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!