Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Road Trip Take 2

Wooohoooooooo! In three days we're road tripping to Santa Fe! I can't believe how excited I am about this trip, but even more surprisingly, how excited the kids are! This is a new kind of trip for us. We have a destination, but really no solid plans once we get there. Along the way we're stopping at Palo Duro canyon near Amarillo, Texas. I also hope to go to a nature preserve ~30 miles from the canyon, but the Mapquest directions are so vague I'm not sure we'll ever get there. (Drive NW for 5.7 miles. Turn left and drive 0.4 miles. NO street names or route numbers!) We don't have GPS and I was thinking of buying a system before we leave. Then I was asking my boss and a coworker how they like theirs and at the same time they were raving about it, they were complaining about how many times it did them wrong. Then my boss made my decision final by telling the story of some woman who blindly followed her GPS into the desert and died because the instructions were wrong. Um... Nevermind. As for Santa Fe, we have little actually planned. My other boss suggested the Georgia O'Keeffe museum. I checked their website and think Kaylin will love it and Logan will hate it. I'm hoping it's in an area Gene and Logan can do something else fun because after reading up on O'Keeffe I really want to go! I also now want to go to Taos, but I'm not sure our trip will be long enough. The kids want to stop at City Museum in St. Louis. I'm trying to convince them we'll take an overnight St. Louis trip soon and go then. Gene wants to go to Merramec Caverns or another cave. I just want to see lots of cool birds. And reptiles and mammals. I got the kids some sturdy butterfly nets I hope they can use to catch small lizards (but just to look at closer for a few seconds- not to keep or harm in any way.) I have extra binoculars. We're taking along balls and kites and roller skates. Gene is hooking up the Wii in the van so Logan will be set. Kaylin usually draws for hours on end. Both kids love the drive. Both very much want to see deserts and mountains and canyons. Score! I'm usually such a trip planner, I can't believe I have such a vague itinerary. I also can't believe I have NO ZOOS in the plan I do have. We may possibly stop at Tulsa or Oklahoma City Zoo, but only if there's nothing more interesting to do. The kids have both separately asked me what zoos we're going to? Both are SHOCKED when I say probably none. Gene wants to do some of the silly Route 66 attractions on the way home and I'm all for that. My last few trips have been all about zoos and aquariums. I did 4 in 4 days in July, 2 in 2 days and then 3 in 3 days in August, and then Meghan and I just did 5 in 5 days. That doesn't even count all the single zoos I've visited over the past 12 months. Ha! This trip is just about wild animals instead of zoo animals. It's all about the animals :) If my trip goes perfectly, I'll see a roadrunner, a burrowing owl and a painted bunting (might be too early for the bunting.) Oh, and a raven, but I'm fairly confident of that one because the birding area I'm visiting near Santa Fe has ravens instead of crows. Shouldn't be hard to find!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I hate ISAT

Middle school parent-teacher conferences... What can I say? I guess I'm just really glad I have my iPod Touch (I refuse to get a smart phone because I think I'd waste ALL of my time) and my new Audubon bird guide app. Lets just say that while waiting in three lines to see teachers, I looked up the ranges of a LOT of birds I may potentially see on our upcoming road trip. With middle school conferences you line up at the teachers' rooms and wait your turn. I just happened to be behind Mom of Special Needs Kid and Extremely Concerned Dad. I'm pretty sure I waited 40 minutes to spend 2 minutes with the science teacher. I REALLY wanted to talk to the science teacher because Kaylin's grade slipped and I needed to know why.

Miss Kaylin has been having an extremely hard time with school since the new year. She has possibly the worst case of spring fever EVER. Since returning from winter break, the teachers have all been focused on preparation for ISAT. I just realized I have no idea what that actually stands for, but I of course mean the state achivement tests that are now the most important thing about public school and the main focus of every teacher. ISAT preparation sucks. Rather than doing ANYTHING fun or educational, they drill, drill, drill. I'm not sure what a "written response" even is, but they practice them daily. They replaced art class with more writing time. ISAT preparation is boring and stupid and Kaylin needs much more from her educational experience. Her reading, science, social studies and effort grades all dropped. The three teachers I talked to insisted that Kaylin understands everything, her lower grades are the result of disorganization and not turning in homework assignments. Kaylin's test scores are great.

