Saturday, December 31, 2011


I had been kind of on the fence about Zoo Atlanta because I've heard some bad things about it, but I thought it was great! I mean, sure, there were some old and run-down areas, but it appears they have done major renovations of most of the aging zoo. I'm guessing the haters are jealous of all their giant pandas. It was a perfect zoo day- just warm enough that all the animals were outside, but cool enough that they were all active. The pandas had just been fed and all four that were on display were eating and moving around. The year-old baby was bouncing all over the place and cute as can be! We watched the pandas for a long time. Other highlights were two young kangaroos boxing and some very interactive ground hornbills that kept trying to present us with chunks of mulch. They were adorable! We spent a few enjoyable hours and saw everything. It was a nice, compact zoo with lots of impressive animals.

We headed out of town and followed my MapQuest directions to Hiwassee Wildlife Preserve. Except my directions took us to the WRONG Hiwassee area and some extremely nice girl at the only tiny store in the tiny town of (I think) Reliance, helped me google the proper directions and helped us out of a beautiful mountain area by the beautiful Hiwassee River. While I was in her store, some men drove up with a gigantic feral hog they had just shot strapped to the back of their truck. They told me about what a problem hogs are in that area and it was sort of surreal. Anyway, if I hadn't been so eager to see my cranes I could have stayed in this area and hiked and birded the river. It was gorgeous! Unfortunately, we had about an hour trip ahead of us and the sun was going down way too quickly. This time the directions were perfect and we made it to the cranes with plenty of light.

As usual, this prime wintering area for sandhill cranes was nothing like I imagined. It just looked like a not huge, not small lake area on a small river, surrounded by fields and trees. There was nothing too amazing about it, but there were thousands upon thousands of sandhill cranes. They were flying and calling to each other. They were just standing there. They were in the water and on the land. There were so many that even Gene and the kids were impressed! There were probably 20 other birders there and I think I was the only one who just wanted to see the huge numbers of sandhills. They were all hoping to spot the Asian crane or whoopers. I would have liked to have seen both, but was very satisfied with just the sandhills. We stayed about an hour and then drove on to Chattanooga for the night.

The kids swam for an hour and a half while Gene and I took turns watching them. We finally found a hotel with both a pool AND queen sized comfortable beds! The places we've stayed the past two nights have had full sized lumpy beds, so the good old Hampton has been luxurious! We're planning to do one of the touristy things in Chattanooga today and then possibly drive all the way home. We'll see how we feel. I think a lot of touristy things are closed tomorrow so we might not have a lot of options for things to do. I'd love to go to one of the state parks in southern Illinois and hike and bird, but I'm guessing I'm the only one who wants to do that :) We'll see... Oh, and the kids want to stay up until midnight tonight and celebrate the new year. I'm pretty sure the only way I will accomplish that is if we're driving, lol.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Aquarium Fun

We dropped Duncan at the vet's office to board as soon as they opened at 8am Wednesday morning and then hit the road. My, oh my, Illinois is a long state! We stopped for photos with the giant Superman statue in Metropolis and I was a bit disappointed that he was wearing a Santa hat since it's AFTER Christmas, but I guess we'll remember the time of year. We hit a bag of garbage on the highway and had to stop to remove it from under the car. The kids found that minor inconvenience hilarious and really, it was. We didn't stop again until we were deep in the mountains and we stopped to eat and pick up a couple of things at Walmart. We then drove on to a suburb of Atlanta and stopped for the night. It was a long day of driving, but the kids did great and everyone was happy to be getting away.

Thursday morning we got to the Georgia Aquarium right after opening. We walked right up to the ticket window and then headed directly to the whale shark viewing tube. We had the whole area practically to ourselves! The kids were blown away by the huge whale sharks and manta rays! Usually, one of our big favorites at aquariums is sawfish. The sawfish were all over the tunnel area, but we hardly noticed them with four huge whale sharks swimming just feet from us. We then beat the crowds to the beluga viewing area and got lots of fun interaction. I love the rare opportunity to see an octopus, but usually they are crammed into a corner or rock and you can just see a small part of them OR the tank is so dimly lit you only see a silhouette. The octopus was moving all over its well-lit tank. The sea otters had just been fed and were very active. The rays in the touch tank WANTED my kids to pet them. The dolphin show was a little silly with singing and pointless drama, but the parts that contained actual dolphins were incredible! The place was packed by the time we left, but it was a fantastic experience. I bet I've taken the kids to at least 40-50 different zoos and aquariums and this was easily their favorite.

We then headed across the park to the World of Coca-Cola. The kids were really looking forward to this place. It was early afternoon and BUSY. They have three areas to slow crowd flow before allowing you into the main museum area, but we still waited at least 30 minutes in line for the uber-cheesy vault tour to see the safe where the secret formula is stored. It was so dumb :) We then went through a couple of memorabilia areas, an area that showed old television commercials and a bumpy "4D" movie that was pretty fun. The bottling plant tour (they give you a souvenir bottle of Coke when you leave) was really cool. Finally, we got to the tasting area, with 60 different flavors of Coke products from around the world. It was fantastic! The special flavor was gingerbread Coke which was delicious. We then tried sips of dozens of crazy flavors from around the world. Everything from watermelon to apple to vegetable soda. The Asian flavors were our favorites and the European our least favorite. We all had to retry the infamous and disgusting Beverly of Epcot fame. It's Italian and one of the worst drinks I've tasted. The tasting area was by far the best part of the tour and while very fun, I don't know if I'd go back to the World of Coke. I'm glad we did it once.

Logan has decided that he hates elevators and urban areas, so we headed to the suburbs to find a hotel for the night. We stopped at a huge shopping mall with a Lego store. The mall reminded me of a combo between Woodfield and Gurnee Mills malls near Chicago. However, instead of being at all uppity and high class, it was filled with weird mall things from the past. They had one of those virtual reality box rides that were popular in the 80s and a big section of shiatsu massage chairs from the 90s. It was like having the store selection of a nice urban mall in the building of the Pekin mall. I normally only tolerate malls if they have Lego stores, but I enjoyed this one very much. We found a Drury Inn with an indoor/outdoor pool and the kids are in heaven. I would totally book it for another night, but I think we're going to head back to Tennessee after we go to Zoo Atlanta today.

The place I'm planning to go to see the huge sandhill crane migration is all over the internet because an Asian hooded crane that is NEVER seen in the United States has been spotted. It is such big news that it was actually #3 in the top ten searches on Yahoo yesterday. Birders from 32 states have gone to this place in hopes of seeing the rare crane. I'm a bit bummed because I was assuming I'd have the place to myself. Oh well... We can't have everything :) Otherwise, the trip is going great and we're having a blast!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Vacation time!

I'm on vacation, I'm on vacation! (Sing along and do a little dance.) I'm up bright and early doing laundry and finishing packing. We're heading to Atlanta in a few hours. We plan to go to the aquarium and the Coke museum for sure, possibly the zoo and a Lego store, and on the way home stop at a wildlife refuge in Tennessee that is the winter home to tens of thousands of sandhill cranes. I'm excited about getting away for a few days and then still having several days off at home. Yay!

The long Christmas weekend turned out pretty great. The kids spent lots of time playing with their cousins and had a blast. Gene's family gathering was a little disappointing because that's usually the only time they get to play with their cousins on that side of the family and they were with their dad. Logan was happy to watch the Bears/Packers game with the men and Kaylin, Jeff and I put together a puzzle Kaylin received as a gift, so we had fun anyway. Monday night we took Kaylin's cotton candy maker to Grandma K's. It was a big hit and hilarious to be in the middle of 10 kids scrambling to make their preferred flavor. I think I made cotton candy non-stop for close to an hour and watched the little wisps of candy float through the air onto Grandma's hanging lamp. I probably spent 10 minutes cleaning that lamp when the candy making was finally over :) I'm still shocked at what a good toy the cotton candy maker turned out to be! Usually those types of toys are complete junk, but this one actually works.

Well, I better get packin'. Hooray!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas

It's 5pm on Friday and I'm still in my pajamas. It's my normal day off, but Gene and the kids are all off too. We opened Christmas presents this morning and have spent the day playing new video games, playing with toys and just lounging around. Kaylin got a cotton candy machine that makes cotton candy from hard candy. We've tried different varieties of Lifesavers as well as peppermints and spearmint. Surprisingly, the mint varieties are subtle and delicious and the Lifesavers are a little too sweet. It's a really fun toy and I can't wait to try butterscotch and rootbeer sometime.

Despite my not so subtle hints that "I" am Santa, my kids refuse to stop believing in the fat elf. I really don't think they are messing with me, but who knows? This year we found a good deal on an XBox with Kinect video game bundle and that's what Santa brought for the whole family. He didn't bring anything for the kids individually, but they were very impressed with their big haul.

I used to stress over the kids getting up and finding me in the living room filling stockings, but now I put wrapping paper over their doors and the hallway entrance and they can't see me. Then they get to bust through the paper to get to their presents. Fun times. Gene and I don't usually do big gifts for each other, but we try to get something silly the other person will actually like. This year I got Gene a toaster that burns the White Sox logo onto the toast and he got me an Angry Birds pig stocking cap with a tassel on top. I think we were both pretty happy. I know I was!

