Thursday, May 26, 2011


Sniff, sniff, sob. I guess I'm the last to know, but it turns out that probably my favorite video game of all time- ET for the Atari 2600- is known as one of the worst video games ever. It was so hated that there are rumors that gobs of the unsold cartridges were destroyed and buried in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Well...

My family didn't even have an Atari 2600. I had to play Atari at Doug's house and the summer I was totally addicted to his ET game? He accused me of only being his friend so I could come over and play that game. That wasn't entirely true! I mean, I had to strategically plan my visits to times his younger brother wasn't around so I didn't have to compete for playing time. I think I had Greg's baseball and soccer schedules memorized so I could go search for Reece's Pieces and the parts of the phone so I could "phone home" and call for my ship. I loved that game. Apparently I was one of about ten people in the world who did.

I was hoping to find some remade edition of my beloved game so I could relive that glorious summer of 1983, but I guess it ain't happening. Oh, well. I suppose it would end up being like when I was soooo excited to find a plug into your TV version of Pitfall. How did a game that was totally awesome in the '80s become so incredibly boring in 2004? Twenty minutes of running through disappearing tar pits and hopping over scorpions? No thanks! It was so boring I ended up playing only a couple of times. I can't even remember if you can win or if you're just going for a high score.

I guess I need to accept that I'm old and not a gamer. I bought myself a Nintendo DS several years ago, but the only thing I've ever played on it is Sudoku. Old. My feet are too bad to play any of the interactive Wii games. Old. Instead, I'll cuddle into my recliner with my book and my dog and watch the birds and squirrels at the feeders. Uh, OLD!!!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Anniversary Post

Happy Anniversary, Gene-Gene! We celebrated 18 years of marriage by taking an 8 hour tour of the birding hotspots of Central Illinois. Our outing turned out to be WAY longer than we had originally intended, but we saw some cool wildlife and had lots of fun! Our original plan was dinner and a movie. My parents kept the kids most of the day and all night Saturday, but with the predicted rain we didn't plan much. I woke up early Saturday morning, let Duncan outside and realized it hadn't rained at all overnight. Weird, there had been an 80% chance of rain that extended all day. I checked my computer and there was nothing on radar so I decided to go to the migratory bird walk at Forest Park Nature Center at 7:30am.

The hike included a couple in their early 30s, an older single woman, the naturalist and me. All of us were about equal in our bird knowledge; we could all identify all of the usual birds and were hoping for amazing knowledge from the naturalist. He apparently was burned out from all his end of the year school field trips because he spent the first half of our tour pointing out things like female cardinals and robins. Ummmmm... It finally occurred to him that we were a bit more advanced than that and he started identifying birds by song. We stuck mostly to the prairie area and didn't walk very far, but we saw indigo buntings and watched a flycatcher dip and dive catching bugs. It was a little disappointing because the previous day I went for a hike at FPNC by myself and saw a barred owl, indigo buntings, a common yellowthroat, a pair of loud and destructive pileated woodpeckers, turkeys and lots of the usual birds. I thought birding with an experienced pro would be more fun than it actually was. It whet my appetite for more birding.

I got home ~9 and Gene had some minor work to get done so grabbed his computer and headed off to Panera while I got the kids ready for their overnight with my parents and finished some laundry. My dad picked up the kids around 10. It now appeared that it wasn't going to rain at all the entire day! I devised a plan to go to Banner Marsh and then to Emiquon nature preserve and Dickson Mounds museum. I was sort of surprised, but Gene happily went along with the plan. (I wasn't sure he'd want to go to muddy, buggy places just to look for wildlife.) We decided it would be a good day to test Duncan. We've always crated him when we leave, but he's never been terribly destructive to anything other than pencils. We figured we'd be gone about 3 hours- a perfect test time.

We first headed to Banner Marsh. We did three of the four entrances- skipped the tick-filled wetlands trail- and saw zillions of geese with their goslings, lots of mute swans but no cygnets, hundreds of turtles, Gene's first indigo buntings, a green heron and lots of the usual birds. We headed on to Emiquon. I hadn't been in that area since grade school so had no idea what to expect. For some reason, most of the river area of emiquon was blocked off. We could only go to one small parking area with a boat launch. We saw a few herons and egrets and some snapping turtles. Oh well, at least I can say I've been there... We drove on and back to Dickson Mounds. Ooooohhhhhh, the nature preserve continues way back. We didn't see a lot of waterfowl (wrong time of the year) but I did stand on a bridge while hundreds of swallows dove and flew all around me. The Dickson Mounds museum without their uncovered burial mound that was previously the centerpiece of the entire place? It's sadly just not much to see. I think we spent less than 30 minutes there.