Yeah, public schools, your system is broken! TRAINING kids to do well on tests rather than teaching them new information? Boring drills that make them hate school? My kid went from fired up for learning to bored and lethargic and uninterested. My child's excellent test scores will nicely contribute to your school's overall ranking. Too bad you have to destroy my kid's love of learning to get what you want! Too bad it would be counterproductive to tell her to not read any of the questions, but to fill in the answer sheet circles in patterns of fairies or turtles. That would be a better learning experience than taking the actual tests!

Kaylin's grades are still excellent but her drive is gone. Her conscious effort to be more organized is gone. Her strong desire to obtain straight As is gone. The testing is over for the year. Right now science is disecting owl pellets. Kaylin's crazy-excited about finding over 50 bones in her pellet. She's also excited about a group social studies presentation with her friend LaShai. She has to dress up like Ben Franklin. I'm hoping these special projects will excite her enough to propel her to the end of the school year. THIS STUFF is what 5th grade should be about! It just makes me sick that an entire quarter of her school year was wasted on test preparation! I've said it before and I can't believe I'm saying it again- I wish I had what it takes to homeschool!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Conference Time

Parent-teacher conferences always fill me with dread. The kindergarten teacher who fondled my thigh. The second grade teacher who dramatically recalled Kaylin jumping in a puddle at the first conference and coloring her entire desk top with pencil at the second conference. The first conference with Logan's teacher this year where she scared me half to death about his reading issues...

The fall conference with Logan's teacher was the first time I had to deal with a real learning issue. Everything negative I'd heard before was a behavioral issue or a personality conflict- stuff that was cringeworthy for various reasons, but nothing that sent me into a panic. The reading thing pulled the rug out from under me. This teacher struck me as overly strict, but not crazy. When she told me my son was on the brink of failure that was going to RUIN HIS ENTIRE LIFE, I believed her. Heh. Live and learn, I guess.

I went into a panic for a couple of weeks before realizing Logan just needed to be TOLD that reading was important. Once he understood that, he was like "Oh, ok, I'll do it." Last night's conference lasted maybe 5 minutes. His teacher showed me his most recent reading testing. I don't remember how the actual scoring worked, but his score was 108. She said the expected score for 2nd graders by the end of the year is 90. PFFFFFFFFFFFFF!!! So with a quarter of the school year left, he is well above where he needs to be. In 4 months he went from "needing intervention" to above level. I was commenting to her about how impressed I was at Logan's VAST improvements in spelling and how he now reads street and business signs and how he actually sounds out words he doesn't immediately recognize rather than looking at the first letter and guessing. She was all "Yeah, isn't it neat how kids just blossom in 2nd grade?" I sort of felt like punching her in the face.

Logan still needs to work on reading and comprehension, but not because he's in danger of failing. He came so far in such a short amount of time I think by this time next year it's very possible he'll be reading well above his grade level. He probably won't be a bookworm 3rd grader reading at 12th grade level, but I'm more than ok with that. My panic from the fall conference brought some good change including Logan's ear tubes and making him realize reading is important. However, I stressed out WAY too much over an issue that more or less resolved itself. My life lesson is to take what the teacher says seriously, but to step back and use common sense rather than freak out and panic.