I really need to go grocery shopping, but I keep reading facebook posts from people who spent an hour in line for a gallon of milk. No thanks! I think I'll stay in my pajamas and try to go early tomorrow morning. I'm off tomorrow (as usual) and then have to work Sunday and Monday before getting the next 12 days off. I can't wait to be on vacation!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Bird Count

I should probably fact check before I start writing, but I don't feel like it. Anyway, on Saturday I participated in the 120th(ish) Audubon Christmas Bird Count. These counts are done all over the country (I know of 4 separate counts in my general area- areas don't overlap) and then the numbers are tallied to get a good idea of the overall bird populations. Basically, you count and classify every bird you see from your recorded starting time to recorded ending time. Peoria is divided into 7 areas that cover a 15 mile radius from the center of town. Only two of the areas were actually in the city and the rest were in surrounding towns and rural areas. The area I counted was bordered by War Memorial Drive on the south, the river on the east, Route 6 on the west and near Dunlap on the north. We spent a lot of time hiking Forest Park Nature Center and also made several stops at golf courses, Detweiller Park, Rock Island Trail, schools, driving through neighborhoods, etc. We also made several stops along the river, but our stretch of river is wide and open and not much of a bird sanctuary. We saw several bald eagles, but only three ducks, a few gulls and a lone Canada goose.

We started out at the Forest Park Nature Center parking lot at 5:45am. The idea was to play owl calls and try to attract owls to the lighted parking lot where we could actually see them. Unfortunately, there was so much traffic noise it didn't work. We moved on to Detweiller Park and tried the same thing. We attracted one barred owl that we actually saw. We tried for great horned owls at the Mt. Hawley golf course, but they had delivery trucks and a very loud garbage truck and we got no results. Oh well, even one owl is pretty cool!

By this time it was starting to get light so we stopped at Panera for breakfast while we waited for the birds to come out. We then started counting every bird we saw. I was terrified I wouldn't be able to identify half the birds, but I was wrong. We didn't see one bird I couldn't ID. It seems our winter selection of birds in town is not that diverse. Our highest numbers went to chickadees, juncos, ring-billed gulls, starlings and rock pigeons. We saw dozens of downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, along with dozens of nuthatches and house sparrows. There were some cardinals and goldfinches scattered in, but even hiking miles through FPNC, we didn't see a huge diversity of sparrows. Probably our highlight was a huge group of 61 turkeys. That was pretty fun to watch!

One thing I learned and was very surprised about is how rare red-headed woodpeckers and flickers have become. As a child watching feeder birds, those were the only woodpeckers I knew. Red-headed woodpeckers made a nest in the wooden paneling right at the head of my bed and then had a bunch of noisy babies. I'm pretty sure they used that nest at least two years. I saw red-headed woodpeckers all the time. Flickers, too! During the count we were specifically watching for these guys (along with pileated) and didn't see ANY.

All told, we were out birding for 9 1/2 hours. It was a long day, but very fun and I learned a lot. I will try to do the Peoria count every year. This year was excellent because it was relatively warm- never below the upper 20s and up to nearly 40F by the time we quit. I was still so cold when I got home I didn't think I'd ever get warm. Last year was 10F and I can't imagine doing what we did in those conditions!

Friday, December 16, 2011


This week was nuts! I'm a big fan of coming home after work, showering and plunking myself into my chair to hang out with my kids, pets, husband and computer. This week I had meetings or activities every night. The two highlights were Kaylin's winter band concert and my work Christmas party.

Kaylin's concert was Tuesday night. It was rainy and I was cold and wet from work and forced to rush home and shower, change and eat as fast as possible. Logan was a complete disaster, whining and making excuses about why he shouldn't have to go. I believe in family support. I mean, how many baseball games did Kaylin attend? It's not like she loved them! I told him he could take his DS game and that Grandpa and Grandma would be there. He had worked himself into a frenzy when he offered me $20 to stay home. This is the kid who NEVER spends any of his money. Ever. At this point he had made way too much of a jerk of himself to take it back. HA! I was going to teach him a hard lesson. I accepted the money and he went to his room, stunned.

We went to the concert, laughing all the way about Logan's bad move and how we bet he never would have thought I'd take his beloved money. Then the concert started... The three levels of band played. The band director went on and on about some new piano thing the PTO bought and then had two kids play very long demos to show how wonderful it is. Then the choir performed with much more talk about the new piano that had some other name and is extremely wonderful and loved and the best PTO purchase in the history of the world. Wow, this concert is getting long! Time for the four levels of orchestra. I don't think the director talked about the new piano, but his accent was so thick I'm not positive what he talked about. He talked and talked and talked and then individually tuned each student's instrument. Then he talked between each of the songs and retuned instruments and took as long as band, new piano demos and choir combined! After a long day of physical labor and being on my feet, two hours glued to a bleacher bench was torture. I felt like every muscle in my body was tensing and I had to keep standing and stretching. The concert finally ended and I'm a little surprised the orchestra director wasn't attacked! I have never heard such rumblings of discontent from an audience of proud family members. The kids all were wonderful and did a great job, but it was the worst concert ever!

We arrived home to a happy boy cuddled in Gene's chair with the dog, watching his favorite show, Storm Trackers. I admitted to myself that NO lesson had been learned and that the $20 was probably the best money Logan had ever spent. I donated the money to a good cause and life goes on. Now I just wonder if I can pay Kaylin $20 to get out of her spring concert?

Thursday night was my work Christmas party. It was another night of rushing home to shower and change to try to get there by 6pm. The party location was right up the street from the zoo so I had hoped to just go straight from work, but I helped with a vet procedure that left me covered in feces so showering/clothing change were not optional. It absolutely amazes me how much our staff has grown in the past few years since the Africa area opened. Including significant others, I bet there were around 40 people there. Colleen, Roz and I sang my stupid Christmas song and then we had our annual white elephant gift exchange. We play that you can choose a new gift or steal an opened one, with two steals before the item is out of play. I drew number 3 which is sort of a bummer because even if there's anything worth stealing, it will likely get stolen again. I unwrapped a John Wayne DVD and figured Gene would probably like it. Later, someone unwrapped a boxed set of Pez presidents. I was shocked because I never even knew it existed. Man, I wanted those Pez. They were immediately stolen once. A few more people took their turn and then my boss stole the John Wayne DVD, leaving me open to make the final steal on the Pez dispensers. Thanks, Boss! It's a set of the first five presidents and is really cool. I usually end up with some hideous doll or figurine (or a whole bunch of them) that make their way to Goodwill. The party itself was fun enough but walking out with a set of Pez presidents made it even better!

Saturday I'm participating in the Christmas Bird Count. I'm meeting my team at Forest Park Nature Center at 5:45am and have no idea what to expect. We cover a predetermined area, but I don't know exactly what the area is or if we count from dawn til dusk or for a few hours or what. I'm really excited because we're going early to look for owls. My favorite!

Speaking of owls, I was driving to the zoo dump the other afternoon around 4pm. It was getting dark and I was looking for birds. I had just thought "It's a good time to look for owls" when a barred owl swooped in front of me and landed on a tree. I watched it for a minute before it moved on. Very cool! I've also had a bald eagle perched in a tree right outside my building several times this week. I've seen plenty of eagles flying over the zoo and park, but have never seen one perched in a tree right off the main path.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Long December

Well, I've been out of the cast for a week and my foot is doing much better. I think the cast was messing up my ankle/leg/knees/back so much that I couldn't tell where the pain was coming from. I told the doc I couldn't take it anymore and he picked up the battered boot that's been repadded and had a piece of craft foam as a toe guard and said "Maybe you need a new cast." I can only imagine the look on my face because he quickly decided to wrap my foot with a bandage and try that instead. He also pressed on my injured tendon and said it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was. I worked 4 days in the bandage with my regular work boots and most of my other pain went away. My ankle is still a bit weak, but when I returned to the doctor on Monday he was shocked at how much better I was. He admitted that he in no way thought the bandage would work. I asked about unloading a hay truck and he looked at me like I was completely insane and said "No." I don't know what will happen with my foot- if it will get better or if my tendon will one day just snap when I walk up one step. The doc couldn't give me any feedback either way. He just said something stupid like "I don't know how you can love that job." Well buddy, I don't know how you can work with smelly, nasty feet all day!

The kitten spent most of the first week the Christmas tree was up climbing the tree and removing the ornaments. She still plays in it sometimes, but most of the novelty is gone. All of the "good" ornaments are clustered in a tiny area at the very top and most of the rest of the ornaments are on the ground. It's not worth replacing them over and over, but I can't bring myself to put them away. Duncan has chewed up a couple of wooden ornaments but has otherwise left the tree alone. Tiger would love to climb the tree but he's too fat.

Today is my one month mark since quitting diet soda. I do miss it a lot, but I'm not really craving it. I mean, I WANT it, but I don't think about it or have to occupy myself with other things to try to put it out of my mind. I miss the taste and the fizz. Plain tea and water just don't match soda. My diet is going okay, but I still can't exercise outside of work so the weight is coming off slowly. I haven't eaten meat in a month, but I can't keep vegan. It's nearly impossible to not have SOME dairy or eggs in things. I'm trying to avoid cheese unless I eat out, but avoiding animal products altogether is too hard when I lack the political drive and self-righteousness one needs for this kind of diet.

