Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Inspection and School OVER!!!

Tonight I'm breathing an enormous, happy sigh of relief!  My part of the zoo inspection is over and I lived to tell!  I plan to go a long time without painting anything or washing a ceiling :)  Our inspection team is incredibly nice and even though they had several easy opportunities to grill me individually, they only asked questions that were pertinent to the situation at hand.  Five years ago I was nailed with a seemingly endless stream of questions that ranged from favorite/least favorite things about the zoo to pest control.  This time around I memorized our mission statement and our types of guns "just in case."  I wasn't asked, thank goodness!

My uncomfortable moment came when I had to shift the tigers around in front of the inspection team.  Tigers are neurotic and overly cautious in the best of situations, so I wasn't too optimistic about how they were going to act with 4 extra people in the building and at least 3 others outside watching through the window.  I have had situations in the past where I truly believed Kyra the tiger was reading my emotions and protecting me.  I am positive that both Kyra and Vaska read me and did what needed to be done.  Those tigers shifted like champs!  They also made me look great and made the whole process look effortless.  That would be a perfect example of why I love my job and love animals in general.  Those tigers are the BEST!

The inspection team was out of my area by 11am, so the only thing remaining was lunch.  Three tables were set up with one inspector at each table.  Non-management staff was first questioned by "our" inspector and then had an entire group Q & A.  I assume they do this so we can comfortably air grievances without management present and without risk of retaliation.  I also imagine many people are more willing to speak without their boss present and even complain about the boss if necessary.  Really, our only complaints were wishing for more full time positions and more money.  I'm sure the inspectors practically died of shock that we all would like a raise :)

That was it for my part of the inspection.  The team will be at the zoo all day today and part of the day Thursday, but it's all for interviews with bigwigs and park district people.  I probably won't even see them again unless in passing.  Hooray!  I had been dreading this inspection for a year and I survived!

I requested today off of work months ago (long before the inspection was scheduled) because it's the kids' last day of school.  I thought it was pretty convenient how that worked out, but I don't think working today would have been a big deal at all.  Anyway, I can't believe the school year is over!  At 10:31am, my daughter will be a 7th grader!  How is that possible?!?  My baby boy will be a 4th grader and in his final year of primary school.  Time does fly.  The kids are super excited about summer and looking forward to camp.  Today I'll do inventory and stock up on sunscreen and beach towels and water bottles and lunch items.  We're planning a weekend in St. Louis to celebrate school being out and the zoo inspection being over.  I checked the weather forecast and Friday's high is around 70F.  We couldn't wish for anything better. 

Gene took the kids to a White Sox game Sunday and they all had an excellent time.  The Sox won and the game was high scoring with homers and big plays from several of their favorite players.  They filled up on stadium food and the kids got to run the bases after the game.  Logan was beyond thrilled.  Kaylin liked the bouncy bases.  Logan bought a REAL major league baseball that he loves so much I wouldn't be surprised if he's sleeping with it.  They played bags in the parking lot and found our family brick.  Heehee, did I mention it was Kids Day so the kids' tickets were only a buck apiece?  Super good deal!

I am continuing the impossible search for a new dog.  Kaylin and I went to the shelter on Friday and "tried out" a little poodle mix.  She was a sweetie-pie, but I just didn't get the right vibe.  This visit was a little more promising because we also would have met a dachshund that totally acted like Duncan, but he was already getting adopted.  I absolutely KNOW I should wait until after our planned July vacation to even think about getting a dog, but I miss Duncan so much and I want another dog NOW.  I may not be smart enough to wait until after vacation and I may be stupid enough to end up getting a puppy, but I am at least smart enough to keep looking and wait for the RIGHT dog.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Work work work

I consider painting (as in walls, not art) to be one of the most boring jobs in the world.  Five years ago I painted a LOT in preparation for a major zoo inspection and it turned me off of the task probably forever.  Right now we're prepping for another inspection and I'm once again painting more than I would like (but not even close to as much as last time.)  The inspection prep is all good- it makes the zoo look great and it even gives some sense of accomplishment, but it is both physically and mentally exhausting.  Add the work exhaustion to the mental anguish of losing Duncan and I really needed to do something fun this weekend.  Something fun but relaxing...

