Saturday, November 24, 2012


I finally sat down and tried to recall all of the birds I saw on our Lake Michigan trip.  I am not a born lister.  I do not like to take time away from "the moment" to record what I am seeing.  When I finish one place I like to move on to the next place rather than sit and record.  Even though I sat and watched Logan swim for two hours the second night of our trip AND I had my notebook and a pen, I still couldn't bring myself to write down the birds.  I have no doubt that I remembered everything "good".  I remembered the lifers and the birds that I love no matter how many I see (cranes, eagles, loons, swans...)  What I'm guessing I'm leaving out by not listing in the moment are some of the obvious birds- such as pigeons and starlings- that I saw hundreds of, but barely register in my mind.  Oh well, I saw at least 47 different species on my trip.  I'm pretty happy with that considering all of my inland birding was cancelled due to deer hunting.

My November list is now sitting at 70 species, which is my highest monthly total for the year.  I don't know if I'll list monthly sightings in 2013 or not, but I hope I do because I think it will be really interesting to have the recorded data of when I saw my first robin of the year in multiple years.  Oh, who am I fooling?  I may get lazy about it sometimes, but I'll keep listing.  I started birding "for real" in 2011.  In 2012, birding became my favorite hobby and I took my birding skills to a new level.  In 2013, I hope to take my skills to an even higher level.  I want to be able to identify the little brown blurs that eluded me this year.  I want to work on birding by ear.  I hope my feet will be better and I'll spend much more time in the woods, rather than just mostly birding from my car.  I want to develop the patience to break out my scope and scan the little black dots out on the lake for something different. 

My original goal for this year was to see 200 species of birds.  It's late November and my list is at 177.  Unless I go to Florida or Texas before the end of the year, there is no way I'm going to meet my goal.  I think I'll revise my goal to 180.  There were so many birds I never recorded this year because I wasn't 100% positive of their identification.  That's what I hope to improve in 2013.  I plan to be more confident in my abilities and to take the time RIGHT THEN to make a positive identification.  When I think of some of the common birds I supposedly never saw this year (red-eyed vireo and dickcissel???) I want to kick myself.  Oh well, I won't make that mistake next year :)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Lake Michigan

I finally looked at the calendar and realized that Logan had/has 5 days off from school this week.  I had been hoping to take him to Wisconsin/Michigan next week, but it made more sense to just go.  I knew I wouldn't be able to do much walking, but the vast majority of our trip was driving or stopping at beach areas where I could slowly hobble around and look at birds while Logan tore around and climbed dunes and threw rocks in the water.  I am SUPPOSED to be walking some- just not overdoing it- so the past 3 days turned out to be a perfect trip.  Logan was disappointed to not be missing any school, so I took him out on Tuesday.  That turned out to be a very good decision because the three days we were gone, temperatures were in the 50s and 60s.  Today's high dropped into the lower 30s.

Tuesday morning we dropped Kaylin off at school at 7:25am and headed up to Chicago.  We checked out Montrose beach and found lots of gulls, geese, horned and red-necked grebes and a few loons.  We saw a peregrine falcon and a Cooper's hawk, but pretty much the only other birds were American tree sparrows and ring-billed gulls.  We drove slowly up the lakeshore, stopping at different beaches.  Logan's favorite of the trip was Illinois Beach State Park, where he got to climb steep dunes and jump off the sand "cliffs" into soft sand.  We continued up to Kenosha, but it got dark so we found our way to the interstate and drove up to Manitowoc for the night. 

Wednesday morning we drove to the Manitowoc lakefront.  I was terribly impressed by a huge WWII submarine at a downtown museum. Logan didn't quite believe it was a sub and thought it was stupid.  We had a good time on the beach and then went to the zoo.  It was small and easy to walk, but had some interesting animals.  Our favorite part was when a small flock of sandhill cranes flew right over our heads and interacted with the zoo's two cranes.  We kept driving up the lake and stopped at a nature center, but found out that Wisconsin's firearm deer season is this week and apparently hunting is allowed just about everywhere.  Pffff.  We got back on the highway and drove up to the Michigan border town of Menominee and spent the afternoon checking out the parks and beaches.  Our best bird find of the day was several flocks of tundra swans and a huge flock of sandhill cranes.  I love driving up north and seeing bald eagles along the highway.  I also love the birch forests.  Beautiful.  We headed back down to Green Bay where we spent the night at a hotel with a basketball hoop in the pool.  Logan swam for two hours while I read.

Thursday morning we headed to another nature center in Green Bay and were completely shocked by what we found!  I was thrilled to find a nice lake area with a huge variety of ducks and geese.  We walked back on a path and found a small zoo!  It was really nice, with lots of native animals who were all very active and interacting with us.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the interpretive center open on Thanksgiving morning.  It was a huge building with all kinds of educational exhibits and two large viewing areas with bird feeders.  We stayed a long time.  We then checked out the bay, but found only steep rocky areas or dropoffs.  We got a great view of a northern goshawk in a tree.  We got back on the interstate and headed south to Racine, where we once again creeped down the lakefront, stopping at every interesting beach and having a good time.  We had originally planned to come home Friday, but it was supposed to rain late Thursday and then be cold and windy.  We'd already had tons of beach time with relatively warm wind and both agreed that after the beautiful 3 days we had, icy, whipping wind would be intolerable.  I had wanted to go to a huge, inland national wildlife refuge, but found out that deer hunting basically closed the place to non-hunters.  We decided to head home. 