Today I have Kaylin's conferences. She's doing well and I'm half tempted to skip out. I won't, but I'd like to.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Since I have zero interior decorating ability/interest we have two large bulletin boards in the kitchen we use to display the kids' school and artwork. I am terrible about changing out everything so Logan (2nd grade) still has art projects from preschool. Kaylin has an "about me" poem titled "I am" that's been up since at least last school year. It has maybe 7 or 8 "I am" statements, with the last line being "I am Kaylin." Yesterday morning I was at the kitchen table reading the paper when I glanced up at the wall and noticed "I am dum" added in permanent blue marker. Logan happened to be in the kitchen and was quite proud of himself and his genius mischief. I was quite proud that depsite the ironic misspelling, he actually READ and COMPREHENDED words on the wall that he wasn't FORCED to read! And then WROTE a sentence! Yay! Maybe there is hope for him after all :)

We had a sad/happy couple of days at work. Neptune, our beloved elderly male sea lion, died Friday morning. He had been in declining health for several months; typical old age stuff. His passing was expected, but his absence leaves a gaping hole. I don't get to work with sea lions too often, but I've always loved them. Neptune had cataracts and required daily eye medication. I will never forget the first time I had him "hold" so I could administer meds. I held my left hand just below his chin level, said "hold" and he placed his enormous head in my hand, allowing me to administer the eye drops. This animal was huge! Vast! Supporting his head was simultaneously terrifying and the coolest thing I'd ever done in my life. Part of our daily sea lion feeding/show was to have Neptune come up on land with the keeper while we had him roll to his side and rub him down with our hand. It was an incredible experience I will always remember and cherish. I will miss you like crazy, you giant sea slug!

Saturday morning brought some happier news, with the birth of three red river hog piglets. Newborn piglets are adorable beyond words and incredibly fun to watch. They're amazingly agile shortly after birth, already running around and climbing over mom. Yeah, the cuteness is almost sickening. It more than makes up for the extra work.

I finally made it to Logan's flag football game on Saturday. Gene had the wrong time for the first game and I was out of town for the second. Flag football is even funnier than tee-ball! The kids range in age from 6-12. That is a HUGE difference in height and skill! Logan (8) was one of the taller kids on his team. Another older kid from another team came in and played quarterback. They ALWAYS passed the ball to the tallest kid who unfortunately couldn't catch. The younger kids had no clue about the rules and why they were doing what they were doing. It was hilarious. It was also awesome watching the young coaches (two high school or college-age guys who coach and ref ALL of the teams) grin at each other and sometimes laugh over the chaotic stupidity of the game. They never gave up, though. They kept trying to teach these kids the rules. I'm glad Logan is in this league. He's definitely learning how the game works which should be helpful in the fall if/when he plays "real" football. Logan's team lost 30-0. They have yet to score. Maybe this week.

It's a busy week with obedience for Duncan tonight, first aid/CPR training for me the next two days, parent-teacher conferences on Thursday and Friday and Kaylin's first ceramics class Saturday. Ugh. I hate obligations.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Feet!

While on my road trip I walked miles across zoos, walked up and down hills in behind the scenes areas, up and down stairs, miles on sandy beaches, miles on rough trails. My feet were fine the entire time. They aren't 100% perfect, but the minor amount of pain did not slow me down at all or stop me from doing anything I wanted to do. It didn't keep me up at night or wake me in the morning. I stretched often and forgot to take my anti-inflammatory every day except one.

Today I went to what I hope was my final podiatrist appointment for a very long time. I told Doc about my trip and he laughed and shook his head. He told me to be careful and not overdo anything and never stop wearing my orthotics or stop stretching and replace my shoes regularly. I was dismissed from his care with orders to call BEFORE anything gets bad. I'm not really being this optimistic, but it's possible I may not need to call him again until I need my orthotics replaced in a few years. I love the guy but I hope I don't see him again for a long, long time.