Logan agreed to come birding with me, but he wanted to attend the neighbor boy's baseball game first.  The game was at 8:30am, so I used my early morning and went to a migratory bird walk at Forest Park Nature Center.  I guess I'm always surprised and a little disappointed that I know more than the naturalists that guide these tours.  Including the guide, there were only 5 of us and two of us were better birders than the guide.  The other 2 were a mom and her ~12-yr-old son who was working on a boy scout badge.  He needed to see and identify 20 species, so we all helped him ID cardinals and robins and brown-headed cowbirds.  Oh, and chickadees and nuthatches and woodpeckers and wild turkeys.  It was alright, but we spent an hour and a half walking maybe a quarter of a mile and saw zero warblers.  The most exciting birds of the tour were indigo buntings and an eastern phoebe.  The buntings are always pretty, but seriously?  Yawn.

Logan and I loaded up his bike and set out for Banner Marsh.  The water levels were really low and we saw little other than Canada geese and mute swans.  The goslings and cygnets were adorable, but I was hoping for more.  We moved on to Emiquon.  Again, the water levels were down, but at Emiquon it was a good thing.  The black-necked stilts were EVERYWHERE.  Not that I would ever do this, but the stilts were so close I could have thrown a rock and hit them.  I also saw American golden plovers and dunlin.  Logan rode around a little, but even with a nice breeze, the sun was beating down and the heat was getting to him.  I was thinking about walking through the woods by the Spoon River, but they were all flooded.  The river itself was pretty high.  What in the world?  Why were the water levels at Banner and Emiquon so low and the river so high?  Okay.  We moved on to Chautauqua and got to see the osprey nest and found some orchard orioles, but there was absolutely nothing on or near the water other than a few coots.  We drove through Sand Ridge forest and saw basically no birds.  It was hot and the sun was beating down.  We had planned to look for snakes at Spring Lake, but decided to skip it and go to a couple of animal shelters instead.

I had never been to the new TAPS facility in Pekin.  It is really nice!  They had the usual selection of huge, uncontrollable barking dogs and a few small dogs that were all marked "Not good with children."  We moved  on to PAWS in Peoria and were again disappointed.  I was surprised at the number of Chihuahuas.  Between the two places there were at least 6.  There was a wiener dog we really liked, but it was relinquished because it wasn't good with other pets.  I reminded Logan how many times we went to PAWS before we found Duncan, but that was more depressing than helpful.  Part of me is considering a puppy from a breeder.  My logical side knows a puppy is an insane amount of work and will destroy all of our shoes and furniture.  My stupid side wants a puppy.  A coworker wants me to take his "best dog in the world" golden retriever that his daughter is allergic to and he doesn't have time for.  Maybe, but I really fell in love with the idea of having a small dog.  Basically, we just want Duncan back, but that isn't going to happen.  The one thing we all agree on is that we want a dog in our lives.  Too bad it isn't easy.

Well, time to get ready for work and what will be a tough week of painting and pulling weeds and cleaning like a maniac.  The inspection starts a week from Tuesday.  In 12 days it will be completely over.  We will all make it through.  I am just thrilled it is at the end of May this time rather than mid-July.  The last inspection pretty much ruined my summer.  This time it will be over before summer even starts!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I'm having a really hard time writing this and probably I'm not quite ready, but here goes...  Our crazy, fun, stupid, beloved little dog was hit and killed by a car last Wednesday.  I'm still in such shock I barely know what to do.  It's impossible to understand that Duncan will no longer be a part of our lives.  It's weird to get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and not have Duncan pressed against my legs.  It's weirder to see the kids' shoes in a line by the front door, all accounted for, rather than scattered around the back yard.  I'm not used to writing my middle of the night blog entries without continually having to move Duncan's head off of my keyboard or type with my elbow up to accommodate his body snuggled against mine.  The thing I've missed the most is every morning when I went to wake Logan for school, Duncan was hidden completely under the covers and would emerge all grumpy and stretching and acting like a teenage boy being forced to wake up.

Duncan had a major love/hate relationship with squirrels.  I just read somewhere that squirrels are one of the most intelligent animals and my first thought was "Pfffffffff!" but then I remembered how much fun they have taunting my dog.  I think our resident squirrels planned the entertainment portion of their day around Duncan.  The squirrels would have him leaping and trying to climb trees and barking and making a huge fool of himself while they chattered and egged him on.  Duncan also loved chasing the neighbor dog along the fence line.  He'd run and run and run and run and run, back and forth, over and over, day after day.  He was like one of those crazy distance runners who can eat anything and everything but can't keep weight on because they burn off so many calories.  Duncan enjoyed rolling in dead things and had many an unplanned bath.  In fact, his final unplanned bath was the night before he died, right before Kaylin's band concert.  We never did find what he rolled in.  LOL!  I will NEVER forget the time I had to drive an hour home from Lake Chautauqua with Duncan reeking like an 18 pound Asian carp that had been rotting in the sun for weeks.  Funny now, but at the time?  Not so much...

