Monday, April 25, 2011

Computer death

Tragedy and horror, my laptop died last week. I thought it had a virus so Gene took it to be fixed, but alas, my hard drive failed. Fortunately, my "tragedy" was loss of time with my computer, not loss of information. I had my photo and music files backed up. I'm sure some things will eventually occur to me as lost, but the only thing I can think of at the moment is my resume, and by the time I need it again I probably will need to rewrite it anyway. I have a new bottom of the line laptop! Yay! It's much faster than my old bottom of the line laptop. It will suit my needs perfectly.

I got busy and preoccupied and stopped feeding birds for several years. When we were at Palo Duro Canyon, they had a blind set up near some feeders with colorful identification cards. I was surprised at how much Logan enjoyed identifying the birds. He stayed with me at the blind for a long time rather than running around hunting lizards with Kaylin. As soon as we got home I bought some new feeders. It's only been a couple of weeks, but we've enjoyed the front yard feeders so much I expanded and put up more feeders in the back yard. The entire family is enjoying the birds. Tiger sits by the window for hours, hunting and clicking at the birds. Duncan prefers the chipmunks and squirrels the birdseed attracts. Logan loves the goldfinches and we get a lot. Every so often I'll hear "OOOOOOOOOOO" look up, and the feeder has two or three bright yellow finches. Kaylin likes the chickadees and titmice. My favorites are the woodpeckers. So far we've had downy, red bellied, flickers and yellow bellied sapsuckers. I hope we somehow attract pileated. I've only seen one pileated woodpecker in Peoria and it was in my yard. So maybe...

We have a LOT of squirrels and they were cleaning out my main feeder daily. My problem is that I like the squirrels almost as much as the birds, so I didn't have the heart to chase them off. (But I did always think CH CH CH and laugh. Yes Mom, I'm laughing at you :) I read that safflower seed is a natural squirrel deterrent. I've had it in the main feeder several days and the usual birds come for it and the squirrels don't touch it. I put corn and sunflower seeds on the ground for them so their fat butts don't starve.

Some crazy woman at obedience really ticked me off and I'm torn about whether to go back or not. There is a main person who runs the class and then several helpers. I think the helpers are unpaid volunteers, but that's just a guess. Anyway, this one lady has taken a particular dislike to Duncan. Last week, she took him from me and was trying to force him over and over to lay down. He kept refusing and she was getting really nasty about it. She was saying nasty things about him to both me and other people in the class. I have talked to the main teacher multiple times about how I'm bringing Duncan to this class to get him used to other dogs and help with his terrible distraction issues. The more I work with him, the less likely he is to sit or down and stay. When he's distracted by dogs/smells/people he is NEVER going to behave. He is most definitely NOT a Lab who lives to please his owner! She agreed that the class is great for him and that I can participate in this fashion. She has been very encouraging. The other woman cannot accept Duncan's behavior. She's the one who proudly showed me up by "training" Duncan to down when he desperately wanted a treat she was holding. Last week, she wouldn't give him back. The main trainer kept yelling at her to give me my dog back but she wouldn't. Finally, the main trainer went over and physically removed Duncan's leash from her hand and brought him back to me. I bet she wasted 20 of 60 minutes of my class! Forget that! Oh, and then she walked around next to me telling me how awful Duncan is. Especially forget that! Seriously! I'm surrounded by purebred Labs, shepherds and border collies the owners have had since they were puppies. I have a crazy young adult terrier mix adopted from the shelter. I know nothing about his background or where he was most of the first year of his life. I'M willing to give him some time to come around! She can keep her perfect show dog. I want Duncan!

