Friday, February 24, 2012

More time off

I'm trying to figure out how to make my bird list on the side of my blog a LINK to a bird list, but so far haven't figured it out. If it gets too crazy I'll take it down.

I've been using the at-home portion of my vacation to attempt to accomplish all the little things I tend to put off. I have been having a much harder time reading tiny fine print than I used to and I'll be 40 this year so I had my first ever eye exam. I've been giving a boss and a coworker a hard time about being in denial about needing glasses. The coworker FINALLY broke down and got glasses, but the boss is at that point where she can't read anything but still refuses the obvious fact she needs help. I've teased both of them enough that I better NEVER be in a situation where I can't read something! I told them that I've learned my lesson from them and that when the time comes I'm going to get reading and/or prescription glasses and not be a baby about it. I don't need either yet. The doc said I'll probably start needing reading glasses sometime between ages 41 and 43. Apparently that is when most people with no previous eye issues start to lose their close vision. Phew!

Duncan had what I believe was his first vet appointment with me present. We've only had him for a year and since he was old enough that he'd had all of his vaccines, a heartworm test and was already neutered when we got him, he hasn't needed any of that stuff until now. Duncan's such a weenie I was pretty nervous how he'd act. Plus, the last time he was at the vet's was to board and that was a bad experience. We walked into the waiting room and almost immediately one of the front desk girls squealed "Duncan!" and ran over to pet him. He peed all over the floor. Well!

They quickly ushered us to an exam room. Dunc seemed to calm down a little when he realized I wasn't leaving. The tech came in and drew up vaccines and then drew blood for a heartworm test. Duncan didn't flinch at the blood draw, but HATED the cotton ball and masking tape bandage she put on his leg. He refused to put any weight on the leg, so was hobbling around, trying to figure out how to walk. We laughed, but I've drawn enough blood on nervous animals to know that you leave that bandage on for five or ten minutes or they will bleed all over the place! The vet came in and did vaccines and an exam and Duncan did great. He got his bandage off before we left and then didn't pee again when we were paying. Overall, he did great, but peeing inside the building in front of my former coworkers? Pretty embarrassing!

Logan finished all of his make-up work from missing two days of school in about 20 minutes, cementing in my brain that taking him to Minnesota was the right thing to do. He was excited to tell his teacher about seeing a snowy owl. I was relieved that Wednesday (the day he returned to school) was a half day so he only had school for 3 hours. He was pretty tired, but he thought the trip was worth it.

We can't wait to go back to Minnesota! I had been loosely planning our summer vacation to go west to Colorado. Now I really just want to go back to Minnesota. I'd never really given any thought to Minnesota before because my mom complained about her annual childhood trips like it was the worst punishment on earth. I only saw a tiny area of the state, but I loved it! I thought the Duluth area was the most beautiful place I've ever been!

I'm spending the rest of my time off slowly chipping away at the clutter. It's overwhelming to have so much stuff. I'll get a table or counter cleared and within a day, Kaylin will have her cake decorating stuff or knitting stuff or hair bow stuff or fairy stuff ALL OVER. Everything that child does makes a gigantic, impossible mess! I have to say, of all her messy hobbies over the years I hate the cake decorating most of all. Hardened cement frosting is everywhere. EVERYWHERE!!! Sigh. Better get off the computer and get cleaning...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig

We spent Monday night in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. It snowed 2-3 inches overnight and I was a bit worried about driving conditions, but the snow was no problem at all. We were packed, breakfasted, gassed up and on the road by a few minutes after 8am. I hoped to be home by 6pm so I could attend a coworker's going away party, but I really wanted to see Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in the winter. I figured we could spend two hours there and still make it home in time for the work dinner.