In other news, Kaylin and I took Duncan to the river for the first time yesterday. I was hoping to see some migrating white pelicans (nope) and was curious how Duncan would be around the water. He isn't trustworthy off-leash so Kaylin was getting dragged around while I looked at birds. First he rolled on a gigantic dead fish before barely sticking his toes in the water and deciding it wasn't for him. He ran around and sniffed everything, went completely inside a hollow log, but avoided the water. Avoided it until a group of geese came and started taunting him and he leapt completely in without a thought. The dog has no fear. It must be a favorite goose pastime to taunt dogs. Brady would swim out and chase honking geese until he was exhausted. I think Duncan would probably drown because he wouldn't stop chasing geese until he was dead. I'm glad he was on leash because I would not have wanted to go into the river after him!

Duncan had his first obedience class on Tuesday. I was still driving home so Gene took him. It was not successful. Duncan was distracted by every little thing. He barked at other dogs. Gene said he was one of the worst dogs in the class. Yikes! I was really excited because I got the very last spot in the class on sign up night. Sign up started at 6pm. I turned in my application at about 6:08 and the three classes were filled. I guess we'll just practice and do our best. (?)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Road Trip Part 2

Monday we woke up to another beautiful day, sunny and upper 70s. We had no idea where we were going so headed out to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm an hour early. We found it easily so decided to drive around and see the sights. Right across the street was the entrance to Anastasia State Park. We drove back to check it out and found they charged an $8 entry fee. Hmmm. Probably worth it, but we had less than an hour before we were supposed to meet Lisa. There was a free trail at the park entrance so we hiked back into the woods. I don't think I ever stopped smiling at the live oaks covered in moss, all the palms, the green, the flowers, the tiny lizards, the EVERYTHING! We eventually came to a small pond and were busy watching and unsuccessfully trying to identify several warblers when Meghan looked down into the water and realized more than a dozen turtles were stalking us. I assume they were hoping for food, but it was really funny to watch them all looking up at us.

We met Lisa at 10am and toured the Alligator Farm. The place was awesome! Their collection of crocodilians is impressive, but what we truly loved was the huge swamp area that was teaming with gators all bellowing and calling to one another. There were probably hundreds of gators of every size everywhere, both in and out of the water. Very, very cool! Even cooler were all of the native birds. Different herons were everywhere. A huge tree was filled with dozens of nesting great egrets. The egrets were displaying and mating and building nests. I would LOVE to return when the chicks hatch out! I imagine the gators snack well for a few weeks. Meghan had never seen roseate spoonbills in the wild so was thrilled to see several. We watched an educational presentation and then left the park to find some lunch.

We ate at a taco place run by a couple of local surfer dudes and then headed back to the state park and paid the $8 entry. It was completely worth it! We first stopped at a beach covered with tiny crabs. We watched the crabs for a while and then went to another area where we walked on a long boardwalk to the real ocean with crashing waves, surfers and lots and lots of brown pelicans. Did I mention how much I love pelicans? I counted at least 50 :) We finished our state park experience with another hike on a forest trail. We didn't see too many animals other than some tiny lizards and a few squirrels, but many of the trees were labeled and some had informational plaques, so we actually learned quite a bit about the plants.

We said goodbye to Lisa and sadly headed out of Florida and North toward home. We stopped at a couple of junky souvenir stands and just had a fun time looking at the birds and scenery on the way. Our plan was to meet Meghan's aunt at Zoo Atlanta the next morning, but it was pouring rain and she cancelled. Unfortunately, we didn't have a backup plan of somewhere else to meet so decided to blow off the zoo and head on home. By the time we made it through the horrible (but not as horrible as Chicago) traffic and another two hours to Chattanooga, we decided to go ahead and stop at the Tennessee Aquarium before powering our way home. That place was awesome! I was impressed with everything, but the highlight of my day was watching an octopus move all over its enclosure and check out some plastic toys its keeper had put in as enrichment. I've seen lots of octopi in aquariums, but they're always jammed into a corner or under a rock. It was So. Cool. to see this one moving all over the place. Other aquarium highlights were the seahorse exhibits (especially the foot-long leafy sea dragon), the many turtle exhibits and the floor to ceiling aquarium with views on every level from above to below. I had been told over and over how cool this place is, but I guess I had to see it for myself to understand!

