Sunday, September 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Gene-Gene!

I've been birding pretty much every weekend and had decided to take this weekend off, but then Friday night Logan asked me to take him birding on Saturday morning.  And he was willing to leave early!  Seriously, people, how could I turn down my only son?!  We loaded up Logan's bike and headed to Banner Marsh.  It was 7am when we arrived and we stayed and stayed.  We hit the East entrance first and the little pond on the way to the boat ramp was full of teal and greater and lesser yellowlegs.  Herons and egrets were everywhere and Logan got his first really good look at a belted kingfisher.  We then hit the Bell's Landing area and found the usual mute swans along with hundreds and hundreds of migrating white pelicans.  It was very windy and cool (and still early) and we didn't see any small birds.

We moved on to Emiquon where we found a wider variety of ducks along with thousands of gulls and pelicans.  Logan rode his bike while I scoped the grass.  It was too windy and the only small birds I found were tree swallows.  We headed to the area back by Dickson Mounds and found Crabtree Creek absolutely covered with pelicans.  The water was really low and the fish were flopping around and thousands of pelicans were feasting.  It was really interesting to see so many gigantic birds on such a relatively small body of water.  I've seen the North Pool of Chautauqua covered in pelicans, but this was somehow even more impressive.  Logan took the steep path down to the creek where he "rescued" beached fish and picked up mussel shells.  I chose to protect my feet and walked along the levee and spotted several warblers in the surrounding trees.  I had to stop and use my guide book to identify them all, but it was really cool to unexpectedly pick up a few year birds in a place I never would have thought to stop if it hadn't been teeming with pelicans. 

We moved on to Chautauqua.  Lake Chautauqua is still drained, but the North Pool had a good number of (shocker!) pelicans.  We then headed home because although today (Sunday) is Gene's birthday, we were celebrating Saturday while we were all off work/school.  I can't even begin to describe how happy it makes me that my boy actually enjoys driving all over rural Illinois looking for birds!  We were gone 6 1/2 hours and he was excited about everything we'd seen and had a blast. 

We arrived home to find Gene fixing the dryer and Kaylin playing with the neighbor girls.  We had discussed many possibilities, but decided to go to the zoo to see the baby tigers.  They are most active between 3pm and 5pm, so we arrived around 3.  The tiger cubs put on a good show and we toured the rest of the zoo and the kids played on the climbing wall.  We hit the gift shop and then the kids collected a bunch of buckeyes in the park.  Why?  No idea.  I guess so they can get moldy in Kaylin's closet again.  We stopped at Sweet CeCe's for frozen yogurt and headed home to open Gene's birthday presents.

Fortunately, Gene bought himself a real birthday present a couple of weeks ago.  He got a new laptop he loves.  No one should feel sorry for what Kaylin and I found for him :)  Gene likes soup spoons.  He especially likes the plastic soup spoons found at the Qdoba restaurant, where he has been known to take more than perhaps his fair share.  I found a pack of 50 golden plastic soup spoons at Amazon.  I showed Kaylin and we got excited.  I mean, how can one pass up GOLDEN plastic soup spoons???  I then found an entire case of 1000 boring white plastic soup spoons.  We decided to order both.  Gene opened the golden spoons first and was amused.  He then opened a wiener dog cord wrangler and was amused.  He then opened the case of 1000 soup spoons and seemed completely overwhelmed.  The rest of us laughed and laughed.  Gene decided to take his case of soup spoons to work where he is moving to a new area and his new cubicle mates can talk behind his back about why on earth he has an entire case of soup spoons?  Yeah, I normally frown upon how wasteful plastic cutlery is.  In this case, I couldn't help myself.  I will have to work hard at saving energy and water and recycling and reusing more, etc., to make up for this abuse.  My bad.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I've been putting it off and putting it off, but I can't put it off any longer.  I'm finally going to have plantar fasciitis surgery on my left foot on October 19th.  The surgery isn't always successful so I tried anything and everything before making this decision.  I'm sick to death of pain ruling my life so I'm finally willing to give surgery a try.