Friday, April 15, 2011


It was a rough week back to work and school for all of us. I was so worn out from the trip it was exhausting to make it through 5 work days. Alas, we all survived. Duncan did SO much better at obedience class on Tuesday! The first class I had to hold him ~80% of the time because that was the only way I could get him to stop barking. He's gotten better each time, but Tuesday he only started barking during the final exercise when the dogs were running off leash to their owners. He was much more focused on me and doing what he should be doing. Duncan hates to lie down on command under the calmest circumstances at home, so at class he usually refuses to down. One of the assistants came around with some treats and worked with Duncan for a minute to get him to down. He's not usually very food driven, but he wanted what she had and after about five times asking went into a perfect down. She gave me a superior, victorious look as though she had just effortlessly trained my dog and said "See?" Yes, I see that you're NUTS if you actually think you just trained my dog to down by using a word and hand signal. Sweetie, he doesn't understand English or sign language. Duncan knows down perfectly well, he just usually chooses not to do it. Anyway, he is still one of the worst in the class, but is no longer completely focused on the other dogs. I went to "The Last Lions" movie with some work friends on Wednesday night. I thought it was going to be a documentary on how wild lions are quickly disappearing in Africa. It sort of was, but the creators edited their amazing, beautiful footage into an absurd drama. Instead of focusing on the fact that lion numbers have dropped from 450,000 to 20,000 in a 50 year period and why this happened and what we can do about it, they turned one lions's struggle into a ridiculous story of revenge and more revenge. Mama lion has been widowed when a large group of lions is forced into her territory. She must take her 3 cubs and go into hiding on an island where she learns to overcome her fear of water to successfully hunt water buffalo. One cub is lost to a crocodile. The two remaining cubs are thought to be killed by the buffalo herd. Mama flips out and seeks revenge on the head buffalo. She fails by herself but then somehow defeats and becomes leader of the group of female lions that invaded her original territory. They work together to take out that evil buffalo leader. Then miracle of miracles! The runty male cub just happens to be walking around safe among the rest of the buffalo herd! Such a happy ending. Except they already stated that if the female joined the new group of lions, the males would instinctively kill her cubs. Um... As I said before, the film was beautiful, I just wish they hadn't turned a gorgeous wild animal into an evil human.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Now known as The Brats

I really love being with my kids on vacation. I love the fact that they play together and mostly get along. I love that they go along with Gene and/or me to play little jokes on each other. I love that they enjoy watching birds and climbing on and collecting rocks and searching for lizards. I love that they appreciate the beauty of mountains and canyons and get excited over tumbleweeds and cactuses. I love that they get that a road trip allows them to see things they'd never see if we took a plane to our destination. I love that their favorite state is Oklahoma. Then we come home and the neighbor kids come over and my kids turn into different people. The neighbor girl is only 7, but she has turned into a nasty little brat. She's a gum chomping, hair twirling mean girl and I can't stand her. She is terribly jealous of everything Kaylin does and is constantly throwing fits and going home if she doesn't get her way. Middle boy is a disrespectful little brat. He constantly talks down to me and talks back. This afternoon Kaylin and I were in the car, getting ready to pull out to take Duncan down to the river. Middle Boy came and stopped me and demanded I go find his little brother's stuffed monkey toy. I told him I didn't know where it was and he basically accused me of stealing it. I started the car and pulled out of the driveway. Seriously? WHY would any adult want a toy monkey? I really dislike these kids! Youngest Boy hasn't been bothering me too much lately because he's so afraid of Duncan he hasn't been coming inside. When the neighbor brats are over, my kids get disrespectful to Gene and me and fight with each other. It's totally boys against girls. On the rare occasion they do all play together, Brat Girl finds some tiny thing that isn't going her way and throws a fit and quits the game. Ugh. That is one bad thing about warmer weather- the Brats are over all the time! -- Logan's final flag football game was this morning. His team never won a game. I'm pretty sure they were scoreless for their first 4 games. Logan scored the only touchdowns for his team both last week and today. It was cool to see him all cocky and proud of himself. Watching him high five the coach and his teammates was priceless. He's embarrassed by all the attention, but at the same time loving it :) I hope he'll play "real" football in the fall. I think he'll really like it. Gene took Logan to the Chiefs home opener this afternoon so Kaylin and I took Duncan down to the river. I let him off leash for the first time and he did really well coming when called and not wandering off, but he rolled around in every dead fish he found. Some were bigger than him. He found a catfish that rivaled the gigantic ones at aquariums! I rinsed him off with the water spigot at the boat ramp and then gave him a real bath at home. One great thing about having a little dog is that I can bathe him in the kitchen sink. Nice and easy on the back! I go back to work tomorrow. I'm caught up on laundry and housework, but I could use one more day to recover from our trip. I am still exhausted. I'm glad the kids have an extra day before they go back to school.