We took turns driving and napping and somehow managed to arrive home around 11pm. It was an incredibly fun trip. We did five zoos/aquariums in five days (six in six days if you include Peoria,) went to two beaches and stopped at several places to check out the wildlife. We basked in the sun and warmth and were beyond happy to be among old friends and flowers and green everywhere. I could not possibly have had a better travel companion. We had pretty much the exact same interests and wanted to do all of the same things. It was a good, good time.

That said, it's good to be home! I think Duncan has been physically touching me for the past 12 hours. Tiger braved the evil dog to sit on my lap and purr and was very happy when I brushed the um, Spaghettios? out of his coat. The kids were asleep when I got home so it was fun to surprise them this morning. I need to clean out my car and unpack and do laundry, but I'm exhausted and just want to veg in front of the computer and maybe take a nap. I don't have to go back to work until Sunday so I guess I CAN. Yay!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Road Trip!

Meghan and I are in sunny, beautiful Florida. Yesterday was a gorgeous day- sunny and mid-70s. We are basking in the sun and warmth. Today is supposed to be more of the same! We've had bad internet connection the entire trip so I haven't written many emails, updated this blog or facebook and haven't been able to upload any photos. I'll probably have to wait until we get home. If this blog entry publishes I'll be shocked.

We left Peoria at 4:30am on Friday and arrived at Nashville Zoo at 11:30. We stopped in Metropolis, Illinois for gas and got our pictures taken with their "famous" giant Superman statue. It was an easy drive with no traffic. Meghan dropped me off at the zoo and I had lunch with Julie while Meghan had lunch with family in town. We met back up later and Julie toured us around the zoo with behind the scenes tours of giraffe barn, anteaters, education animals and their herp/aquatic area where we got to see their frog and crayfish breeding programs and go on exhibit to pet rhinoceros iguanas. I was allowed to traipse around the anteater barn, getting licked by a dozen giant anteaters. No babies yet, but we did get up close to their new baby giraffe and get a tour of the amazing giraffe barn. Julie is in the education department so we got to go see all their education program animals. We played with a kinkajou, prehensile-tailed porcupine and several birds and reptiles before going in with their New Guinea singing dog and the grand finale (and possible highlight of my entire trip)- a young lynx that Julie helped hand raise. The lynx was adorable! And so soft! It was rubbing all over us and then started headbutting us like a housecat. We could have played forever, but he started getting too excited and rough so we had to get out. He was purring loudly and loving the attention. Adorable!

We stayed with Julie Friday night. I went home with her after work and Meghan went to dinner with some of her former coworkers and friends from town. It was great to have some time to catch up with Julie and see her beautiful new house. We sat in her hot tub for a while and while I wasn't originally thrilled with the thought, it was really relaxing and great for my feet. I might consider getting my own if it wasn't for the whole getting out part. It was around 40F and getting out was pretty horrible. I can't even imagine doing this when it is below freezing! Brrrrrrrrrr.

We left Nashville for Atlanta around 8 Saturday morning and with the time change arrived at the aquarium at 1pm. We waited in line 40 minutes for tickets with an entry time of 3pm. We immediately got in another line for restrooms, another line for food and by the time we got our food ate it in yet another line to get in to the aquarium. The aquarium was everything I hoped it would be! The whale sharks and manta rays were impressive! The exhibits were so well lit you could actually see everything. We loved the belugas and otters and penguins! We didn't love the crowds. It was like being at Disney World on a busy afternoon. The place was amazing, but I don't think I'll take Gene and the kids back anytime too soon. Ugh.