It was almost 2pm and we were hungry so we drove on a few miles to Havana and ate gigantic tenderloins at Toni's Family Restaurant. We were now so close to Lake Chautauqua it seemed silly to skip it. It was really windy and the water was choppy so the dozens of turtles weren't sunning themselves. Also, the woods were FILLED with singing birds, but the trees had "leafed out" so much in the past three weeks it was nearly impossible to see them. We moved on to Sand Ridge State Forest, the place I went with Ashley for her skink research. We saw a coyote run across the road and then saw lots of indigo buntings. We pretty much just drove through the park because neither of us wanted to be covered in ticks. We did stop long enough for Gene to see the cacti. We checked out the Jake Wolf Memorial Fish Hatchery, but the building was already closed for the day. On to Spring Lake!

Finally, cygnets! Hurray! There were still around 100 mute swans at Spring Lake but we only saw three cygnets. They were stinkin' cute, though. We parked and hiked back along the lake road, checking out snakes, turtles, several muskrats and lots of birds. We spotted a rose breasted grosbeak and a Baltimore oriole, making the otherwise nearly insufferable gnats worth the hike. Our full list of birds for the day was impressively long. I was pleased with our herp and mammal sitings as well! Holy cow, it's almost 6pm! I wonder what Duncan is doing?!

Our original dinner and a movie plan included a "good" dinner. But now we were sweaty and though not actually filthy, we felt that way. Plus, the late lunch tenderloins made us not want anything remotely greasy. Ice cream was the logical answer. We had Cold Stone Creamery for dinner and then watched a movie On Demand. And Duncan? Left alone for 8 hours instead of 3? Nothing destroyed or damaged, nothing out of place. He was a good dog! It was a fun day. Thanks Mom and Dad for keeping the kids!

Sunday, May 15, 2011


What a miserable weekend! I don't think it ever stopped raining Saturday. Poor Duncan desperately wanted to chase squirrels but the rain ruined his fun. He's been hilarious lately with the squirrel hunt. Friday was a beautiful day and Duncan spent most of it in the back yard. Every time I would check on him he was standing sentinel, quivering with anticipation waiting for the evil squirrel to show himself. The squirrel would eventually chirp at the dog and then Duncan would TEAR around and around the yard. Sometimes he napped in the warm sun, but he was always ready to take off after that squirrel at a second's notice. I imagine he'll eventually catch one. Then what?

We have baby chipmunks at our bird feeders. They are so cute I can't even be upset when mama chipmunk repeatedly fills her cheeks with seed. It's amazing how baby animals affect people. The zoo has baby groundhogs under the feed storage shed right outside the main kitchen door. Most of the year the groundhogs are annoying pests, but the babies are soooo cute everyone is loving them. One of my coworkers even has a baby groundhog as her facebook profile picture. My favorite babies should be showing themselves soon. I am completely in love with the baby starlings who have grown as big as mom but still don't feed themselves. They fly around expertly, making a huge ruckus begging mom to bring them food. In the winter I can't stand the flocks of starlings who enter my barns for warmth and make huge messes while eating the animal food. The late spring babies make up for the trouble.

The kids are signed up for summer camp and baseball. Gene and I both got our summer vacation time off approved for the first full week of July. Kaylin's band concert is this Tuesday and then we're done with school activities other than end of the year picnics. I know the last few weeks of school will fly by, but both kids have terrible spring fever. I need to get Kaylin signed up for the summer session of ceramics, but otherwise we are ready for this school year to end. Bring it on!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day Adventures With the Kids

Admittedly, I think Mother's Day is a silly, made-up holiday. I like "kid" holidays and buying stuff for kids, but I'm just not a huge fan of giving and receiving gifts. I don't like shopping and I'm not good at choosing thoughtful gifts that are "perfect" for a person. If I do give a gift to an adult, it is usually something I find amusing that suits that person. My hope is that they get a laugh and a bit of enjoyment before properly disposing of the thing. Otherwise, I feel like my adult friends and family can pick out and buy things for themselves they actually want and will use and enjoy. I know I'm in the minority here, but sorry, I have no holiday spirit when it comes to the contrived, gift-oriented holidays.