Friday, April 8, 2011


We left Amarillo, Texas at 9am and drove three hours to Red Rock Canyon in Oklahoma. We picked up sandwiches on the way and had a picnic lunch. The kids climbed and ran around for two hours. They don't care much about ever going back to Texas or New Mexico, but they want to go back to Oklahoma and back to this canyon. Logan has proclaimed that Oklahoma is his new favorite state, even above Nebraska! We stopped at a Wal-Mart along the highway and got him an Oklahoma bicycle license plate with his name on it. I drove for several hours and we stopped for dinner at a Cracker Barrel in Joplin, Mo. It was 7:30pm as we were leaving and Gene and I were discussing how much farther we'd drive. Gene thought maybe another hour to Springfield. I was suddenly overtaken by desire to Just. Go. Home. and I told him if he could drive until 10:30 while I slept 3 hours, I'd drive the rest of the way home. I couldn't stand the thought of sleeping in yet another hotel bed and REALLY couldn't stand the thought of yet another day of driving! The only thing we had potentially planned was to stop at City Museum in St. Louis. However, we would have been limited for time there because we needed to be home before 6pm to pick up the pets. The kids were all for pushing through and heading home. We made it! I slept my few hours and then had no problem with the remaining 4 hours. Well, that's not completely true. I made Gene talk to me between Morton and home because I got really sleepy. It was a good trip and we got to see some really cool places and really cool things. However, I don't think we'll ever do this long of a drive in such a short time again. The kids did great, but it was just too much! We didn't have one day we didn't spend hours and hours in the car. The kids have a new love for canyons and want to go to the Grand Canyon next. They also want to see a "real" desert with huge cacti. Wait- Kaylin hates the word cacti. They want to see huge cactuses. I told them we'll start planning next year's spring break and we will FLY to either Phoenix or Las Vegas, rent a car and drive a much shorter distance to the Grand Canyon. They both were upset with the thought of flying because "Think of everything we'll miss." Wow. This was in the car yesterday while we were in the middle of our 14 hours of driving time from Amarillo to Peoria! I'm going to take a shower and go pick up Duncan and Tiger! Yay! We've all missed them so much! I called the vet's office yesterday morning to confirm we'd be picking them up today. I'd never talked to the girl who answered the phone before (not somebody I worked with) and she said "Oh, Tiger! That big, fat cat? He's so nice!" As expected, Tiger has been getting loved on by the staff. At least Duncan will probably be very happy to see me!

Thursday, April 7, 2011


We spent most of yesterday driving from Santa Fe to the Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo. This was the place we skipped on the way to Santa Fe because it was so cold and windy on Monday. Yesterday was in the upper 80s and breezy. We were all so sick of driving we almost skipped the "Grand Canyon of Texas." I'm very glad we went! It was really cool! The kids loved it. We were able to do a long drive around part of the inner canyon and made many stops to climb rocks, hunt lizards and watch birds. There was a great birding area with feeders and a fountain with a blind for the humans. I saw grosbeaks, towhees, finches, sparrows, thrashers, doves, woodpeckers, cardinals, turkeys and many others. The kids carried their nets and tried to catch lizards, but the lizards were way too fast and had great cover amongst the cactus and prickly bushes. Gene's always wanted to go to the Grand Canyon and he really enjoyed Palo Duro. We were so close to the Buffalo Lake wildlife refuge I couldn't stand not going back to the prairie dog town to try to see burrowing owls. We arrived just before dusk. It should have been a good time to see the owls, but either I'm a terrible spotter or just unlucky. I found burrows surrounded by tiny bones and owl pellets so I KNOW they were there, but I didn't see any owls. It probably didn't help my cause that the kids were running around screaming and having tumbleweed races. Speaking of tumbleweeds, both kids are fascinated with them. Apparently on SpongeBob when nothing is happening a tumbleweed blows past. Both thought it was hilarious when a tumbleweed would blow in front of our car and we'd smash it going 80 mph. We hit one particularly big one that will likely be one of the highlights of the kids' trip. They won't remember the beauty of the mountains or all the cool birds we saw, but they'll remember smashing that big tumbleweed :) Back to the tumbleweed races... Kaylin and Logan each found a large tumbleweed at the prairie dog area. They decided to race them down the grassy path. Kaylin's was bigger and it was winning so Logan decided to kick his to move it along. Mistake. He kicked it as hard as he could and got terrible scratches all over his leg. He was screaming and even crying a little. It was such a stupid injury the rest of us couldn't help laughing. He tried to blame it on me by saying I should have dressed him in jeans for the day. Uh, yeah. Ok, sweet little muffin, I'll "dress" you from now on. How about "Don't kick tumbleweeds." Doofus. We spent the night in Amarillo and still have 14 hours of driving ahead. Ugh. I doubt we'll do it all today. We have to get close enough to home that we can pick up Duncan and Tiger before 6pm Friday. That's our only time restriction.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Santa Fe and Taos