We drove out of Atlanta and south through Georgia, stopping for dinner and eventually for the night in (I think) Ashburn. I was tired and slap happy and didn't realize I accidentally turned on my iPod that was in my purse. It was so loud I could barely hear the front desk girl. I was thinking how incredibly rude she was for not turning down her music! Suddenly I realized it was MY music and I couldn't stop laughing. I probably embarrassed Meghan, but she's a big girl and can take it :)

We still had a ~3 hour drive to Jacksonville and arrived at the zoo around 11am. We toured on our own until Lisa got off work at 1pm. Then Lisa toured us around the rest of the zoo and took us behind the scenes of her area and the surrounding areas. She works with giraffes and has two adorable babies. We also got to see elephants, bongos, okapi and the newborn Grevy's zebra close up, as well as the rest of the Africa area. Jacksonville Zoo is gorgeous and has some amazing animals. I got to see my first giant otters! They are indeed huge! However, with all of the zoo animals, Meghan and I were most impressed by the wild native birds. We spent forever watching dozens of wood storks nest in the zoo trees. We saw several types of herons, ibis, cool little warblers we couldn't identify... We were thrilled to see little lizards zipping around and mostly happy to just bask in the sun. It was so completely awesome to be surrounded by green and flowers and warmth. Sunday evening, Lisa took us to the beach. We took a long walk and then went to dinner and talked and caught up. It was really enjoyable.

Today (Monday) is supposed to be sunny and warm again. We spent the night in St. Augustine and are meeting up with Lisa again and heading to the Alligator Farm. We may start our trip home tonight. We'll probably stop at one more zoo in either Atlanta or Chattanooga. We'll see. It's been a really fun trip! I wish it wasn't flying by.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Happy March

I'm being a blog slacker again! My life isn't exactly boring, I've been plenty busy, but nothing worth writing about. Duncan is doing really well with housebreaking and learned a new trick- bow. I've been clicker training him and happened to capture "bow" in the morning because he stretches over and over. It's really cute. Now I just need to figure out how to train "down" because he doesn't lie down unless he's sleeping. I plan on signing him up for beginning obedience this Thursday, so that should help. He's getting a little better about jumping on people and is mouthing (biting lightly) a lot less. He's young and crazy.

I'm very excited about my road trip (gasp!) this week but am overwhelmed at how much I need to do. All of my summer clothes are in a Rubbermaid box on the top shelf of my closet. I need to find clothes and wash them and clean out my car and pack and shop for a few things. I used pretty much every minute of my weekend- I didn't slack- but still have so much to do before I leave on Friday!

I got Kaylin signed up for a ceramics class that starts at the end of the month. She opted to try ceramics over drawing. I'm sure she'll love it because they get to do all kinds of work with clay, including using those (I don't know what I'm talking about) pottery wheels. I've always wanted to try that myself, but never enough to take a class. Kaylin loves painting pre-made ceramics, so I'm sure this class will be a blast. She considered taking drawing as well, but that would be 4 hours of every Saturday for 8 weeks. Kind of a lot...

Logan's reading is improving significantly. He's been up to 2nd grade level for a while and keeps getting better. His spelling improvement has me shocked! In first grade he only sounded out the first letter of the word and then had no clue how to spell the rest. He might spell "dog" d-a-k. He didn't think about it and didn't care. It was literally painful to spend so much time on spelling because he had to memorize each word. Second grade started out this way, but he slowly started sounding words out. He still had to memorize, but it wasn't quite as bad because at least the memorization made sense to him. Last week I got wrapped up in my own work and forgot about spelling until the drive to school Friday morning. I called out his list of words and he spelled ALL of them perfectly on the FIRST try! All 20! I about keeled over from shock! He's even passed a few pre-tests where they don't see the words first. This week he didn't pass the pre-test because he didn't know there were two ways to spell weak. He learned and remembered. Phew! I'm hopeful that his reading will continue to improve without intervention or tutoring and once he gets it down he'll be able to breeze through the rest of grade school. I really do believe his reading problems all stemmed from complete lack of interest.

Well, I should spend the next hour before I have to get ready for work doing something useful. I wonder if I'll wake Gene if I get my summer clothes down from my closet? Guess I'll find out :)