The outpatient surgery itself apparently isn't a huge deal.  I'll have to spend 5 days doing absolutely nothing and then will slowly be able to start walking again.  I'll need to wear a surgical shoe to accommodate my bandages, but apparently will not have to wear the stupid boot cast.  I hate that boot!  I'll miss 6-8 weeks of work, but that's just because my job is so physical and I'm on my feet all day.  My goal is to walk without pain.  I want to sleep at least 6 or 7 hours straight without waking from pain.  I am sooooooo tired of pain ruling my life.  I want it gone!

I have often felt like this blog exists primarily to whine about my feet.  Over the past three years I have tried just about everything to beat this plantar fasciitis.  Supposedly, 95% of people get over it within a year with just using orthotics and stretches.  I am the 5%.  Yippee.  All of the crap I've purchased to try to "fix" my feet cracks me up.  I have a bubbling foot bath, a shiatsu foot massager (with heat), a foot log massager, a slant board, a Freezie Wrap for ice and an Inferno Wrap that plugs into the wall and is a heating pad for my foot.  I have blocked out what I spent on the home ultrasound device that I spent hours and hours using on my heel and ankle to no avail.  I've done weeks of physical therapy.  I've tried countless Icy-Hot type rubs and have been on countless painkillers and anti-inflammatory meds.  I wore that stupid walking cast at work for so many weeks (and three different times) I wanted to buy a gun and blow it to bits.  I have insanely expensive walking shoes that I wear to shovel poop at work.  I've got a drawer full of ankle braces and tape.  I have two different night splints and I hate them both :)  I even bought a jar of marbles so I could spill them on the floor and pick them up with my toes.  I can't remember what that was supposed to do...  Nothing has worked!

If surgery doesn't work I don't know what I'll do.  I guess I'll get a Hoveround wheelchair and go to the Grand Canyon.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


I recently played a game that was intended to show that we are all responsible for our own happiness.  I agree 100% that in most cases, happiness is a choice.  In almost every case, I am the one who decides to enter a situation with a good or a bad attitude.  For example, I don't want to go to Back to School Night at Kaylin's school tonight.  I would much rather go to the herpetology meeting at Forest Park Nature Center.  I've been to plenty of Back to School Nights and I know they are long, boring, hot, crowded, etc.  I will not walk into Kaylin's school excited and thrilled to be there.  Perhaps that's a bad attitude in itself, but c'mon, everyone has obligations they'd prefer to skip.  What I CAN control is whether I will go in with patience and a sense of humor and walk out relieved it's over for another year or walk in impatient and angry and leave with my blood pressure through the roof and freaking out about the two hours I'll never get back. If I choose to make the best of an undesirable situation, I'll come home and laugh to Kaylin about how fun Mrs. Smith is and about how crazy Mrs. Jones is.  I'll have a bit of insight about her teachers and will be able to better relate to Kaylin's school experience.  If I choose to make the worst of it, I'll come home furious and scream at the kids to go to bed and fight with Gene over leaving a towel on the floor (which he would never actually do, but it was the only minor thing I could come up with...)

I think that overall, I have been happy in life.  I have a great husband and two wonderful kids.  I have a job I love.  I get a huge amount of enjoyment from my pets.  I have hobbies that I find fulfilling and fun.  I have a crappy house, but it's in a great neighborhood and has a big yard.  My car is nothing special, but it runs well.  If I suddenly came into millions of dollars, I'd be most excited about using the money to travel. I still wouldn't care that much about having a better house or car.  I love to laugh and find humor in most situations.  I have worked hard for what I have and am satisfied.