Yesterday was my day. I didn't see any burrowing owls or roadrunners, but I finally got to do some birding and a whole lot of prairie dog watching. We started our day at the Randall Davey Audubon Center. We followed the MapQuest directions precisely and almost destroyed the van driving up some horrible, unpaved hill with huge ruts. Thanks, MapQuest! That's the third time you've done me wrong this trip! We then used common sense and signage and made it to the place that reminded me a lot of Forest Park Nature Center in Peoria- except in the mountains. We took a long, beautiful hike before spending a lot of time in the area with feeders. We saw all the usual common birds (robins, etc.) plus ladder backed woodpeckers, pinyon jays, gray jays, Cassin's finch, mountain chickadees and several birds I still have in my brain but haven't yet identified. I will never identify all of the warblers and sparrows because there's no way I'll remember the correct markings. Logan got a little bored, but Kaylin loved it. We moved on to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. (By the way, I AM writing in paragraphs and my past couple of entries have been all lumped together; apparently by some glitch in Blogger.) It was a smallish place with a lot of her paintings, with some drawings and sculpture thrown in. I was hoping her work would really appeal to Kaylin and it did. Kaylin especially liked the flowers, mountain landscapes and clouds seen from airplanes. She wasn't crazy about the animal bones- did not see the beauty in the bones that O'Keeffe did :) When we entered, they lent each of the kids a book about O'Keeffe's childhood and how she became a painter. It was fantastically illustrated with reproductions of paintings we were actually seeing for real right in front of us. I think Kaylin enjoyed reading about how O'Keeffe did everything her own way and never followed the trends her sisters did or did anything the "accepted" way. Obviously, I enjoyed that as well, along with O'Keeffe being an introvert's introvert and preferring to do everything by herself. Anyway, the book was a great addition to the overall experience and I think all the adults going to the museum without children should request it! The museum also contained old photographs of O'Keeffe working in the field, including some of her painting inside her Model A Ford. Some of the photographs were taken by Ansel Adams. It was a really cool place. Logan was bored to death, but we couldn't have been there longer than 30-40 minutes. It just wasn't that big! We then left town and took the "high road" to Taos. It was a beautiful drive, winding through mountains, with beautiful views. This route also took us through tiny towns with crumbling houses and shacks it was unbelievable anyone could live in. We found an area with some leftover snow and stopped so the kids could play. It was probably around 70F so the snow was a novelty. Gene and Logan played catch while Kaylin and I looked for birds at a lookout area. It was a long and eventually boring drive, but we finally made it to Taos. I called Taos the "old people's Gatlinburg" because the main focus of this tiny town was the plaza of shops. The shops were more artsy and higher class than the strip in Gatlinburg, but the whole town was a tourist trap for sure. We went to an amazing toy store called Twirl. It rivals Gingerbread House in Bloomington for the best toy store I've been to. We walked around the other shops for a bit and then drove out and looked at the Taos pueblos. We didn't go walk around because it was getting late, but it's amazing to me that people still live there without electricity and running water. On our way back from the pueblos I noticed a prairie dog town. We stopped and watched for a while. Meanwhile, a dozen or more magpies flew around us. I don't care how common these guys are, they are beautiful and impressive! They made my day! We drove on into town and I noticed the cemetary was overtaken by prairie dogs. We stopped again and checked that out. Ewww. I can only imagine what they dig up! We took the "low road" back to Santa Fe. It is supposedly the cop-out drive for people who are in a hurry, but we all LOVED it and preferred it to the high road! It was a gorgeous drive alongside the Rio Grande with towering mountains and mesas all around. It was my favorite scenic drive of the trip. We plan to head out of town this morning. I wish we had more time because I'd definitely like to go back to the Audubon center and spend a full day driving around to the parks in town and checking out the prairie dog towns. I actually plan to do that this morning as soon as it gets light outside. Maybe I will get lucky and find a burrowing owl. A girl can dream :) I have completely fallen in love with the ravens here and get excited no matter how many I see. The ravens were my favorite thing about New Mexico and I will miss them! I hope to do one last thing this morning and that is to go to the Jackalope store just up the street from our hotel. It looks amazing. If it opens at 9 we'll go. I have conflicting websites that say both 9 and 10. Ten is too late. Ah, homeward bound! The kids have been great so far, but they were starting to get testy yesterday and I'm afraid the scenery is going to stop making up for the boredom of this long, long drive. I have a feeling the "Stop looking at me!" is going to set in today. Fantastic.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New Mexico