The kids are crazy with excitement for Christmas and a break from school. I have 12 days off starting the Tuesday after Christmas and we're planning to go somewhere fun. Atlanta is a major finalist because both Kaylin and Logan want to go to the aquarium to see whale sharks. They also want to go to the Coke museum to try all the different flavors. If we go there I think I'll have to end my soda ban for a day. They also want to go to St. Louis to City Museum. I guess we'll see what the weather's like and how we feel. We have a TON of stuff to do around the house so maybe a shorter trip would be better.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Long Weekend

I just had a "sort of" 4 day weekend and can't believe it's already time to go back to work! It was only "sort of" because I did have to work 4 hours on Thanksgiving day, but it was from 7am-11am so I had most of the day off. Gene has a 5 day weekend, but he's taking an online class and had a huge amount of work so most of his time has been catching up with school.

Wednesday we spent the day in Decatur. Since Gene was almost transferred there last summer and there's still a possibility he'll be transferred in a year or two, I wanted to see the town. I've only been there twice that I remember and both times were to go to the zoo. I didn't pay a lick of attention to the town or the surrounding area. Wednesday's visit was all about seeing if we could stand to live in a town best know for their stinky ADM plant. My first test was to check out Rock Springs Nature Center. If this place failed to live up to Forest Park Nature Center in Peoria, the rest of the town better ROCK! Yeah, the place was AMAZING! Hiking trails, biking trails, museum, art gallery, kids' area, indoor birdwatching area, ponds... It was great and the kids loved it. We didn't do much hiking because of my foot, but we went into a pine forest that started out as a Christmas tree farm and the kids were in love. Logan right away decided he could live in Decatur and even Kaylin slowly started to come around. We then drove around town a little, ate at Cheddar's (!) and checked out the shopping mall. We drove back through town to the zoo and children's museum area and were impressed by Lake Decatur, the size of the children's museum and the flamingo and pelican exhibit seen from the zoo parking lot. The zoo was closed for the winter and the children's museum was almost closed for the day so we didn't go inside either. I'm not quite sure how we managed to squander our entire day in Decatur doing next to nothing, but we decided we'll have to go back another day soon and go to the children's museum and find the Caterpillar plant. Overall, I would have to say I could live in Decatur. I picked up several brochures at the nature center and Macon County has a lot of conservation areas and fun stuff to do outdoors. There are plenty of animal shelters and veterinary offices and of course the zoo where I could potentially get a job. It could be a fun adventure.

Thursday, we went to Thanksgiving dinner with my dad's family. The kids had a great time playing with their cousins. Kaylin made green bean casserole and cupcakes, so I didn't have to cook anything :) Kaylin was a bit overwhelmed because the boys decided to play boys against girls in whatever game they were playing and Kaylin happened to be the only girl against 6 boys. Uh, yeah. I don't think the fact that two of the boys are toddlers even helped much. Abbey and Mollie eventually showed up so that evened things a bit. It was a good time.

Friday, the kids went to my parents' house to play with their cousins. I went birding with Meghan. We did our usual circle of Banner Marsh, Emiquon, Lake Chautauqua, Sand Ridge and Spring Lake. At Banner, we watched bald eagles hunt and saw dozens of mute swans. We were shocked by the small number of ducks at Emiquon. Two weeks ago there were thousands and thousands of coots. A report from earlier in the week had tens of thousands of ducks. All of the coots and pelicans from our previous visit were gone, along with the vast majority of the ducks that had been reported earlier in the week. We did see a nice variety of ducks including shovelers, goldeneyes, hooded mergansers, pintails, green winged teal, mallards, grebes, etc. It was shocking that water that was COVERED two weeks ago was now mostly empty. We moved on to Lake Chautauqua and saw a group of 7 swans in a field on the way. Once we got there, we saw another 30+ on the water. I saw my first harrier and several more bald eagles. A nice man with a nice spotting scope gave us a close look at the swans and determined they were tundra swans. Woohoo! Another first! We talked to him about birding for a while and then moved on to Sand Ridge where I think we saw a red tailed hawk and a few sparrows. We stopped at the Jake Wolf fish hatchery because Meghan had never been there. The place is impressive, but as always, we were the only visitors in the incredible museum area run by a bankrupt state. We moved on to Spring Lake where the duck and goose decoys vastly outnumbered the living ducks and geese. We had planned to eat lunch at Larry's Family Bar just because the name is so stupid, but they were closed for the winter. Oh well. We had to drive to Pekin instead.

The birding was a little disappointing because we were expecting to see thousands of ducks, but it was still worth the trip. The icing was a stop at that crazy landscape store in Manito with all the huge lawn statues. I had never been inside and was sort of expecting to find gardening supplies, but the store was full of smaller garden statues and all kinds of cool stuff picked up at sales and auctions. I walked out with a set of 4 owl trivets that I plan to hang in the kitchen, a wooden pig tray and a flying pig garden statue. I LOVED the store and absolutely plan to go back. If you would have told me I'd actually BUY something from that place I would have laughed. It's my new favorite store.

Saturday we put up the Christmas tree. The kids were shocked at how small it is, but THEY picked it out two or three years ago! "Yeah, when we were smaller and it looked huge!" It's probably 5 1/2 feet tall so it's not tiny, but it is on the small side for a tree. I'm fine with it.

I have a doctor appointment for my foot on Monday and I hope he lets me stop wearing the cast, but I doubt it. I'm not in horrible pain or anything, but my ankle just doesn't feel right. The injured tendon still hurts, but I don't even know how to describe what's going on with my ankle. The muscles feel tight. My calf muscles are also tight. I keep putting heat and/or icy hot on them but it's not helping.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mean Grandparents :)

Mom and Dad- stop messing with my poor boy. He came to me last night and told me "Grandpa and Grandma ARE moving in with us." I told him that no, they most certainly are not. He sadly said "Yeah, they spent too much money on vacations." I told him that you guys are teasing him. Please confirm this next time you see him!

Thursday I got a cortisone injection in my foot. The doc put me in a huge bandage until Sunday, so I'm back in the surgical shoe that I despise almost as much at the boot. He also told me to "Take it easy." I asked him to define that a bit more but he just laughed at me. It turned out I was in so much "pressure pain" from the injection I had no choice. I didn't sleep much Thursday night because just the pressure of putting my foot on the bed was annoying enough to keep me awake. It hurt to walk on Friday so I spent most of the day Christmas shopping online and playing Angry Birds. By evening the pain was significantly better and I went to dinner with Gene, but I still wouldn't have been able to walk around a huge store. I'm hoping I'll be fine for a grocery trip today and will be back to "normal" tomorrow to go back to work in the boot. Stupid feet!

I keep trying to look up vegetarian recipe ideas, but every time I find a good site I get bored and start following links to more interesting stuff. I don't write anything down and finish as clueless as I started. I hate cooking. Amen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More Nothing

Happy Birthday, Mom! I'm glad you loved the squirrel ornament so, so much!

I've gone a week without Diet Pepsi and have been beyond surprised that it hasn't bothered me. The aspartame withdrawal I was so dreading never happened. I miss the fizzy feeling in my mouth from soda, but that's about all I miss. I'm not craving it or having to use will power to keep from drinking it. I am drinking tea because I'm not going through caffeine withdrawal at the same time I'm starting a new diet AND in pain with my stupid foot. I need something to keep me going while I'm slogging around in my soaking wet, knee-high cast at work!

The vegan diet is going okay. I've lost a few pounds, but am already bored with the food. I need to force myself to look up new recipes and get new ideas for different foods I can eat, but I find it so boring I look at one and am done. I have not had any noticeable changes in pain levels I can attribute to the diet, but it's only been a week. Also, I'm sure there is a big difference between an acute injury and chronic pain. I will need to get past my tendinitis before I know if my plantar fasciitis is improving. I'm going to get a cortisone shot right after work Thursday, so hopefully that will help. I than have to "keep quiet" the next two days so maybe I'll force myself to look up recipes. Whoop.

Logan was very disappointed to learn that my parents would not be coming for their usual Friday night visit last week because they were on vacation YET AGAIN. He started ranting about how they were spending all their money on vacations and that if they ran out of money and had to move in with us, they most certainly were not going to sleep in HIS bed! It was one of the best rants I've ever heard and has kept me laughing all week. So Mom and Dad, if you carelessly blow through all your money taking vacations, DO NOT assume you will be taking over Logan's room because it ain't happening!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cast? Noooooooooooo

Well, my good news is that the doctor released me to go back to work. My bad news is that I'm in the hated plastic air cast for at least a couple of weeks. Ugh. I know it could be much worse, but man, I HATE wearing that stupid cast!

During my time off I was researching different things about tendon injuries and how to heal them. One thing I came across was using diet to reduce inflammation. This interested me because not only do I want my feet to stop hurting, I also need to lose weight. In the past year since I missed a bunch of work for my tendon tear, I stopped exercising (doctor's orders) and gained a lot of weight. I was depressed about my feet hurting all the time and started eating more and more restaurant food, prepackaged food and junk food. My diet soda consumption is at an all time high. It is time to change my evil ways.