I did, however, use Mother's Day as an excuse to shirk my housework responsibilities and use my "special holiday weekend" taking the kids on some awesome adventures. Yes, my house is cluttered, but I still live by the phrase "Experiences, not things." I can't help it that the rest of my family disagrees :) The kids had a short day of school on Friday so Kaylin and I picked up Logan at noon and we headed out to Banner Marsh. I had no idea what to expect. The place has four entrances. We skipped the first entrance and went to the main entrance first. It was mostly a boat launching area, but had probably a dozen pairs of Canada geese with their adorable goslings. We also saw a rose-breasted grosbeak almost immediately after turning in. We drove back on another road and saw dozens of turtles. Cool. We then went back on the highway and pulled into the next entrance. It was deserted except for us. We walked back on a grassy trail and found nesting swans, lots of frogs and turtles and more grosbeaks. We were having a great time until I discovered- TICKS! We were all covered with ticks! Ugh! No wonder we were the only ones! We ran back to the parking area and brushed off the ticks. I don't think any of us were bitten, but I did find a couple in my hair later on the drive home. Yuck. That almost ruined the experience for my hysterical daughter, but the next entrance made up for it. Huge lakes filled with dozens of nesting swans, geese with goslings and all kinds of ducks and coots. Terns were dipping and diving and (my first) soras darting in and out of the reeds. It was a cool place! We drove back to an area with a suspension bridge overlooking dozens of sunning turtles. That bridge completely made up for the horrors of the ticks. The kids bounced across that thing a hundred times while I looked for snakes along the shore. We inadvertently saved the best for last when we turned into the entrance we originally passed. We drove way back on flooded roads that just barely accommodated my car to a boat launch area. The drive back was filled with sandpipers and several more sora. The parking lot was flooded and the kids waded in knee-deep water while I watched swallows and woodpeckers and more geese with their goslings. We headed home filthy and happy and a little freaked out about the ticks. I went over the kids' bodies and through their hair about 10 times apiece. I just took a quick break to go through my hair again. Shudder!

The Banner Marsh experience made me want a fishing license. I haven't had one in at least 15 years. Friday night after we cleaned up and went to Burger Barge with my parents and Andy (yum!) we headed to Wal-Mart and got fishing licenses, fishing poles and some worms. Logan woke me bright and early Saturday morning to go fishing. Kaylin woke up as we were headed out and wanted to join. The three of us headed for the river. I hadn't realized how flooded the river actually was! The spot we planned to go (Galena Marina) was so flooded the woods and most of the parking lot were covered with water. At the worst flooding point, the water went all the way to the RC track. We would have been fishing in a few inches of water that is normally parking lot. We tried a couple other places along the river before deciding to just go to the lagoon at Glen Oak Park. The lagoon either hasn't been stocked yet or it was just a bad fishing morning because the kids have bragged of catching 30+ small fish apiece at day camp. In an hour of fishing, I caught one teensy baby catfish and the kids caught nothing. It was time to take Kaylin to her ceramics class, so we dropped her off and came home long enough for me to do some laundry and Logan to play some baseball with the neighbor kids. Gene opted out of our adventure because he really wanted to do some yardwork.

Logan and I grabbed some food, picked up Kaylin and headed out to Wildlife Prairie State Park for their Migratory Bird Day. The "festival" wasn't quite what I had expected- a couple of crafts and a table with a guy who was THRILLED to show and tell about his lifelong butterfly collection. (Seriously impressive. I think we talked to him for at least 15 minutes.) Otherwise, it was no different from any day at the park. We walked the animal trails and I was happy to see the badgers moving around and the otter out of her house. The cougars were being very vocal, so that was fun. Otherwise, it's sad to see so many huge, vacant exhibits. It's tough to be a zoo person and see an animal park you grew up with deteriorate so much. The grounds are beautiful and awesome! I hope somebody can step in and save the place. We had planned to fish at the park, but the map was confusing and it appeared we'd have to park and carry all of our stuff quite a distance to fish. We decided to go to Spring Lake instead.

It was a much longer drive than I thought, but I'm glad we went. There was a big flock of at least 80 swans on the lake, plus all the nesting swans. We also saw a bunch of water snakes, turtles and a muskrat. Logan was extremely bothered by the gnats, but we each caught one fish, so that was enough excitement to make up for the drive and the bugs. As we were driving home, we were talking about stopping somewhere to pick up some food, but we were too filthy and fishy and wormy to actually eat inside a restaurant... Gene called and wondered if the kids wanted to go to the Chiefs game? Both excitedly answered "Yes!" That ended the restaurant talk. We had to boogie home so they could get to the game. I was happy to skip it and spend some quiet time at home by myself before falling exhausted into bed at 8:30pm. I don't know how the kids managed that game on top of our day. I was whipped!

Today I'll spend real Mother's Day at work. I think I'm working the sea lion string. That should be interesting since I haven't done it in a looooong time. The kids are going to try to convince Gene to take them fishing again. Off topic, but I lost not only another full suet cake in one night, but something also made off with an entire sock feeder freshly filled with seed! I am so curious what kind of critter I'm dealing with! The sock weighed more than a squirrel, so I'm pretty sure that unless it was a group of squirrels working together... I searched the yard and couldn't find the empty sock, so ????

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Wow! Time is flying by and a lot is happening and there is no time to write. I sort of love/hate the end of the school year. There are so many activities and extra things to do. On top of that, this is busy season for weddings and other parties at the zoo so I have to work late often. This week and next I have work or school obligations almost every night. Lots of exciting, fun stuff, but I won't lie, I really just want to come home from work, shower and rest my aching feet!

