Monday, April 30, 2012


Once again, we're all pleasantly busy with nothing exciting to post.  Tomorrow is the firs t day of May and May will likely be our busiest month of the year.  School ends May 30th and before then we have school picnics and concerts.  The kids have field trips and field days.  Logan starts baseball.  I need to get both kids signed up for summer camp.  My work has a major inspection at the end of the month and I'll be going in early and/or staying late often.  Work has a major fundraiser and I need to get an information table ready for Bowling for Rhinos, as well as getting some stuff together for the Favorite Animal Contest.  I should actually be working on some of that stuff right now, but I'm procrastinating and writing a blog entry instead.

Kaylin has been decorating the house with awesome, cartoon-y drawings of all of our pets.  They are really good and super-cute.  I'm trying to get her to draw something for Bowling for Rhinos (a rhino bowling or with a bowling ball stuck on his horn) but being "forced" to draw something isn't fun.  Kaylin is also hanging out a lot more with school friends rather than just the neighbor kids.  She's also on the phone with friends a lot.  I still find it amusing that she's almost 12 and barely talks on the phone.  By that age I was probably on the phone hours each night.  I suppose her entire lifetime of Gene and me treating the phone like it's a horrible inconvenience and groaning every time it rings has rubbed off.  Oh, and she's not texting, emailing or facebooking at all, so it's not like new forms of communication have replaced the phone, she's just not on it.

Logan has been spending his Sunday evenings at pitching practice.  He starts "real" baseball this year (as opposed to coach pitch) and his coach is teaching him how to pitch.  I don't know if he likes it or not because every time I ask him a question about ANYTHING even slightly personal he gets offended.  For example, I could say "Do you like pitching?" and his reply would be "Urgh! Why do you ask me questions about EVERYTHING? I don't know!"  Uh, sorry? I usually get the info I want eventually.  I just have to listen.  He hasn't offered up anything about pitching yet, though.  Logan's been my little birding buddy.  We've gone out many times and while he mostly likes riding his bike, throwing rocks in lakes and being outside, he does have a genuine appreciation for the birds.  He found my first of year Sora at Emiquon a couple weeks ago, but his favorites are still the hawks, eagles and owls.  Can't fault the kid for that!

Meghan and I deviated from our usual birding loop on Saturday and went to Lake Evergreen and Lake Bloomington in McLean county instead.  It was nasty outside- windy, cool and rainy.  The birds were hiding, so it was a bit disappointing.  I did see my first of year osprey and yellow rumped warbler.  We watched a pair of bluebirds take food to their babies and watched a group of tree swallows hovering as they fought the strong wind.  My highlight was a large flock of goldfinches that took off at the same time in a flash of yellow.  I love goldfinches and have never seen 30-50 of them together.  We headed into town and went to Ewing Park, but it started raining so we headed back to the car.  We gave up on birding and went to Miller Park Zoo instead.  It wasn't a total bust of a trip, but we'll have to go again on a nicer day.

I had a setback with my foot after working two days training someone on my former "string."  It was pretty bad for about a week, but is now back to how it felt before the training session.  Despite the pain, I'm glad it happened because I now feel I have proven to myself that constantly working on the concrete in that area was what caused my foot issues and that I definitely made the right decision to switch areas.  I'm sure this statement sounds ridiculously obvious to non-keepers, but we get pretty attached to our animals and it was a big deal to me to leave them and move to a different area.  It was an incredibly hard decision and one I really made as a last effort to keep my job.  I'm really enjoying my new area and animals, enjoying the improvement of my feet even more and have no regrets about my choice.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

April, come she will...

This week I learned a very interesting truth.  As I've said repeatedly, since I moved back to my old "string" at the zoo, my feet have been incredibly much better.  I'm on different substrates, I walk around a lot more rather than working in one area and even when I'm on concrete it's a different kind of work. The change combined with physical therapy has taken me from the point where I was positive I was going to need surgery and terrified I was going to have to quit the job I love, to my feet really only hurting because I've been on them all day. 

This week I was scheduled to train a part-time keeper on my previous string.  I hadn't worked it since my move ~2 months ago.  I was really excited to work with my old animals!  My feet had been feeling great and it was only for 2 days. How bad could it be? It was really bad! BOTH of my feet flared up. I have a knot in my right calf I've spent days trying to work out. I haven't had issues with my right foot for ages, but two days of the old work and it hurts.  I believe with stretching, massage and rest (and not going back to that string on Sunday) I will quickly get back to where I was Tuesday morning. I'm not at all happy that my feet hurt, but it is pretty interesting just how much working the one area affected me.  I switched strings as a last ditch effort to save my job.  I really had NO belief it would actually work!