I just had an extensive blood panel done through work and other than my weight being too high and my good cholesterol being too low, all of my numbers were good. I need to change NOW, BEFORE my numbers start crashing! I started a vegan diet as a bit of a science experiment. I KNOW it will help me lose weight, the experiment is if it will actually help with inflammation. Will the diet itself help my feet feel better? I think it's worth a shot.

I have WAY more research to do, but starting yesterday, I quit drinking diet soda and switched to tea. I've heard quitting aspartame can be brutal and I don't want to quit aspartame AND caffeine at the same time because I just missed 4 days of work and don't want to miss more. I also eliminated meat, dairy and eggs. At the moment, my diet is centered around fruits and vegetables, oatmeal, quinoa and beans. Lots and lots of beans. I can also have whole grain pastas, rice and breads. I'm going to start out really trying to keep vegan, but seriously, this is about my health, not about not eating animal products. I will still wear leather boots and I'm not giving up my furs. Kidding... I have nothing made of fur. I'm not going to pay big bucks for egg-free bread (if bread is made with eggs- I have no idea.) Anyway, I'm being radical right now in an attempt to lose weight and completely change my eating habits. I doubt I will remain vegan or vegetarian forever unless it truly makes me feel so good I can't go back. I think it's easy to say I'm skeptical about the benefits of this diet, but this is something that if I don't go extreme and instead try to do in baby steps it's not going to happen.

Today is my baby boy's 9th birthday. How is that possible? My tough, strong baby who always knew what he wanted has turned into a tough, strong kid who always knows what he wants. Logan works hard and tries hard; he is neat and organized; he likes rules and takes pride in being good. Logan has always concentrated on his interests and this year they really turned to sports- especially baseball and football. He prefers playing sports, but when he watches them on tv he doesn't watch passively, he studies the players' moves and tries them out. Logan is very interested in weather- especially tornadoes and thunder storms. Instead of watching fire extinguisher safety videos online, Logan now watches storm videos. He knows all the different kinds of clouds and points out tornado sirens on top of buildings. He reminds me so much of the risk manager at the park district it just makes me giggle. Logan, I couldn't be more proud of you or love you more! Happy birthday!

And one last thing... I had an amazing morning of "car birding" yesterday. I was still in the bandage and surgical shoe, so hiking around wasn't an option. Meghan and I drove to Banner Marsh, Emiquon, Rice Lake, Chautauqua, Sand Ridge and Spring Lake. We birded mainly from the nice warm car, only getting out to walk short distances. Banner and Emiquon were the big winners. Banner was teaming with dozens and dozens of swans. They were everywhere! Banner is usually home to several pairs of mute swans, but we scored yesterday and found at least one trumpeter swan. Emiquon was filled with thousands and thousands of coots. Miles of coots. I looked up what a group of coots is called and it is a "cover." The coots were indeed covering Emiquon. There was also a nice mix of pintail, northern shoveler and green wing teal, along with mallards and dozens of white pelicans with probably hundreds more too far away to see more than white dots. We also saw common snipe, grebes and a few bald eagles. Oh, and a snow bunting! It was a very fun morning.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

P-T Conferences, 2011

Yesterday was one of my least favorite bi-annual events- Parent-Teacher Conferences! I haven't had the best luck with conferences in the past. Tell me my daughter is disorganized and her grades have slipped because she keeps losing her completed homework assignments? Yes. That is so true and we are working on it and she has improved vastly in the past two years. I like to know whether or not my child is participating in class and how they are doing in general. I do not like to have my thigh rubbed and then when I get up to escape, my back rubbed the entire 15 minutes. I think drama is ridiculous and when you tell me with huge eyes and exaggerated arm movements that my child doesn't conform to normal 2nd grade behavior because she jumps in puddles at recess, I will lose all respect for your authority. Especially after you tell me the same child is NOT disruptive in class, but quiet and a good student. Don't scare me to death that my child is falling behind in reading to the point we need to spend $$$$$ on tutoring NOW and then make it completely obvious you haven't attempted to get to know my child at all in his first quarter and really have no idea what his issues are. If a teacher doesn't want to (or doesn't know how to) put forth the effort to get to know a child on a personal basis, fine. That's probably way above and beyond her job description. But if you're going to do that in primary school, at least be like the upper grade teachers and treat the majority of the class like a herd. I'd rather my kids be ignored than have some idiotic teacher try to crush their individuality.

Logan's in third grade this year and has his first good teacher. I've noticed a huge difference in his attitude and willingness to learn, and after the conference I realized why. He hasn't had any bad teachers, but they've all been just okay. Mrs. H has actually made the effort and taken the time to get to know my kid. She laughed about everything from Logan's neat and organized desk to his deep voice. She understands that while Logan enjoys some praise, too much embarrasses him. She wasn't all rainbows and happiness, she also talked about how he likes to daydream and sometimes bounces or shuffles his feet. I don't like this teacher because she kissed my butt, I like her because she gets and appreciates my kid. Anyway, this conference tied for best ever with Kaylin's third grade teacher who was the same way.

I talked with four of Kaylin's teachers and I'll have to poll my teacher friends about whether I should show up for any more of her middle school conferences. I have to admit, I'm ONLY doing these so my name is on the piece of paper. I know she's well behaved and doing just fine. I know her biggest issues are organization and just finding where she put her completed homework assignment. ALL of her bad grades in 4 of 5 classes were due to misplaced homework. Huh huh, that's just something she's going to have to figure out for herself! I'm not wasting one puff of breath nagging her about something so stupid! If she spends the time doing homework and then loses it, that's her problem. I'm definitely not going to check her binders for neatness or clean out her backpack! These are things she needs to learn for herself and much better to learn the lesson in middle school than when she's in her twenties and it actually matters. Anyway, I talked to the four main teachers and not one of them said anything I didn't already know. It was a whole lot of waiting in line for very little information. I sort of felt bad for making other parents wait who may have actually had real concerns and needed to see the teachers.

Kaylin and I both had dental cleaning appointments yesterday afternoon. I have never feared or disliked going to the dentist, but the newest requirement had me squirming. It seems that the government has finally decided that dental health is very much tied into the health of the rest of the body and therefore is much more important than previously believed. Wait, what??? As one can imagine, the dental professionals are more than a bit annoyed at this "amazing news" they (and everyone else of any intelligence) have known forever. Anyway, their governing bodies are now requiring them to do a torturous gum test as part of a cleaning. It involves scoring SIX areas of EACH tooth by jabbing a metal poker into the gums and measuring how far it goes in. It hurts. A lot. I sort of freaked out because I got called back first and was terrified if they tried this on Kaylin she'd be out the door and gone. It's only adults. Phew! I just hope "adults" are not ages 12 and up or we may have to go the sedation dentistry route for basic cleanings!

My foot is significantly better following several days of rest. I'm starting to hope a little that I won't have to wear the air cast at work, but I probably will.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Stupid Foot!

I'm off work because of my feet again. This time is most likely only for a few days with tendinitis and fluid build-up. I started having some pain at work last Thursday, but my doctor doesn't have appointments on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so I called first thing Monday morning and made an appointment for Wednesday morning. The pain was totally manageable; I was trying to be proactive and get in to see the doc before it got out of hand. Then Monday morning we had an animal escape drill that had me running all over the zoo. I was in so much pain Monday night I could barely sleep. Tuesday morning I called and begged to be seen. They worked me in at 2pm and my fear that the pain was from the same tendon I tore last year was confirmed. I was immediately sent for an MRI.

The MRI results came back late Wednesday morning. I had to go to the doctor's office (rather than just a phone call) because he wanted to wrap my foot. No new tears, just tendinitis, swelling and fluid build-up. I have a ridiculous bandage that goes all the way to my mid-calf. The bandage is so huge and bulky, I have to wear a surgical shoe. I'm off work until (probably) Tuesday to rest my foot and because there's no way I can work in this bandage/sandal combination. At my appointment Monday, the doctor will decide whether I can go back to work wearing only a brace or if I need the stupid, hated cast. I'm not trying to be negative, but I have little doubt I'll be in the cast. Probably for months... Stupid feet!

This time I can't pinpoint any incident that would have caused tendon injury. He said I must have twisted my ankle or something, but there is absolutely nothing significant I can remember. I often come home covered in bruises I have no idea how I got, but I am so careful with my feet I can't imagine any twisting or jarring that I wouldn't almost panic over and REMEMBER. Oh well, at least I'm not on crutches! I had to use them until my MRI results came back and I have to say I hate crutches even more than I hate the stupid cast!

I'm planning to use my time off to sit on my butt and go through the kids' clothes and toys. Logan just recently started wearing long pants for school and play and I about died laughing at how short they are! He'll be 9 next week and I discovered most of his school pants and jeans are size 7! Whoops! I took him to Farm and Fleet last week and size 10s fit him fine. He has to have 10 slims or they fall off, but the length is good. I then realized that most of Kaylin's long sleeve school uniform shirts are size 7/8. I guess I have some shopping to do! Maybe I can do all or most of it online.

Today is exciting because I'm expecting the UPS delivery of my new binoculars. I broke my beloved old Bushnells and discovered that getting them repaired was going to cost twice as much as I paid for them. Gene's going to attempt to fix them, but it involves perfectly gluing the prism to the roof of the binocs and you have to adjust for glue shrinkage and I really just had to admit to myself that my binoculars are broken. The end. Anyway, I tried out some Nikons at Bass Pro a few weeks ago and then read reviews on Amazon. It turned out they not only had good reviews, but were half the price and with no tax and free shipping. Yes! Today's supposed to be rainy and awful, but I'm hoping to go "car birding" in the next few days and try out the new binocs!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Decisions, decisions...