I don't have a GPS and usually use AAA online for my trip maps. The bad thing about AAA is that it can be really hard to enter a place that doesn't have a very specific address and isn't in their list of "popular places." I finally gave up on AAA and used MapQuest for directions to Necedah. There are many good reasons I don't use MapQuest, and I really should have just gone to the Necedah site and used their directions. MapQuest got me to the general area of Necedah, but instead of taking me to their main entrance, they sent me on a small county road. I wound past some farm houses and back into the woods when BAM! The road was suddenly unpaved and I was driving through the forest in snow deep enough that it was scraping the bottom of my car. I stuck to the truck ruts and drove as fast as safely possible to not get stuck. I couldn't stop or turn around because the snow was too deep. Seriously, this small, country road SUDDENLY turned into a one-lane dirt path! I finally came to a (closed) gate and a tiny parking area and was able to turn around. I guess on a good summer day, the gate would have been open and I would have been able to get to the Necedah visitor center. I made my way back out of the woods and back onto the main drag, where the paved and plowed park entrance was a half-mile up the street. My Yaris wasn't made for off-roading, but it did pretty well! Thank goodness for my new tires! Logan got a thrill. Yet another MapQuest FAIL we'll be laughing about for years to come.

Necedah was beautiful with all the fresh snow. We spent a long time in the visitor center, watching the feeders in warmth and comfort. We then talked to a park ranger about how the roads through the park were and whether the water was all still frozen over. She had seen the resident gray wolf pack early that morning, but we didn't get that lucky. We opted to not have any more thrilling adventures with the tiny Toyota and unpaved, snow-covered roads, so we took a short hike close to the visitor center and started our journey home.

We stopped in Wisconsin Dells to grab some lunch and go to Logan's favorite cheese store. He doesn't care much about the cheese, he likes their huge selection of toys and candy. He found a flipper baseball game (think Woolly Willy or Doodle Balls) and a set of rattling magnets to keep him occupied on the way home. We also got Kaylin a set of pig jacks and some cheese and got ourselves some snacks.

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful. There was no snow south of Wisconsin Dells. We stopped once for gas and a bathroom and made it home a little after 5pm. Fortunately, Logan REALLY enjoyed peeing in empty water bottles while driving because if we had to stop every time he had to go we'd probably still be on the road!

It was a great trip and we had a lot of fun. Logan is now excited about birds and has announced that he likes them and is "now interested." He keeps talking over and over about how he not only saw his first wild owl, but his first wild owl was a SNOWY OWL! Warms my heart :)

Gene and Kaylin spent their weekend time together going to Michaels (craft store) three days in a row. Duncan was devastated that I was only home for a few minutes before leaving again and when I returned at 8:30pm, he wouldn't leave my side. He did leave me to sleep in his usual spot in Logan's bed, though. (Phew!) Four more days off. Maybe I'll go birding!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Duluth, Part 2

We headed out this morning and had no trouble finding Sax-Zim bog. As always, it was absolutely nothing like I expected. It was about 20 times more gigantic than I would have thought. I wish I had set my trip meter when I entered, but we did a large loop that was recommended on their website map and I'm pretty sure I drove over 40 miles! As I said before, there was very little snow, so we had a very slim chance of seeing great gray owls and we didn't. We did see LOTS of eagles, ravens, crows, hawks, chickadees, common redpolls, northern shrikes, a very cool black and white bird I have yet to identify and the bird of the day- a ruffed grouse. By the time we FINALLY made it back to the road we entered on, we were both pretty bored and TEN MILES west of where we entered! I could pretend to be disappointed in the lack of snow, but if there had been any real amount of snow we wouldn't have been able to drive much of the area since it was 95% unpaved. I didn't expect much, but really wanted to say I'd been there. It was worth the trip.

We then headed back into town and went to the Lake Superior Zoo. I was impressed that the majority of their outdoor animals were very cold tolerant and on display. We saw our second snowy owl of the trip, but it was captive. Logan was thrilled to see one up close and get to study it for a while. The zoo grounds were beautiful, with a natural waterfall and creek running through. We had a good time.

We had time for one more thing so Logan chose to go back to the lakefront to skim rocks across the ice. While he did that I talked to some birders who were scoping gulls and added some new birds to my list. I have to admit, I NEVER would have bothered to scope the gulls on my own. Gulls bore me. Maybe in a few years when I can identify everything else, rare gulls will be the thrill of my life. Until then, I'll happily add to my list when others do the work.