On a completely different topic, the end of the school year is approaching.  I always dread this time of year because it's filled with seemingly non-stop concerts and picnics and obligations.  Logan's all school concert was Tuesday.  Unlike Kaylin, he hates the concerts. It was tough to do the right thing and go.  I seriously wanted to pay him $20 and skip it or even just keep him home.  I suppose it's a good lesson that sometimes we have to do things we don't like because we're part of a team, blah, blah, blah.  The concert was long and dreadful as always.  An adorable kindergartner stole the whole show by dancing during his three songs.  I guess that was pretty cute.  Ah well, only one more primary school concert, lol.  I'm also not looking forward to Kaylin's band concert in a couple of weeks, but I'm going to take my Nook and read during the never-ending orchestra time.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Tribute to Karina the Camel

When I started working at the zoo in the mid-90s, the camels quickly became big favorites. Fatima was the sweet camel. She was calm and gentle and easy to work with and around. Karina, on the other hand... Karina was spirited and often difficult. She could never be completely trusted. I had to remain constantly aware of her location and aware that camels are capable of kicking in all directions. Karina was incredibly smart and in her younger days, enjoyed removing her halter or untying her lead rope so she could chase me around the yard. Karina was not only my favorite camel, she was also one of my favorite animals I've ever worked with at the zoo.

Karina was tall enough to be able to look over her 6 foot fence and she kept watch as I worked around the zoo. We'd call out to each other throughout the day. I'd yell "Hey, Karina!" and she'd gurgle back a camel reply. Or sometimes if I got caught up in my work and ignored her too long, she'd holler out at me with a rough gurgle I took as a reminder she was still there and I better pay attention. Even when I moved to a different area of the zoo and was no longer Karina's primary keeper, we still greeted each other daily. We were too far for verbal greetings, but she always gave me a rough nod.

In the past couple of years Karina's arthritis grew worse. She no longer chased keepers around the yard and was much calmer overall. However, she still liked to tease and pretend she was going to bite or kick while I was applying fly ointment or doing anything she didn't enjoy. She never did bite or kick, but I could never really trust her either. It was her fun game.

I spent our final weeks together brushing and grooming Karina (one thing she loved) and loading her up with treats such as apples and oranges. Karina taught me patience and more patience. She taught me that sometimes the difficult animals are the best. I'm glad I got to work with her daily in her final couple of months. I loved Karina and will miss her very much.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Rested and Ready

Sigh. I can't believe it's the final night of my vacation. I am sort of glad we didn't go on a road trip because I finished most of the things I wanted to do around the house and had some fun adventures with the kids. I also had enough lazy downtime that I remembered why I work outside the home. I'm ready to go back to work!
My vacation grand finale was a birding trip with Meghan to Banner Marsh and Emiquon. It started off with a bit of a whimper. I had hoped to hike the levee at Bell's Landing, but the grass was tall and soaking wet. The huge selection of waterfowl from the previous week had dwindled to Canada geese, mute swans, coots and pied-billed grebes. Yawn. We decided to move on to Duck Creek. I almost pulled into the Rice Lake lot, but decided against it at the last second. It was a lucky thing, because we passed a barred owl sitting in plain view on a telephone wire. It was mid-morning, so a rare sight! We pulled onto the Duck Creek road and saw lots of blue-winged teal and a flock of ~200 American white pelicans. We then moved on to Thompson Lake at Emiquon where we saw my first great egrets of the year and more of the same waterfowl. We moved on to the flooded field with the little parking area and found both greater and lesser yellowlegs. We went back toward Dixon Mounds and as I was approaching the entrance, noticed some white birds that looked like snow geese. I pulled to the side of the road to check them out and noticed a pair of black-necked stilts! This was a major find! They were close enough that I didn't need a scope. We found dowitchers and Wilson's snipe in the same area. It was an awesome trip and a great way to end a great week off!
Kaylin spent the week reading, playing Xbox and playing outside with friends. Logan played non-stop baseball and basketball or rode his bike. We went fishing at my parents' house and caught 25 little bluegill. Kaylin and I took the paddleboat out on the lake. We hiked in the woods. We went to the zoo and to Lakeview Museum. We had an ice cream lunch at Sweet CeCe's. I even went clothes shopping. I'll try to forget that, but otherwise it was a wonderful week. Time to log off and do some AAZK (zoo keeper group) work I've been putting off all week.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bike Birding

I can NOT believe how out of shape I am! Last night I had to go in to work for a bit for an American Association of Zoo Keepers meeting. I decided to stop at Forest Park Nature Center for an exercise (rather than birding) hike on the way home. The trail I chose was a long uphill followed by a long downhill and I thought I was going to die :) I was very relieved no one was around to hear me panting and gasping for breath. I almost made myself do it a second time, but I'm still paranoid about reinjuring my foot. My foot was fine. Today I'll do it twice and I'll mark the day in the future when I can do the uphill without panting or slowing down.