I have so much to write about I'll start with the weird... Friday afternoon I was filling bird feeders and noticed my suet feeder was low. It had been several weeks or even a month since I had put that suet cake out. I put in a brand new suet cake. Saturday morning I left home at 6am and didn't pay much attention to the bird feeders. When I returned home at 6pm, the entire suet cake was gone! At first I thought the kids must have messed with it and looked in the bushes, but the wire caging was covered in suet as if it had actually been pulled out of the cage. What on earth eats an entire suet cake in one day?! I'm guessing somewhere there is a very sick cat or raccoon or something because my birds didn't do that! Yuck!

Both kids have terrible spring fever and can't wait for school to end. This year it goes until June 10th and I don't know how they are going to make it. Fortunately, Logan's teacher seems to be easing up on the homework a bit because the ONLY thing he wants to do is go outside and hit baseballs. Even in the rain! Logan has proclaimed that video games are for winter and the rest of the year is for playing sports outside. Hurray! I hope he somehow keeps that attitude. Kaylin is going nuts wanting school to end. She is like me (and probably the majority of the population) in that she loves to read, but hates to read anything she's forced to read. She was driving herself insane trying to get through The Diary of Anne Frank. She liked the book, but couldn't handle the forced reading of so many pages per night. She was whining about it so much and reading it so little I finally told her to just skim it enough to pass the test. She did and she did. Ugh. It's going to be a long month.

Friday night Kaylin's friend Zoe was in the school play. Kaylin begged me to take her and I caved. I usually hate stuff like that. School plays are an obligation, not something I want to attend. A school play my kid isn't even in? No thanks! ESPECIALLY if it's a musical! Well, this time I was wrong. This was nothing like Kaylin's drama club last year where they did a musical but 3/4 of the kids couldn't sing. The kids in this play actually tried out to get their parts and they were good. This director likely didn't spend 3/4 of her time disciplining rowdy boys. The play was funny and good. I didn't want to rip my hair out waiting for it to end. And more importantly, Zoe was THRILLED Kaylin came and they hugged and hugged and were so happy to see each other. Next year I'll have to figure out a way for Kaylin to be in the play. My work schedule is rigid, but maybe Gene can arrange his schedule so he can pick her up from practices. She would love it.

Saturday I spent the day with my former coworker Ashley. She's doing a research project on skinks at Sand Ridge State Forest near Manito. Sand Ridge is an interesting place because it's very sandy soil and the prairie areas are covered in cacti. The unusual conditions bring animals normally found in southern Illinois to central Illinois. This weird little pocket is home to skinks and pocket gophers found nowhere else in central Illinois. It's also home to zillions of ticks I still imagine crawling all over my body. Every time I think of the ticks I check my hair again. Yuck.

Anyway, Ashley has 6 different areas she monitors for skinks. She checks these areas 4 times a day (7, 11, 4 and 9) every Saturday. She has twelve sets of three boards set up in each of the 6 areas and samples 3 sets in each area at each check. The hours in between checks she spends exploring surrounding areas, looking for wildlife. I stayed for the first three skink checks and between checks we went to Spring Lake and Lake Chautauqua looking for birds and snakes. At Spring Lake we saw at least a dozen water snakes, a muskrat, nesting swans and lots of ducks and geese and coots. Ashley went all Crocodile Hunter and jumped into the lake to catch a snake that bit her boot repeatedly before pooping all over her arm and biting itself. I was too busy watching another snake trying to eat a huge fish and will always regret my failure to get this capture on video because it was hilarious. Oh well. At the 11 o'clock check we found two skinks and I got to hold one while Ashley measured it and marked it. The other was too fast and escaped before she could grab it. Following that check, we went to Lake Chautauqua to go birding. This is somewhere I've been wanting to go for a long time and I have to admit I was disappointed. The place isn't just big it is vast. There could be hundreds of ducks and they'd be so far away they'd just look like black specks even using binoculars. I guess I was expecting something much more intimate, just crawling with birds. We did see a lot of Baltimore orioles (my first of the year), one pelican and lots of wood ducks, mallards, red-winged blackbirds and house sparrows (whoop) but the concentration of birds I was expecting wasn't there because they had miles and miles of river to spread out. Oh well. It was still a really cool place and we saw dozens of turtles. By 4 it was windy and cloudy. No sun and cool temps usually mean no skinks. It was a fun day but I was exhausted when I got home. I don't know how Ashley stays until 10pm AND does this marathon once a week! (Oh- her fiance came as I was leaving so I didn't leave her in the woods by herself...)

This weekend I think I'll try to hit Banner Marsh. My new goal is to see river otters in the wild and I'm never going to accomplish that goal if I don't get out there!