that were on display outside or inside buildings. We left right at 4 but it was really 3 our time so we got home a little after 6:30pm. Phew! A lot of driving, but totally worth it.

The whole trip made me realize how lucky I am to be a zookeeper. The perks are just unbelievable! It's beyond cool to do a tiny bit of networking with other keepers and then they are completely thrilled to show off their zoo and take you places the general public never gets to see. What a fun, fun trip! (And yes, I know I need to figure out how to better edit my photos!)

Monday, February 1, 2010


Early yesterday morning I weighed the options of staying home and doing laundry and other housework while the neighbor kids were over for hours and hours and blowing all my free time on the computer while listening to the 11 millionth game of Mario Kart, or taking the kids on a surprise trip to Legoland Discovery Centre in Schaumburg. I opted for the latter :) Gene had a horrible, long week at work and opted for a day of relaxation in an otherwise empty house.

We arrived at Legoland at 10:30am and walked right to the admission register. Last time we visited was shortly after the grand opening and the line just to get inside was horrendous. I was happy to find that there was no more line to get into the jungle area, you get to just walk in and go through at your own pace. We checked out all the sculptures, rode the dragon ride, saw the 3-D movie and took the factory tour. They have a new ride since our last visit; sort of a hang glider "Dumbo" type ride that you pedal or don't pedal to go up and down. The kids loved it and rode several times. They spent a couple of hours building cars and racing them down various tracks. Kaylin's racer kept either breaking apart or flipping over partway down the track. She revised it and revised it until she finally got it to roll all the way down, jump off the end and land in a spectacular explosion, breaking into a zillion pieces. Logan really liked the earthquake plates where you build skyscrapers out of Duplo blocks on a "shaker plate" and then can shake your building at various speeds until it crashes over. Both kids played endlessly with the giant foam Legos, building towers, staircases and a Kaylin-sized mermaid. It was a good time!

Legoland has a huge shop, but being a tourist trap they don't carry the smallest, least expensive sets or have sale or clearance sets like the regular stores. We looked around, but decided to do our Lego shopping at the Lego store at Woodfield Mall. Man, I love Lego stores! We once again found tons of great deals and got several of the tiny sets rarely found at Target or Toys R Us. The Lego stores (other than the Legoland one) also sell everything for retail so their prices are actually cheaper than Toys R Us and their selection is obviously huge compared to Wal-Mart. We had a good old time shopping! I think this is about the only place Logan truly enjoys shopping. He actually gets excited seeing all the different sets.

The kids really wanted to eat at Rain Forest Cafe, but it was still too early for a big meal. We opted to go for dessert and got a Sparkling Volcano, a huge brownie and ice cream concoction topped with a lit sparkler. Amazing! And gooooood. We could have used Gene to help us finish it off. The three of us couldn't do it. It was fun trying, though.

Today I'm going to play with Legos and do all the laundry and bill paying and checkbook reconciling I've been putting off the past two days. If the weather cooperates, I'll spend Tuesday and Wednesday at a couple of zoos in Indiana. I'm also planning a trip to Ohio in two weeks to spend several days at a keeper exchange at The Wilds, somewhere about an hour east of Columbus. It should be an interesting month. I just hope the weather cooperates with all of my planned driving!