We were sad to leave Duluth. It is one of my favorite areas I've ever been. I loved the beautiful lake and hills, the birch and pine forests, the casual attitude of the people, everything... I asked Logan what he hoped to get out of the rest of our trip and he really wanted to swim. I plan to go to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge tomorrow and it's ~ an hour north of Wisconsin Dells. I couldn't remember any hotels between the Dells and Eau Claire that FOR SURE had pools. We decided to play it safe and stop at the same hotel in Chippewa Falls we stayed at our first night. Then we saw a billboard for an AmericInn with an indoor waterpark and went there instead. It's no Great Wolf Lodge, but it has a slide pool, a basketball pool, a baby pool and a hot tub. I swam for a bit and soaked in the hot tub for a while which was great for my foot. Then I begged Logan to come back to the room with me for a few minutes while I showered and changed. Now I'm watching him swim and writing this entry. He's having a blast! Totally worth a little extra driving tomorrow!


I've been a big-time blog slacker and now have too much to catch up and am overwhelmed so I haven't been writing at all. I have to quick update about Kaylin's knitting and will then go into my amazing Duluth road trip with Logan.

After the dramatic tears of sorrow and frustration, knitting is impossible class, Kaylin sat down and learned to knit. Of course, she couldn't knit like everyone else, she had to do it her own way. And of course, her own way is about 10X cooler than the regular way :) For whatever reason, Kaylin decided to knit using pencils rather than knitting needles and proceeded to knit a really cool headband and some wrist band bracelets. The pattern looks like it was done by an expert. She took her stuff to class and I figured the instructor would be offended by Kaylin's lack of respect for the "right" way, but she was impressed by her creativity and watched Kaylin knit with pencils and finger knit for a long time. I think Kaylin won "Most Improved" for a one week period. She was thrilled by all the compliments from the other students and I imagine she'll continue to knit long past our final class. I, on the other hand, feel that I have fulfilled my commitment and may never knit another stitch. Yay!

I had a week of E-time I needed to use up before the end of March. I would really have loved to take another birding/zooing road trip with Meghan, but we're too short-staffed at the moment for both of us to get the same time off. I still wanted to go somewhere and do something; I wanted to go birding somewhere I'd never been, but where? My biggest goal for this winter was to see a snowy owl in the wild. I missed my "sure thing" opportunity in Chicago due to illness and other obligations. I googled and googled places to see snowy owls and Duluth, Minnesota seemed like the best option. But did I really want to go to Duluth in February? Yes. Yes I did.

I researched and researched birding hotspots and got a new set of tires for the car. I checked weather dot com daily, hoping for no big Minnesota blizzards. I had every intention of going by myself, but then Friday morning while I was driving Logan to school, he asked if he could come along. I was stunned. I mean, it's a long drive and the only thing I had planned was birding. He wanted to come. Okay, cool. Let's do it!

I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive. Our usual road trips involve the van that has TV and video. And comfortable seats. And doesn't stink like red river hogs and zebras. Would Logan be bored to death on the drive? Would we spend more time at the hotel pool than birding? I need not have worried, my boy is loving this trip!

We left home around 1pm Saturday. Logan had football until noon and Kaylin and I had knitting until 12:30. We drove along the Illinois River to Lacon and saw tons of bald eagles. We then drove up through Rockford and Madison, past Wisconsin Dells, and finally stopped for the night in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. We spent ~6 hours driving, with ~2 1/2 more hours to Duluth. We stayed at the only hotel we could find- a Holiday Inn Express- and Logan was thrilled to not only have his own bed, but to get to use hotel blankets for the first time in his life! (Only Gene will get that.) We were on the road by 8am, headed toward Duluth. We were the ONLY people on the highway, it was a gorgeous day and we were full of excitement. Full of excitement to the point I guess my foot was a little heavy on the gas pedal because I flew past a well-hidden cop who promptly pulled me over and gave me my first speeding ticket since 1990. Crap! Oh well, at least he was super nice about it. We moved on at a much slower pace and arrived in Superior, Wisconsin. I found the airport and fairgrounds where a snowy owl had been spotted the day before and looked and looked to no avail.