I vaguely remember reading that the two oldest cities in the United States are Santa Fe, New Mexico and St. Augustine, Florida. How weird that I just happened to visit both of them in the same few weeks' time! We arrived in Santa Fe late Monday afternoon. It was just late enough we couldn't do any of the museums or attractions, so we found a squarish fake adobe Comfort Suites (with an indoor pool!), shopped at a squarish fake adobe Wal-Mart and ate at a squarish fake adobe Olive Garden. We're staying on a main drag with dozens of hotels and chain restaurants and stores. All are squarish and fake adobe. It's unsettling and somewhat annoying. I guess I vote "dislike" for forced identical architecture. Lame. Also lame are Gene and me who never take our kids anywhere nice to eat. The kids loudly and exuberantly agreed that Olive Garden was the fanciest, nicest restaurant they've ever been to and then loudly questioned how expensive it it? At least all of the staff and other customers we passed on our way out got a good laugh at our expense. Laughter is good for the soul. I'll backtrack and start at the beginning of our vacation. We left Peoria at 11:30 Saturday morning following Logan's flag football game and Kaylin's ceramics class. Logan ran the ball in for his team's only touchdown, so despite the fact the Ravens lost, he was very excited and happy. Before ceramics, Kaylin helped me take Tiger and Duncan to the vet to be boarded and she was very excited that Fatty McFatcat Tiger weighed more than Duncan. I'm hoping Tiger will lose some weight while being boarded this week, but he probably won't be at all stressed and will love getting attention from complete strangers and will sucker the staff into giving him treats until he's so fat and huge they have to put him in a dog kennel because he won't fit in the cat area. We drove about 4 hours to Meramec Caverns. Gene apparently is fascinated by caves- but only by tourist trap caves with comfortable walking areas and a tour guide. He doesn't want to spelunk (can I use that as a verb?) unknown caves in which he might have to squeeze through an opening or get wet. Anyway, I thought Ruby Falls was a cheesy tour, but it has nothing on Meramec! The grand finale where you sit on bleacher benches and watch a light show set to old crackly recordings of the Missouri Waltz and Kate Smith singing God Bless America, all the while listening to the click, click, click of the tour guide turning off and on the lights to the music and then the super grand finale of the American flag on the wall? I couldn't stop giggling. Gene was annoyed because "For less than 100 bucks they could get something that would automatically synchonize the lights to the music. It would be simple to install. I could build it!" We drove on to Springfield where we stopped to eat and decided to stop for the night because the kids REALLY wanted to swim. I wasn't sure if hotels in Texas and New Mexico would have indoor pools, so I figured this may be their only chance to swim and if we drove on it would be too late. It turns out ALL the hotels down here have indoor pools, but they were very happy. We spent most of Sunday driving through Oklahoma. I was expecting the flat nothingness of Kansas and Nebraska, but was pleasantly surprised. We stopped at Red Rock Canyon State Park and the kids climbed the canyon walls and looked at cacti while I searched for birds and lizards. I saw a summer tanager and a few warblers as well as a couple of good-sized lizards. It was a fun stop. We then drove on to Canyon, Texas and spent the night. The plan was to go to Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge and then to Palo Duro Canyon. Well, the temperature on Sunday was in the upper 80s. Monday morning was 25F, SNOWING and extremely windy. We went to the wildlife refuge, but it was so windy we only saw a few hawks and vultures. We hiked up to the prairie dog town where I saw two flashes of prairie dog and no burrowing owls. It was so windy it was just miserable. We figured if we drove to the canyon it would only be to look at it and leave. There was no way we were getting out of our car! We decided to skip it and drive on to Santa Fe. We all loved the mesas and buttes coming into New Mexico. The scenery was wonderful, but driving is getting old! I wish we could stay for a week because I'm NOT looking forward to the drive home. This is a great driving trip, we just need more time to break up the driving time. Oh well.