Dunc lived life to the fullest.  Driving with him was a blast because everyone around would smile and point at the cute little dog with his head out the window who was so obviously bursting with joy.  Duncan loved the kids and their friends and always wanted to be in the middle of the action.  He was a major cuddler.  He was always SO happy when any of us walked through the front door.  It was a nice ego boost to come home after a hard day and find Duncan so happy and excited to see me.  The little dog was a big part of our lives and we all miss him terribly.  We're a dog family and we want and need a dog in our home.  I imagine we'll get another dog sometime soon, but Duncan will never be replaced.  Duncan, we love you and will always remember and cherish our time with you.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

I read several Illinois bird sitings boards and you wanna know what drives me nuts?  These expert birders who apparently can identify 50 different warbler species by a brief glimpse of a wing tip.  These people can go to one location and tally as many bird species in 6 hours as I have found in 4 months!  What really drives me nuts is when one of these mega-birders posts some ginormous list from a location I visited the same day.

This weekend I realized how much practice birding really takes.  I spent both days birding part of the morning at Forest Park Nature Center.  Friday morning I went by myself and was able to stop and listen and really spend time looking around.  I found 30 species in ~2 hours.  My favorite part of my hike was one lookout point where I could see red-headed, red-bellied, downy and hairy woodpeckers all around me at the same time.  That was really cool!  Saturday morning I took the kids.  The three of us were crashing around the woods, talking nonstop and paying just as much attention to squirrels and snails and dewdrops on leaves as we were to birds.  We had a great time, but the only new year bird I picked up was a summer tanager who was singing loudly from a dead tree.  He was spectacular and I couldn't have missed him!

I'm learning that birding takes a huge amount of time and patience.  To see all those extra species, I'd need to be willing to spend the time to scope every little dot on the lake.  I need to learn to ID a lot more bird songs.  I need to learn to tell apart the umpteen different sparrows and warblers and flycatchers and vireos.  In other words, I have a LOT to learn and that is a wonderful thing.  Right now, I want to spend time with my kids and get them outside.  If they would rather bike paved areas than slog through tick-infested marshes, I'm good with that.  I'll go battle the ticks and gnats and mosquitoes on my own time. 

This past winter I got pretty good at identifying different waterfowl.  This spring and summer I'll work on the sparrows and other little guys.  I've seen 4 owls this year I never would have seen if I wasn't specifically looking for them.  Birding is a great hobby.  Once I've mastered the birds of Illinois, I can work on the birds of the rest of the United States and then the whole world.  Okay, I'll probably never have the resources to get that crazy, but it's good to know my options are limitless.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Belted Kingfisher

I started listing birds for the first time this year.  I was curious about how many species I'd see in a year, but also about which species I'd see at certain times of the year.  I'm guessing I'll see cardinals and chickadees every month, but what about robins and juncos?  I keep both month lists and a year list so I can learn when certain birds migrate to, from and through central Illinois.  It's fun and I find it interesting.

One of my favorite birds is the belted kingfisher.  I love its goofy, awkward shape and its ridiculous call.  Kingfishers are fairly common around just about any body of water.  I mean, they're not common like starlings or robins that you see everywhere you look, but I probably saw at least 30 last year.  I've even seen them hunting the completely fish-free "river" at the zoo.  Anyway, I have been very surprised that despite the fact I have been birding areas I've seen plenty of kingfishers in the past and other areas that are perfect kingfisher habitat, I have completely struck out on finding one this year.  Until yesterday...

Part of my job is to take the keeper trash to the dumpsters on the other side of the park before I make my final animal waste dump run.  Yesterday there were some school buses on the main park road I wanted to avoid so I cut around on a trail past the lagoon.  There, sitting on a post, was my first of year kingfisher!  I just squeaked it in to the month of April.  Funny, because my last three birding trips have been all about finding a kingfisher in perfect, wild settings and I end up finding one in the park in town.  I'm sure I'll now see them everywhere!