The park district is doing some health incentive program where if you get blood drawn, you get a $25 gift card. When I signed up, it seemed like a great idea! But now it's 5:30am and I'm starving and I want caffeine and I have to fast until 7:40am. I signed up late enough that I could drop Kaylin off at school before my appointment. It was a bad decision! Everyone keeps teasing that the only gift card left will be for Sports Authority. We don't even have one around here! I'm going to be ticked if I waste my entire day off with a caffeine withdrawal headache and get stuck with a Sports Authority gift card!

Tomorrow is my 39th birthday and I'm sort of upset about it. My goal at my 38th birthday was to use this year to figure out what to do with the rest of my working life. I mean, I absolutely LOVE my job and the zoo, but it is an extremely physical job that I seriously doubt I will be able to do for more than the next 10-12 years. And only that long if I'm very lucky. There is little to no opportunity for advancement or even movement to another department, so if I want to keep my full time status I need to remain a zookeeper. My feet have been terrible for 2 1/2 years now and I'm tired of being in pain all of the time. Logically, I KNOW it must be easier to switch careers at age 40 than at age 50. At the same time, I love my job and know I will never find anything I like as much. Do I continue working until I am physically unable and THEN try to figure out what to do? Or do I plan ahead and find something else and possibly regret leaving the job I love years before I have to? I could walk out to get the paper and have a tree fall on my head or get diagnosed with terminal cancer or drop dead from a heart attack at any time. Is the gamble to follow logic or to continue working in a dead end job?

I procrastinated making any decisions because it seemed so likely that Gene would be transferred to a different city and that my choice would be made for me. It seemed logical to wait a short time to be in the new place before returning to school or especially job hunting. It's still possible he'll be transferred in the next year or two, so why make any huge decisions now? AAAHHHHHHH!!! Because I'll be a year or two older at that time! I don't know what to do! I know I WANT to stay at the zoo but is that a smart decision?

Screw it! I'm going to stay and see what happens. I bet almost nobody gets to have a job they love as much as I love mine. I'm not going to stress over the what ifs! I'll cross those bridges when I come to them. I'll continue to do what I can to help my feet and maybe they'll get better. Maybe in the next 10 years I can figure out something else to do for the park district when I'm too old for zookeeping. It couldn't be worse than working at Pizza Hut. :)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Weekend Update

Almost two weeks without a post... Two very bad weeks at work that I can't detail on a public forum have kept me busy.

Willow is getting slightly bigger. She's still tiny, though. Her new favorite thing is play fighting with Tiger. Rather than just playing with his tail, she now likes to boop him in the face. He tolerates it for quite some time and then when he's had enough he flattens Willow with one lazy paw swipe. She, of course, is raring for more. The cats are often curled up together and seem to like each other's company. Duncan, on the other hand, is a pain. He likes to carry Willow around and slobber on her head. He appears rough sometimes, but she usually doesn't back down. Either he's not hurting her and she's brave or she is very stupid. Willow knows all the hiding places Duncan can't reach. Willow's still a little purrball. Right now she's curled up in the bend of my elbow, purring and kneading my shoulder. She's adorable!

Otherwise, we've been keeping busy with school events and Howl-Zoo-Ween. Last night was Taste of Lindbergh. I had been dreading the crowd and the overpriced food. It turned out to be a really neat event. Food tickets were 50 cents each and most food items were a buck. I bought $10 worth of tickets for Kaylin and me, thinking it would never be enough and we stuffed ourselves. They had a baked potato "bar" for a buck! Cups of Culver's custard for a buck. The food was good and cheap. There was also a carnival with games, a bounce house and a balloon twister. Zoe was there so Kaylin had a blast. Logan was sick yesterday so he and Gene stayed home. At first I was jealous they got to skip it, but I think they would have enjoyed it. Next year...

Last week was the chili supper and book fair at Logan's school. I always love book fairs, but this was my 7th chili supper and it hasn't gotten any better. It has supposedly been catered by Alexander's Steak House in years past and by Famous Dave's this year. Mmmmm, right? Wrong! I guess when it comes to mass quantities of cheap hot dogs and chili, even the best restaurants fail. At least it's only once a year!

Hahahaha! Gene and Logan had Five Guys last night and Gene saved me the leftover fries. I was munching on them while writing and Willow wouldn't leave me alone so I gave her one. Tiger was also begging and Willow had to pass him. She made this sort of quiet, but horrible noise and I panicked she was choking. Nah, she was just giving Tiger a warning "yowl" to stay away from her property. A pathetic, weenie sound that sounded more like a man trying to clear his throat quietly. Tiger didn't even glance at her.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Craft Shows

After a week with us, Willow is fitting in nicely and I have no regrets about bringing her home. What can I say? Baby animals are some of my favorite things and kittens probably top that list. Willow and Tiger are often curled up together and Tiger patiently puts up with her "attacking" his tail multiple times each day. Duncan can be a little rough, but he's patient when the kitten explores his food and that is a huge relief. The worst thing I've seen so far was Duncan carrying Willow around by her scruff. Willow didn't seem to mind at all and it was so cute and funny I just wish I'd gotten a picture. I was laughing too hard to effectively yell at the dog to put the cat down. The kitten was not harmed.

One morning I was in bed with giant Tiger lying on my right shoulder and tiny Willow almost on top of him. Both were staring into my eyes and I realized that despite the fact that Tiger is at least ten times bigger than Willow, their ears are nearly the same size. I hope those ears keep growing with her and that she has ridiculously huge ears as an adult, too! Willow is adorable and she makes all of us very happy.

I just realized that in the past month I've been to more craft shows than I've been to in the entire rest of my adult life. Kaylin really enjoys them and I enjoy taking her, but I found that without her along, it's a flashback to my childhood and I don't enjoy them at all. The craft show at the Pumpkin Festival was a novelty. It was in a fairly small area with lots of people, but not so crowded you were brushing arms. It was fun to look at all the stuff and marvel at how many different people make blown glass pumpkins (that all look pretty much identical to my untrained eye) and especially how many people make hair clips for little girls. We went to the Art Guild show on the riverfront and enjoyed it for what it was, but found it WAY too high class for what we would ever buy. Kaylin and I went to a craft show in Chillicothe that one of my zoo coworkers was in charge of and we actually bought a few homemade cards and some stuff from the bake sale. All of these things were enjoyable time spent with my daughter.

My dad picked up the kids for the day Saturday and I had the brilliant idea that Gene and I should check out the Spoon River Drive. I hadn't gone since childhood and figured it could be a fun way to spend a beautiful day. I thought Kaylin might like it, but knew Logan would probably hate it as I'd hated it at his age. Farmington was the closest major entry point so we headed there. We must have passed 100 garage sales on the way! We stopped at a flea market just inside town. It was sort of fun, but we didn't buy anything. We headed on into town and stopped at a craft show in a park. We were starving and got some good pork chop sandwiches, a spiral cut deep fried potato and an apple dumpling. The food was great, but the park was packed with people and the craft tents were not fun. I would have happily ended our experience there, but we followed a line of cars to a large field just outside of town to the GIGANTIC craft sale that nearly killed me. Rows and rows of junk, cheap t-shirts, handbags and crafts of all kinds. Sooooo many people, sooooo much crap. Yes, I remembered why I hated the Spoon River Drive so much as a child. Next year I will happily skip it.

One last thing- I took Duncan to the dog park for the first time and was thrilled with how well he did. Lynne and I met there at first light Saturday morning. Duncan can be so stupid with other dogs I was a little worried about how he'd act around Lynne's two basset hounds. He played and played, especially with Max. Daphne is older and more interested in sniffing everything than playing, but she's very good natured and had no problem with pesky Terrier Boy. Two other dogs showed up before we left and Duncan did well with them, too. The dog park is all the way on the other side of town so I probably won't go regularly, but it was great to find out that I CAN take Duncan if I want.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Saturday morning I needed to pick up a few groceries at Aldi and get some flea medicine for Tiger at the vet's office. Kaylin loves Aldi because it's a quick trip and I always cave on buying her cheap baking supplies. When Logan heard we were going to the vet's office he decided to come along so he could look at the kittens.

Big Hollow usually has a cage full of kittens for sale. They spay/neuter, test for feline leukemia, give first vaccinations, deworm, vet exam and sell the kittens for $100 apiece. It turns out to be a really good deal because all the same services on a free kitten end up costing at least $300. I'm all about adopting from shelters, but baby kittens at shelters are soooo likely to have upper respiratory infections or other illnesses that can be $$$ in vet bills or even be fatal. The Big Hollow kittens are unwanted litters that would otherwise be dropped off at shelters. Anyway, going to look at and play with the kittens is something the kids and I love to do. We have done this many, many times and have always walked out without a kitten. There was absolutely no plan to bring home a kitten on Saturday. The kids knew that and I knew that.