Logan and I had an excellent birding adventure on Saturday. His flag football game was at 9am, so we had the whole rest of the beautiful day to play outside. Gene and Kaylin chose to stay home, but Logan and I loaded up the van with our bikes, fishing gear and birding stuff. We did my usual birding loop of Banner Marsh, Duck Creek, Emiquon, Lake Chautauqua, Sand Ridge and Spring Lake. We left at 11am and didn't get home until 8:30pm. We had a blast!

Since it was the last day of March, I was hoping to add a bunch of birds to my March list. I sort of wished I had waited until Sunday because I could have started off April with a huge list. My only new birds for both month and year were red-breasted merganser (one pair at Banner) and lesser yellowlegs (Emiquon.) Otherwise, we saw lots of pelicans, coots, ducks, swans, etc. It was a great day for birds, just not a lot of new ones. Logan fished at Banner, Chautauqua and Spring Lake, but didn't catch anything. Spring Lake was especially frustrating because we were getting tons of nibbles, but never hooked anything. He would have been thrilled with one tiny bluegill, but I think they were too tiny. Next time he wants to fish at PawPaw's lake where he catches fish after fish with no effort!

The highlight of our day was riding bikes around Emiquon and Chautauqua. It was Logan's idea and a great one. We rode around and around the main visitor area at Emiquon and saw so much more than if we had just driven or even walked around once. The real fun was at Chautauqua. We started walking up the cross-dike so I could show Logan the eagle nest, but he was like "Why don't we ride our bikes?" Duh! I was just going to walk until the nest was easily observed with binoculars, but we rode all the way out to it. I couldn't tell if it was occupied or not. The adults weren't around, but an immature eagle was in a tree close to the nest. The nest itself is so deep the adults could have been inside and invisible, or it could have been deserted. Oh, and even though we were "close" we were still far enough away that we weren't disturbing anything. The young eagle barely gave us a glance. Logan still has a "kiddie bike" so didn't want to go much farther than the nest, but I definitely plan to go back and bike around to the back of the north pool. It was an awesome way to get around!

The neighbor kids were over most of the day Sunday, but it didn't even bug me because I know they aren't off school this week. Yay! It is only now striking me as strange that the kids were playing in the sprinkler and the baby pool on the first day of April. We've already had so many hot days this year it didn't seem odd at all until I thought about what early April is usually like. It cracks me up that we still could get a cold snap or get dumped on with snow. I know it's possible, but I doubt it. Remember, we should all thank Gene and his new snow blower for this mild winter and lack of snow. It has nothing to do with global warming or El Nino or whatever, it's Gene's new snow blower. :)

And finally, I have to complain about diet soda. I read a lot of online articles. A lot. I've read a ton about diet soda and how it can make you gain weight by making you crave sweets. Aspartame is toxic, addictive, causes cancer, blah, blah, blah. Okay, common sense should tell us we shouldn't put so many chemicals into our bodies. Duh. I'm not disputing or supporting anything I've read. I only know what I've learned in 5 months of being diet soda free. I never had aspartame withdrawal. I switched from soda to tea, so I didn't give up caffeine, but I attribute all of my minor symptoms in the first week of giving up my beloved Diet Pepsi Cherry to changing caffeine levels. I had some minor headaches, but nothing else. I have not lost one bit of weight since giving up diet soda. I crave sweets just as much, if not more, than I did when I was drinking it regularly (almost exclusively.) I missed it a LOT for a long time, but now I don't. I still drink a lot of tea, but I also drink a lot of water. I find myself drinking more water as more time passes. The only soda of any kind I've had in the past 5 months was the day we went to the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta and I couldn't pass up the tasting room. I didn't drink any diet products that day, though. Overall, I'm glad I quit. I know that putting all those chemicals in my body couldn't have been good. I'm going to do my best to never start drinking diet soda again, because I know I'll get hooked again. I also know that the act of quitting didn't cause any miraculous health changes. Nothing obvious, anyway. I guess I'm sort of disappointed.