However...  In the past few years I've had major problems with my feet.  I've had months at a time where I was in so much pain it was all I could do to make it through work.  By the time I got home I just had to sit.  I felt terrible about myself because I hurt too much to ride bikes or play catch with the kids.  I was terrified that I'd have to leave the job I love.  I was depressed because I could no longer exercise and I started eating poorly and gained a lot of weight.  I struggled to come up with something else I could do with my life, but stubbornly clung to zoo keeping as the only job that could possibly make me happy.  BUT, how much longer could I do it?  I mean, let's get real, I was pushing 40!  I better switch careers NOW, before I'm too old and no one will hire me!  I'm stuck here with no opportunity for advancement in the career I love- I need to find something else YESTERDAY!  But there's nothing else I want to do!  I was spiraling out of control.

My wake-up call came in a strange way.  My friend Meghan and I were visiting a former coworker in Florida and hiking at a nature preserve.  We had seen all kinds of amazing birds and I said "If I lived here, I'd go birding every weekend."  Meghan looked at me and said "Pffff. No you wouldn't."  I think she then went on about how she'd lived lots of places and she basically spent her time off in the same way wherever she lived.  That was it.  I realized that I lived 20-30 miles away from some major bird hot spots and I had never been to ANY of them!  And the beauty of birding?  I CAN do it from my car!  I mean, it's great to hike deep into the woods, but I've had some excellent birding adventures with a walking cast and even with crutches.  If my feet are good I can hike, if they're bad I can bird from my car or my window at home.  If I can't get out this weekend, I can read about what's out there and plan for next weekend. 

Birding started my attitude adjustment.  I realized that being "stuck" in Peoria wasn't such a bad thing.  I have great birding areas close enough to home that I can get out there any time I have a few free hours.  I can always travel to see other birds.  Birding calmed me down enough to realize that maybe I should fight for my job rather than giving up just because it might be easier to change careers at age 40 than at age 50.  I realized that very few people have jobs they even like, much less love as much as I love zoo keeping.  I decided to stick it out until I physically can't do it anymore and THEN figure out what to do next.  It took me a long time, but I finally requested a change from my "string" working in the new Africa area back to my former area that included much less work on concrete.  It was a tough decision because getting the Africa string was a huge privilege, I loved the animals and it was hard to give up.  However, switching not only helped my feet immensely, I also got to work with my beloved camel during her final months.  I got to help with tiger introductions, get our new male tiger to FINALLY go out into the yard (tigers are insanely neurotic) and then work every day with tiger cubs, which has been my favorite thing I've ever done at the zoo.  At the same time I switched strings, I also went to physical therapy and learned some amazing techniques to keep myself in less pain.  Overall, things were looking up.

August was a major setback in my attitude.  It was an extremely busy month at work with opening a new area and adding a lot of responsibility to my string.  We were short staffed and I was going crazy trying to keep up with the extra work.  The frustration and exertion got to me.  My feet were flaring and the pain was adding to my despair.  The tiger cubs were the only thing that really kept me going.  I don't think that August as a whole was a situation where I could simply choose happiness.  I don't think every situation has an easy choice.  I think that sometimes you have a crisis period that you just have to claw through and then, AFTER the crisis has passed you make the choice to make the best or worst of it.  I work at a zoo and I truly believe it is the best job in the world.  I love working with animals and even on my worst day something with the animals themselves absolutely thrills me and warms my heart.  Feeling overworked, exhausted and in pain IS stressful!  We all have a crisis period now and then. 

It's now September.  Things have calmed down and routine has been established.  My choice now is to think back on August and laugh, be glad it's over and move on- or I can stay angry and bitter about "what I was put through."   I choose to laugh and move on.  Every aspect of my job will never be perfect.  My coworkers and I will never have the exact same, fair amount of work as each other and will never work at the same pace and do everything in the exact fashion that makes each other perfectly happy. My bosses will never make "pleasing Susy" one of their top priorities (nor should they, but it would be pretty awesome!)  Even working the Best Job in the World will have occasional setbacks and crises.  I may not be able to choose happiness every second, but I CAN AND WILL choose happiness overall.