We walked into the packed vet's office and immediately plunked down by the kitten cage. There were 5 or 6 kittens of many colors and hair lengths. There were two kittens who were awake and playful. One liked to claw and bite, the other knew how to keep her claws sheathed and understood how to mouth and not bite. She was tiny compared to the others, but incredibly spunky. We played through the cage and waited and waited our turn. I finally got bored and pulled the kitten out of the cage. The second I touched her she purred like a little motor. She was perfectly comfortable with the bustle of many large dogs around her. She was happy to be turned on her back. She actually seemed to enjoy being passed back and forth between the kids. She was the perfect kitten!

Now, we certainly did NOT go looking to buy a kitten, but it wasn't a complete impulse buy either. Kaylin asked for a kitten for her birthday. She made an adorable kitten box and was terribly disappointed when I said no. I recently asked Logan what he wanted for his birthday and he said the number one thing he wanted was a kitten, though he knew that probably wouldn't happen. I strongly believe a pet belongs to the family, not to an individual. There was no way I could get a kitten for Logan's birthday when I had refused to do the same for Kaylin.

The vet's office cleared out and my turn at the counter finally came. I got Tiger's flea stuff and asked one of my former coworkers if I could take the kitten for a weekend "test drive." They were only open another hour and there was little chance someone else was going to swoop in and buy this kitten before Monday. She said sure, laughed at me and sent me on my way. So long, sucka!

We spent the rest of Saturday making sure the kitten would get along with Duncan and Tiger. Tiger was amazed at the tiny fireball, but didn't get too worked up about it. Duncan was excited and had many bouts of paw on kitten back and nose in kitten butt. Overall, he was pretty good and far more gentle than I could have imagined. He's a little jealous, but he's too independent to care deeply. Oh, and of course we had to run the new kitten by Gene. He acted annoyed, but couldn't help almost immediately falling in love with the weensy furball. She will be staying.

After many hours of suggestions and deliberations, we settled on the name Willow. It was just something we found and liked. It also goes well with the Warrior (series of cat books) names Kaylin wanted. Right now she's Willowkit. When she's 6 moons old she'll be made an apprentice and her name will be Willowpaw. When she is ready to be a warrior she'll receive her warrior name which will be determined by some outstanding feature like WillowWhisker or WillowHeart. If she doesn't grow into her ears she'll be WillowEars.

Everyone should come see her while she's still tiny. Seeing this dinky 1-2# kitten next to 20# Tiger is hilarious. This morning I was eating breakfast and reading the paper. Willow came and meowed and meowed to be picked up so I grabbed her and put her on the table. In a split second she had her entire head dunked into my cereal bowl. This cat may like food even more than fatty-boy Tiger! I don't think she'll stay tiny for long.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Is the Circus in town?

I've had a busy couple of weeks and have a million things I'd love to update, but few of them can be written on a public forum. One thing I can write about is my visit to the circus.

Zoo people pretend to be vastly superior to circus people. We are exploiting our animals in the name of conservation and education rather than just entertainment. We don't force our animals to perform silly tricks, we train (some of) them in the name of good husbandry and enrichment. Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) zoos are involved in breeding programs to maximize genetic diversity. Staff is college educated. The circus, on the other hand, is an evil animal exploitation machine. The end.

Well, thanks to my dad's generosity, we went to the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus this weekend. I would not have gone on my own even though I sort of wanted to, because it would have been morally reprehensible to spend my hard earned zoo money on such an evil pleasure. Note that I am ONLY referring to the animal acts and not the human ones. Other than the clowns, I don't think showcasing unique talents in the circus arena is evil. But I have to admit, for ME, the only draw to the circus is the animal acts. I think it's Cirque du Soleil that has no animal acts and I have no interest in their shows.

Anyway, I went to the circus and was pleasantly surprised (and secretly slightly disappointed) at the changes in their animal acts. I can remember circuses in years past with adult giraffes being led around the arena, tigers jumping through flaming hoops and the tamer putting his head in the tigers' mouths. Humans stood on horseback and leaped from horse to horse as the brilliantly dressed horses galloped around the rings. Elephants were "stacked" in long lines or made to show their strength. Who could forget King Tusk being paraded around the arena over and over? Every clown act had a dog or an elephant or a monkey. All of the non-tiger animals were paraded around the arena at least three times and many animals (like the giraffe) were only in the parades. Not anymore.

This was a kinder, gentler circus. The tiger act was so lame and boring I could only think that "I" could train the big cats at work to do everything they did. There were no hoops or fire. No human heads in tiger mouths. The most exciting thing the tigers did was hop on hind legs while begging for a piece of meat. Mostly they sat and laid down and rolled over. Basic doggy obedience class. Yawn. The horse act was all ponies with no human riders. They were mostly cute little Shetlands and the focus was on humor rather than stunts. One ring had two cute donkeys and one longhorn (castrated) bull, the center ring had one elephant, one llama and one border collie and the other ring was all Shetland ponies. The acts were all cute and relatively harmless. It was by far my favorite animal act of the night.

The elephants, of course, are by far the most controversial. PETA is extremely against housing elephants in ANY zoo to the point that many large, reputable zoos no longer house elephants. Ok, if a large zoo area with lots of space and training and enrichment is unacceptable, carting a large group of elephants in small train cars and then keeping them in small holding areas for no reason other than exploitation is unfathomable. Hmmm. I honestly don't know where I stand on this. PETA has taken their elephant stance FAR beyond common sense and reason. They are completely blind to the fact that African elephant populations in some of the refuge areas are exploding so much that they either need to be culled or shipped elsewhere (zoos) and that the circus is a major leader in Asian elephant conservation and has come around to responsible breeding for genetic diversity.

There were 8 adult female and 2 young (~2-3 year old) elephants at the circus. All of the elephants were paraded around the arena once at the beginning of the circus and the adults performed their act. (One elephant was also involved in the pony act.) Otherwise, they were not used. I believe only one elephant had a human rider and she did one or two minor tricks with the elephant. I remember she was carried on the elephant's trunk, I can't think of anything else. The elephants sat and laid down. Some of them stepped up onto the round podium things. They mostly just all turned in a circle at once. At one point three of them laid on their sides while three others used them as pillows. That was about it.

There were those three animal acts and one parade involving animals. Otherwise, animals were not used. Oh crud, I forgot the Python Sisters. There were three women who were dancing with large snakes. Get 'em, PETA! But seriously, there were no monkeys or birds, no large animals included only for the sake of parades. There was very little human/animal interaction other than the trainers working their animals. The only time animals were used completely as props was the snake dance. I wonder how much longer animals will be used at all? I mean, the tiger act was boring enough that most people probably won't remember it and the elephant act was so toned down from years past I can't imagine it will continue to be worth the expense. The human acts, on the other hand, seemed much improved over previous years. Maybe the circus can sustain itself without elephants and tigers. I guess I hope...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Stupid Dog

My dog is ridiculously cute. He's tough and scrappy. He's confident and independent. Duncan wouldn't waste one second of his life whining for my attention. He'll cuddle with me, but only when HE feels like it. I love my little doggie, but he is a nincompoop.

Friday I agreed to spend the day at Sand Ridge State Forest looking for skinks (lizards) for a friend's research project while she's on vacation. I had to check three areas at 7am, 11am and 3pm. I planned to spend the hours between checks birding and decided to take Duncan for company and exercise.

As usual, I was up well before dawn and gathered everything I needed as well as food and water for Duncan. I hauled everything out to the car and was ready to leave when I realized Duncan was missing. I checked all his usual sleeping spots, but he was gone. I went outside and called but got no response. I woke Gene who groggily thought he might be under the house. What? Apparently there is a place in the garage that he can squeeze into the crawl space but then can't get back out. Gene opened the trap door in the living room closet and sure enough, Duncan was down there, bouncing happily to get out. Stupid dog.

I loaded him into the car and set off for Sand Ridge. He loved tearing around at Sand Ridge. I had been a little nervous about all the cacti, but he either avoided them or they didn't bother him. After our first check, we drove ~15 minutes to Lake Chautauqua and walked several miles around the north lake. He had a blast tearing around, up and down the levees. I was busy watching a pair of bald eagles on a huge nest and wasn't paying much attention to Crazy Dog chasing killdeer. After a couple of hours I was FREEZING and decided to drive to Havana for some hot chocolate and food. We jumped back into the car and the smell was so overwhelming "I" thought I was going to puke!

I am rarely bothered by bad smells. I work around so many animals and their waste I don't even notice. The dead fish smell at Chautauqua didn't bother me a bit. However, there was a steady breeze. The dead fish smell on Duncan in the confined space of the car nearly killed me. I can't imagine how bad he must have stunk to make ME gag! I had to drive with the windows open. Back at Sand Ridge I was so desperate I was rubbing sand on him trying to get the stink a little more manageable. Nothing helped. I had some hand sanitizer and considered using it on him, but his skin's so sensitive I figured I'd end up spending $$$ at the vet's office for meds for the rash it would cause. We spent some time at Spring Lake between the next skink checks, but there was just nothing I could think of that helped the smell. We passed two roadkill skunks and their stink was a welcome diversion! I finally finished my last check and set off for the longest hour I've ever spent in my car. I seriously had my sweatshirt pulled up over my mouth and nose most of the ride. I considered "freeing" Duncan on the side of the road more than once!