We headed over a huge bridge into Duluth, where we stopped at the touristy lakefront area. Logan skimmed rocks over the ice at the edge and it made a weird whistling noise. We then walked across the lift bridge and walked along the sandy beach on the other side, looking for rocks and driftwood and marvelling at the ice "caves" along the lakefront. We drove up along the north shore of Lake Superior, stopping occasionally to hunt for rocks or just play. I didn't realize how few and far between our dining options would be and it was after 2pm before we found a small town and a McDonald's. We then went on to Gooseberry Falls State Park which reminded me very much of Starved Rock State Park, with trails and canyons. We hiked probably at least 2 miles and saw some little birds, lots of cool scenery, some mini squirrels I have yet to identify and a pair of young deer that came right up to the bird feeders at the visitor center. I think Logan enjoyed every moment of the day and even lugged full-size binoculars on our entire hike.

It was late afternoon and starting to get dark. I wanted to check the Superior airport area again before total darkness so we headed back that way. I had pretty much given up on seeing snowy owls for the day, but when we were headed over the bridge between Duluth and Superior, I looked up and there was one perched on a lamp post! I think I screamed and scared Logan to death, but he looked quickly and saw the owl! Not only was it the first wild owl Logan's ever seen, but it was a SNOWY OWL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We headed to the airport and didn't find the owl so decided to try going back over the bridge to see if the OUR owl was still there. It wasn't. We found a Comfort Inn in Duluth, ate dinner at the Perkins next door and Logan swam for an hour.

It's almost 8am and Logan's just starting to stir. Today we're planning to head north to Sax-Zim bog. It's a well-known birding hot spot, known for sightings of great gray owls. I don't have a lot of hope of seeing one because they are most often seen along roadsides when the snow is deep. There might be a quarter of an inch of snow in areas the sun never hits, but nothing deep enough to even cover a mouse. It's sort of like how bald eagles flock to the open waters of dams when the weather is extremely cold, but when the water is open they spread out all over the place. I still want to see Sax-Zim bog just to say I've been there, in case I don't get up this way again. If we make it back to town in time, we then plan to go to the zoo before starting our journey back home.

Yee-haw! Logan's awake and getting ready. We'll grab some breakfast, pack up and get a move-on! So far, it's been a really fun trip!

Sunday, February 12, 2012


It's that time of year when we're keeping plenty busy, but nothing is particularly exciting or interesting. I feel like every post I've made in months has included my feet or birding. This post will be no different.

The knitting class is wearing on my nerves. Knitting is much more difficult to learn than I could have imagined. Kaylin is having an extremely hard time with it so I am having an extremely hard time. She is at a high level of frustration. I'm trying to keep it together and not wring her little neck. I think there is some possibility that once you get it, knitting may be a mindless activity you can do while watching tv, but when you're teaching yourself, it requires a huge amount of effort and concentration. Kaylin just wants to pop out a scarf. Last week. Yesterday, after wasting the class whining and dripping tears and using the word "impossible", she finally sat down and actually TRIED for the first time. She knit several rows on her own before making an unfixable (by me anyway) mistake. I explained (once again) how many attempts I made doing exactly the same thing and starting over and over and over until I got it right.

Knitting isn't something I'm forcing Kaylin to do! She WANTS to learn! She just doesn't want it to be complicated and require as much effort as it does. I'm not making her practice XX minutes a night or expecting her to complete a project. My project for the class is going to be a small dish cloth and then I very well may never knit again. Kaylin may or may not end up loving it. I don't care much either way.

Logan is signed up for flag football and he can't wait. It starts next weekend with a clinic with a semi-pro Peoria team I've never heard of. I'm sure he'll love every moment. He's also loving every moment of his winter baseball clinic and is learning to pitch. Logan has gotten really into watching Bulls basketball and loves playing at home by himself or with Gene, but has no desire to play basketball on a team. He wants to concentrate on baseball and football.

On to my foot that prevented me from birding this weekend. Hey, at least there will be nothing about birds. :) Anyway, I was having terrible muscle tightness in my left calf that was either caused by my bad foot or else causing my foot to hurt MUCH worse than usual. I was stretching and massaging and doing everything else I could think of, but nothing helped. I finally made a doctor appointment, hoping for some temporary muscle relaxers or stronger pain meds. The doc poked around on my foot and when I practically jumped out of the chair, he said "Shot." My appointment was in the morning of a work day, with work the following day so I questioned if that would "work"? He thought I'd be fine. He was wrong.