When we FINALLY made it home, I immediately bathed the dog with a medicated sulfur shampoo. It is for itchy skin and normally I hate the scent, but was extremely grateful the sulfur and coal tar mostly removed the fish stink. I'll have to see if Walmart carries a sulfur air freshener for my car. Seriously, that drive was like sharing the car with a dead 15 pound Asian carp that has been rotting in the sun for weeks. Duncan will be excluded from my next adventure! And I didn't even find any skinks!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Long Weekend

My 3 day weekend flew by. I had lofty goals that mostly went unmet. I had planned to clean the house thoroughly, but only managed to tackle the kitchen table (which turned out to be a huge project thanks to my messy daughter) and went through my clothes. I always claim to have so few clothes I was completely shocked to fill two large trash bags with stuff for Goodwill. I had stuff in drawers I never open and Rubbermaid boxes in the closet that are out of sight and out of mind. I emptied two drawers and one box completely and got some other stuff moved around so that I may actually wear it this winter.

I had to laugh that pretty much the three hottest days of the entire summer were my three days off. I guess I'm happy for the rest of you who get two gorgeous days as part of your long weekend. I guess it will be nicer to work in the perfect weather and get some fresh air in the buildings and get to watch the animals enjoying the cooler temperatures.

Logan and I went on a toad hunt yesterday morning and found two. I thought we'd keep them for the morning and then release them, but he has big plans to keep them forever. He spent a good part of the early afternoon hunting insects for the toads to eat. I was pretty impressed that he took it upon himself to go online and research what toads eat. He was full of toad facts. I still plan to free the toads when I get home from work tonight, but he can enjoy them another day. I'm sort of glad we didn't free them in a strange place to endure last night's storm, though I guess being amphibians, they might not be opposed to getting wet? I don't know.

Kaylin and I talked all summer about going to the riverfront farmer's market, but never made it until yesterday. It's only on Saturday mornings and is over by noon, so between her ceramics class and Logan's baseball, we just didn't have time. I had great plans for the pie and casserole family, but of course they weren't there. The produce selection at this time of year isn't spectacular, so we wandered around looking mostly at the craft tables. One lady had all kinds of knit hats and scarves. We were attracted to a pumpkin and a candy corn hat, and walked over to find the most amazing, cutest fish hat ever! The gaping mouth goes over your head while the long body and tail of the fish make up the rest of the hat. It has eyes and little fins sticking out on the sides. It seemed insane to buy something like this on a day that was 90F at 11am, but it was too good to pass up. I wonder if she could make me a red river hog hat with tassel ears? Maybe I'll email her...

Ugh. I should probably go reconcile my checkbook and pay some bills before I have to go to work. It was too hard to fit that into my weekend :)

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Since I worked last Saturday, I got a 3 day "weekend" this week, with Thursday, Friday and Saturday off. My big plan was to explore Emiquon nature preserve and hopefully see a lot of birds. That, of course, was before I saw the weather forecast for near-100F temperatures. I waffled about whether to go or not, but decided I might as well give it a shot.

I took Kaylin to school and headed to Emiquon. I stopped briefly at Banner Marsh on my way, but there wasn't much bird activity on the lake. Today was the opening day of dove season and there appeared to be many hunters so I didn't get out of my car. I pulled into Emiquon and everything appeared still. I got out and started hiking the walking trail and saw all kinds of shorebirds. Sandpipers were everywhere. Killdeer were so plentiful they seemed to outnumber insects. Great blue herons and great egrets mingled with mallards, wood ducks and mergansers. Terns circled and swooped. Flocks of swallows skimmed the water and migrating blackbirds and starlings filled the trees. It was hot, but there was a nice breeze and the trip was totally worthwhile.

I moved on to Chautauqua and was disappointed that my hundreds (or thousands) of white pelicans were replaced by gulls. There were plenty of killdeer with occasional unidentified sandpipers mixed in. The dead fish from a few weeks ago were now piles of much less smelly bones. I wished I had a video camera with a great zoom because the killdeer running around on the fish skeletons were morbidly funny. There was no shade and despite downright windy conditions, the sun was harsh and the temperature was well above 90F. I didn't stay too long, but just as I was starting to walk back to my car a flock of ~20 pelicans flew right over my head. That definitely made the trip worthwhile. Oh, I also saw a group of turkey vultures on the ground and got excited thinking one of them was a black vulture because it had an all black head. When it took off flying it had the signature turkey vulture white band along the wings so I'll have to look up if juveniles have black heads? Interesting...

I drove through Sand Ridge State Forest on my way home, but it was noon and nearly 100F and nothing was out and about. I decided to skip Spring Lake this trip and instead went to the new Big R store in Pekin. It was sort of a cross between Farm and Fleet and Gander Mountain, with prices closer to Gander Mountain. It was an ok store, but Farm and Fleet is better.

I've got a meet the teacher open house at Logan's school tonight, an amphibian conservation talk at the zoo and then a cookout tomorrow night and otherwise plan to spend the rest of my time off cleaning the house. We'll see if that actually happens. :)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Back to School

The first week of school came and went. Both kids seem happy with their teachers. As usual, I have gotten almost no information from Logan; he is highly offended by any and all personal questions. I will just have to be patient and listen and eventually I will learn what little I actually need to know. :) Kaylin is thrilled to be back with her friends and happy to no longer be a lowly 5th grader. Apparently 5th grade at the 5th-8th grade middle school is equivalent to being a freshman. She's excited to start band this week. I guess I'll get more information at their back to school open houses next week.

Kaylin is finally over her illness. She still has an occasional cough, but the fever and prolonged coughing fits are gone. The antibiotics never worked so I'm assuming it was a virus of some kind. I hope it was the flu and that since she already had it and the rest of us were exposed and didn't get it, we'll have a flu-free winter. A girl can dream...

I worked another Saturday and will get a three day (Thursday-Saturday) weekend again this week. It stinks only having one day for rest and chores, but that three days off makes it totally worth it! I hope to take one day and go birding. Emiquon is screaming my name! I'm not even sure why since I've never had any real luck there, I just REALLY want to go! I'm sure I'll hit Banner Marsh and Chautauqua as well. I'm itching to get out there. Oh, and Gene fixed my favorite binoculars, so I won't have to use my backup pair. Bring on the birds!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Otters? Snake? Illness?

Kaylin has been sick all week. Last Sunday I came home from work and she was crashed miserably on the couch with a sore throat and fever. Monday was more of the same so Gene and I tag-teamed work, with Gene staying home in the morning and me coming home early. Gene took her to Proctor First Care where she refused a strep test and was given some antibiotics. Tuesday morning I was very surprised to find her still feverish. Wednesday and Thursday were repeats. What was weird was that while she had this on-again, off-again fever, she seemed to continually get a little better. She was never miserable again, but every time I thought she was getting better, she'd go from a normal temperature to a slight to moderate fever. Somewhere along the line she developed a pretty bad cough that is productive, but her chest doesn't seem too congested. She's sick enough that she missed the whole week of camp, but was eating almost normally and spending a good deal of her day playing normally. Friday I was off work and Kaylin was bored to death and begging to leave the house. We went to Toys R Us and did a couple of quick and minor errands. She was fine all afternoon. Friday night Gene had planned to take the kids to a baseball game but I didn't want Kaylin to go. She was ok with that, but begged me to take her for a haircut. (Which, warning Mom, is now as short as my hair.) She was fine after the haircut so we ran into Wal-Mart for some flea treatment for the pets. By the time we got home her temperature was 101.4F. This (Saturday) morning she woke up with a fever again and has been back and forth between fine and feverish all day. Argh! Of course now I'm freaking out about the neverending fever and it's Saturday and I don't want to take her to a prompt care for what should be a recheck! I've managed to calm down and realize she's not really that sick and that she'll likely be fine to wait to see the doctor on Monday. I just hope soooooo much she's better and can go to her first day of school! At this moment she's labeling and packing school supplies and has every intention of going to school whether she's sick or well. Haha- like mother, like daughter on that one.

Logan and I went to a reptile show at Lakeview Museum and then finally went to their Moneyville exhibit. I can't believe Kaylin and I were at Lakeview almost every week this summer and never managed to make it to their summer "kiddie" exhibit. I guess we were always in a hurry to get to Logan's baseball games the second her ceramics class was over, but Logan's favorite thing in the world is money and we were all looking forward to Moneyville. It turned out to be pretty fun. The major highlight was creating a printed sheet of three paper dollars with backgrounds and denominations of your choice and your picture on front. Logan and I both have personalized million dollar bills. He was very impressed! Logan was also impressed with the reptiles and now wants a snake. He at first wanted a lizard, but I explained how incredibly much work lizards are and he agreed a snake would make a better and easier pet. We'll see. I'm not at all opposed to a pet snake. Someday...

I headed back out to Banner Marsh before sunlight Friday morning. It was just twilight when I pulled in and while I could see, all the birds and other animals were just silhouettes. I immediately climbed to the top of the levee and had walked about 100 yards south when I saw movement in the water. Two long-bodied mammals who appeared to have skinny tails swam toward the bank and were almost immediately lost behind very tall grass. I stood in shock and waited for more motion for at least 5 minutes before resuming my hike. The animals were too big to be muskrats, there was no beaver lodge in the area and they didn't appear to have come on land because I would have seen the grasses moving. Unless they swam a very long way underwater, they likely swam into a hole on the bank. There are beavers all over at that lake and the ones I've seen all appear to have made a lodge and live in deeper water. I'm about 90% sure I saw otters. But oh, that nagging, horrible 10% of doubt!