I'm not afraid of needles. I've had several cortisone shots in my feet. They've never been painful at the time of injection. This time was special. The doc put on the numbing stuff and I felt the usual minor prick. No big deal. Then, when he tried to inject the cortisone, there was terrible counter-pressure (?) and he had to really fight to get it in. It was incredibly painful! I went back to work and the dull pressure just got worse and worse. It was like having a migraine in my foot. I talked to my boss and told her I thought I could finish out the day, but since the pain is usually worse the day after the shot, I wouldn't be coming in Thursday. Fortunately, we were well staffed and that worked out fine. By 4pm Wednesday, I couldn't take the pain anymore and finished locking up and left. I spent my "3 day weekend" doing next to nothing, because my foot hurt too much. I didn't even get dressed on Thursday. It's Sunday morning and my foot still hurts more than it did before the shot. I'm going to work, but have no idea if I'll be fine or in agony. At least my calf tightness is 95% gone.

I've really had it with the foot pain. For the first time, I'm considering surgery. I really can't take much more. It's been three years of constant pain. I've been forced to stop exercising, have gained close to 40 pounds and have had every aspect of my life ruled by pain. It's depressing. I have one last thing I'm going to try and if/when that doesn't work, I'm having the surgery.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

More knitting and birds

Well, after hours and hours of studying the Mickey Mouse book and watching a really good video, I did indeed teach myself to knit. Sort of. I can't BELIEVE how much time I put into knitting last week! Then, once I learned the basic stitch, I had to practice and practice and practice. My homework was to knit a 7x9 inch "square". I literally spent hours knitting a 7X4 1/2 inch pathetic rectangle. I also spent too much time trying to teach Kaylin what I learned, but she was not into it and got easily frustrated. She was mad that I was better at knitting. Seriously, child?! Do you even know how much time I've put into this? Eh, I know my kid and imagine that one night she'll lock herself in her room, figure out knitting and emerge the next morning with a completed sweater with an intricate pattern. I'm not a bit worried about her current lack of knitting skills.

Yesterday in class we learned the other knitting stitch- purl. Hooray! Now I have twice as much to be confused about. I keep going back and forth... How much time do I want to put into something I have no plans to pursue? I suppose if I ever need foot surgery or am bedridden, maybe I can knit lumpy, rectangular washcloths. Sweet!

Friday, Duncan the dog and I had an amazing birding trip to Banner Marsh and Emiquon. Banner was deserted except for one dude out on the icy lake in his fishing boat. I "think" he was trying to break the ice because he kept going back and forth over and over. It was loud and annoying and a major waste of gas. Whatever. He finally gave up and left. Duncan and I basked in the beautiful day and took a long walk along the top of the levee. Birds were everywhere! Flocks and flocks of greater white-fronted geese and Canada geese flew overhead. Eagles were circling above and the brush was filled with American tree sparrows and song sparrows. Duncan has an undying hatred for killdeer (probably because they're obnoxiously loud and they run along the ground) and was busy hunting them while a trio of eagles circled overhead hunting Duncan. At 15 pounds, he's probably a bit larger than their usual prey, but there were three. At the end of our walk, seconds before we got into the car, Duncan rolled in dead fish. Super. Will I never learn?

Smelly Dog and I moved on to Duck Creek where we saw small flocks of both tundra and trumpeter swans. One was banded, but too far away to read the number with my scope. Meanwhile, huge flocks of snow geese flew overhead to our next destination- Emiquon.

I can't even begin to describe the number of snow geese at Emiquon. Tens of thousands, I'm sure. They were absolutely covering the south end of Thompson Lake and huge flocks were coming and going at all times. I have never seen so many migrating birds! At times the honking from above was deafening. At other times it looked like a giant black cloud was moving in quickly, covering the entire horizon. I would love to have somebody qualified estimate the number of birds I saw. It seemed like millions.

I had completely intended to do my usual birding loop and hit Lake Chautauqua, Sand Ridge Forest and Spring Lake, but I ran out of time! Duncan and I left home before 10am and didn't get home until 5pm. All told, I saw 35 different bird species and added 9 to my year list which currently stands at 54. It was a gorgeous day and well-spent outside hiking and birding. I spent too much of my weekend knitting and birding so now I need to spend the rest of my early morning reconciling my checkbook and paying bills. Despite the knitting, it was a GREAT weekend!