I walked on and found the active osprey nest on the power line tower. Both osprey were at the nest. I saw tons of indigo buntings, kingfishers, goldfinches, herons and ducks. There were large flocks of swallows, blackbirds and starlings. I saw three beavers in different areas, raccoons and a huge buck, but no more otters or potential otters. When I got back to the area I saw the otters, I went closer to the lake and found what I believe to be otter tracks. Exciting and a fun day regardless of whether the animals I saw were otters, but I don't feel like I can "quite" count my sighting. I guess I'll keep up the hunt. It'll be a hardship :)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Psycho Killer

We have at least two more young raccoons in the crawl space and garage. They are sort of ruining my life because Duncan barks at them all night as they're prowling around and once he gets started it takes him FOREVER to calm down enough that I might possibly go back to sleep. Last night I was trying to think of different ways to kill the raccoons. They were huddled together at the top of a ladder and completely vulnerable to my attack. I was so sleep deprived my best idea was to duct tape a kitchen knife to a broom handle and stab them. I was seriously getting ready to do it when I realized a steak knife isn't going to kill anything. I mean, I suppose if I was extremely full of rage and insanity, maybe I could kill something, but poking a raccoon with a steak knife on a stick probably won't even cut it, much less kill it. It would just be extremely cruel. Poke. Poke. I gave up on my killing spree and spent the rest of the night in my recliner, hissing at Duncan to be quiet every 5 minutes for the remainder of the night.

Logan and I went out to breakfast this morning for the first time since school got out. He's either had camp or baseball all summer so it was nice to have some one-on-one time with him. We then did our big weekly grocery trip at Wal-Mart. I offered to get him some "special" school supplies but he didn't even want to look. I didn't push it. We went to the sporting goods department and looked at baseballs instead.

Kaylin, Duncan and I went to McNaughton Park in Pekin for some exercise and fun playing in the creek. There was a new horse trail since the last time I was there and we took it by accident rather than the trail to the creek. It was full of horrible burrs that embedded their long spines into my fingers when I tried to remove them. Poor Duncan got some of them buried in the pads of his feet deep enough that I had to separate his pads to see them. He was lying on his back on the trail refusing to move. I felt terrible because the first couple of times I looked at his feet I didn't even see the burrs. Once I pulled them out he was fine and actually wore himself out tearing around the woods and creek. Kaylin had a good time searching for frogs and tadpoles and wading in the creek.

We came home and napped in front of a Disney Channel Phineas and Ferb movie. It's been the best weekend I can remember for a long, long time. I did lots of cool stuff on my own and with family. I got plenty of rest and managed to get my chores done. I think tonight Kaylin and I are going to paint some rocks. I want a pig rock. Logan's out playing baseball, Kaylin's playing capture Duncan in the blanket, Gene's making dinner (his choice) and I'm writing. It's a perfect summer afternoon. The kids have one more week of day camp at the Riverplex and they go back to school. I'm not looking forward to homework and structure. Ugh. It's been a great summer and I don't want it to end!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Susy's Big Adventure

I worked Saturday last week and got this Thursday off in return. That meant a 3 day weekend! I tried to talk the kids into going somewhere with me. They've been wanting to go to St. Louis forever, but they wanted to go to their last two days of Camp Zone. Fine, but I'm not going to hang around home. I'm gonna go look for some wildlife! Outside! In the wild!

Thursday I took the kids to camp at the usual time. I packed a few things in case I decided to spend the night somewhere and headed north on Route 29. I stopped at the Marshall County Conservation Area where I found a cool turtle shell and saw some turtles still in their shells. My goals were to follow the Illinois River Road until I got to Starved Rock and Matthieson State Parks and then head to Bloomington/Normal to Lake Evergreen and the zoo. Just before crossing the river near Hennepin, I saw about 30 turkey vultures circling. There were big power line towers next to the river that were just covered in vultures. I've never seen so many in one place (other than the safari ride at Disney World.) It was awesome!

I stopped at Starved Rock and went to the riverfront and to the visitor center. I walked around a little, but it was so crowded I just wasn't feeling it so I moved on to Matthieson. I'd never been there before and had big expectations. The canyons were amazingly beautiful, but they were also full of screaming camp children and lots and lots of garbage. I hiked around for a while, but wanted solitude and moved on to Lake Evergreen. Ahhhhhhh. Peace and quiet and nature. I took a long hike around part of the lake and saw lots of birds and butterflies. It was exactly what I needed. I then drove into town and went to Miller Park Zoo, the Gingerbread House toy store and Meier. After all that I was beat and couldn't think of any reason to stay in town so I headed home for the night.

I've been wanting to see wild river otters for a long time and have googled and googled different searches trying to figure out where to see them around Peoria. I've found blog postings and different mentions of sightings, but no definite locations. I finally thought to email a former coworker's husband who is a state fish biologist. He said that in all his years on the local rivers and lakes, he's only seen 3 live otters; they were all together and he was in an air boat at Emiquon. I want to see them while on foot. He told me to climb to the top of the levee at the Bell's Landing entrance at Banner Marsh and walk and look and best of luck. I got to Banner Marsh a little after 5am, at first light. At first I didn't quite understand where I was supposed to go so wasted a good half hour of first light hiking at lake level with 10 foot high grasses and foliage blocking my view. I then realized I was supposed to go ON TOP of the levee and look down. It was AMAZING!!! I saw an osprey hunting, all kinds of cool songbirds, lots of swans with their adorable mini-me cygnets. (The cygnets no longer look like babies, they look like miniature swans.) A great horned owl flew over. I walked and walked and walked. I was soaking wet from the high grass and the dew so I gave up on otters and headed back to the car. On my way back I saw a beaver dragging a big tree limb through the water back to its den. Very cool.

I moved on to Emiquon and was VERY impressed with their new area. I watched great egrets catching and eating fish and checked out some ducks and shorebirds before a huge van load of Japanese tourists pulled up with a guide and interpreter and I moved on. I couldn't decide whether to head back to Banner Marsh for some more birding in the other entrance areas or move on to Chautauqua. The last time I was at Lake Chautauqua it was windy and I saw nothing but some blackbirds and swallows. This time I was not disappointed. There was a huge migration of American White Pelicans. There were hundreds or maybe even thousands of pelicans. They were everywhere! The water level in the North Lake was way down and there were also dozens of great egrets and lots of sandpipers and other shorebirds. The drawback was that since the water level was low, there was a HUGE, stinky fish die-off. Dead Asian carp were EVERYWHERE. And they were covered with flies. It was pretty disgusting, but totally worth it for the zillion pelicans.

I drove through Sand Ridge State Forest and saw some indigo buntings and a pileated woodpecker and then headed to the Jake Wolf Fish Hatchery. I've been there before, but it was closed. I was shocked at how nice this place was and NOBODY else was there. Super-duper use of our tax dollars. I hope funding the public aspects of this place isn't taking money away from Wildlife Prairie State Park. That would be a shame! The final stop on my big adventure was at Spring Lake. The lake was so covered with lily pads there were no boats and only a few people fishing. I watched the swans for a few minutes and saw an interesting stilt bird I have yet to identify, but didn't bother looking for snakes or mammals because the lily pads were too thick. I was home before 1pm and so tired I took a nap.

It was an absolutely awesome two days of nature and wildlife! I spent less than $20 on food and used just under a tank of gas. I'm guessing my "mini vacation" cost just over $50. Totally worth it! And I still have another day off!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

School Supplies

It's been a while since I've updated, but we've just been busy with nothing particularly exciting. Gene and Logan did take a bus trip to a Cubs/Cardinals game in St. Louis and they had a great time. As usual, I didn't get a lot of details and since I wasn't there, don't have a lot to write. Kaylin and I spent our day without the boys shopping for school supplies and hanging out at home. Kaylin appreciates office supply stores and loves choosing the perfect binder, the perfect backpack and getting to pick the purple scissors. She loves the look and smell of a new box of crayons and the mere existence of a fresh pink eraser. I've loved office supply stores ever since the first time I went to Widmer's with my dad for mechanical pencils and adding machine tape. We had a good day.

Logan continues to shock and disappoint with his complete lack of enthusiasm for school supply shopping. I think the only way I could get any reaction out of him would be if I bought him Barbie or Disney Princess folders. He honestly couldn't care less if he's sent back to school with a new box of crayons or a ripped up baggie full of last year's nubs. One time at the annual school book fair he asked for an eraser because it looked like a hundred dollar bill. That's likely the most excitement he's ever shown for a school supply. And yes, that eraser is in his last year's pencil pouch that will be returning this year because why would I buy him a new one when the old one is near-mint?

I don't want summer to end, but this neverending heat is taking its toll. It is kicking my butt. My job is hard enough without it being a bazillion degrees. I literally peel my clothes off at the end of the day. I feel like a human fruit roll-up. The kids don't seem to be bothered at all. I pick them up from camp at 5 and they are still running around and come home to run around some more. Then they whine about having to take a shower! Sheesh! The shower is the highlight of my day!