One thing that is great about driving on major holidays is the absence of trucks!  We drove all the way from Green Bay to Racine (passing through Milwaukee) and I only passed 3 trucks.  There were more trucks in the Chicago stretch, but not too many.  It started pouring rain just as we exited the Tri-State onto I-55 and we were in and out of heavy rain for the rest of the drive home.  Otherwise, the weather was amazing.  The trip was really fun.  We both had a great time being outside, taking in the beautiful scenery and being together.  We saw lots of birds, collected dozens of rocks and shells and filled my car with more sand than I want to think about.  Everywhere we went was free, so the only money we spent was on gas, cheap food and two nights of hotels.  I'd like to do it again sometime in the spring.

Oh, I totally forgot...  When Logan packed his stuff he took a small suitcase and filled it with books.  He took at least a dozen books, ranging from reptile field guides and snake care manuals, to several of his favorite American Chillers novels.  He read during the highway parts of our drive.  He read in the hotel.  I couldn't be more pleased :)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Feet in the morning, feet at night

Happy Birthday, Mom!

I've now ditched the cane and am slowly building walking tolerance.  I went from leaning on the cane and using it like a crutch, to using it mostly for balance, to carrying it around more than using it.  It was a natural progression and I got to the point where it just didn't make sense to use it anymore.  It was actually hurting my shoulder because I didn't need it.

This week my doctor was happy about my nerve pain progress.  The shooting pains are almost completely gone.  I still have a constant burning sensation in an area on the top of my foot under my pinkie toe, but it's not painful enough to take meds.  I can now do laundry and fill my bird feeders, where just a week ago any weird stretch or movement would cause shooting pain.  I wear my walking shoes with orthotics whenever I'm doing anything other than duffing around the house.  I still can't walk or shower barefoot (I wear Crocs) but I can stand with minimal discomfort while I'm dressing. My incision sites are still tender if I touch them, but don't usually bother me otherwise.  Gene and I went shopping last night and after our first stop at Old Navy I still felt great.  We then went to Gordman's and even though I only walked maybe a third of the store, I was DONE for the night.  Still, much better than last week. 

I asked if I could start using an elliptical, but the doc only gave permission for me to use an exercise bike with no tension.  That seems like a waste of time, but I guess it will get me back into the habit of going to the Riverplex and working out. I'm planning on starting this morning. I also asked about physical therapy, but the doc doesn't want anyone "cranking around on my foot" until my nerve pain is completely gone. For now, he's giving me exercises and stretches to do on my own.  I'm not sure if I'll end up in physical therapy at all!  Yep, I imagine this blog is boring as heck, but I want this info in case I ever have to have my right foot done.

I've also been much better mentally because I've been getting out of the house. Tuesday, I went to lunch and the mall with a zoo friend.  Thursday I went to lunch and a movie with my aunt. Friday I went car birding with Meghan and we saw some great birds at Emiquon. (OH, CRAP! I just now remembered what's in my trunk!!!)  We then stopped at Banner Marsh on the way home, hoping to see an owl in the fading daylight, when a beaver swam up to where we were parked and walked out onto the bank to snack on some weeds right outside our car window.  We got a great view of its flat tail.  I'm not sure what it is with my close-up views of beavers recently...  If I could only find otters!

This week Kaylin got a new desk for her room.  Gene's been busy at work and I'm still very uncomfortable sitting on the floor, so Gene told her to put it together herself.  She did.  And when it comes to projects, Kaylin is just like her daddy.  Late Thursday afternoon Sharon and I walked in from the movie and chatted with Logan and played with the pets.  Kaylin didn't make a peep so I asked if she was at Kira's?  Nope, she was in her room.  I called back to let her know Aunt Sharon was here.  Response, but no appearance.  We finally went back to see her and she was busy with the desk.  I made dinner and called her to get it.  She came out and took her bowl back to her room.  At 8pm, she called me to come see the completed desk.  She was just then eating her dinner and admiring her work. She did it completely by herself and she built it well. It totally cracked me up that she was exactly like Gene- ignoring visitors, not eating and working until she was done.

I'm going to get off the computer and make a list of the things I want to accomplish during the rest of the time I'm off work.  I plan to clean and declutter the entire house.  I want to develop a fitness and diet program that will help me lose weight while not negatively impacting Gene and the kids' schedules and meals.  I want to go car birding in other areas around Illinois and hopefully take Logan on a birding trip to either Michigan or Minnesota.  I need to research some stuff for my zoo keeper group at work.  I basically want to make the most of my time off while at the same time making sure my foot heals completely.  I tried hard to avoid this surgery, but I had to have it done and I want it to work.  I'm not going to overdo anything and mess up my recovery, but I'm also not going to sit on my butt and do nothing but watch TV for the next 4 weeks!  But first I'm going to remove something from my trunk! Right now!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy Birthday, Logan!

Last Tuesday, I returned the walker to the doctor for ever and ever, amen.  I'm now sporting a leopard-spotted cane and I am awesome.  The doctor sort of freaked me out at my appointment because he was so surprised by my nerve pain he wouldn't let me leave.  He was probably in the room with me for 40 minutes asking the same questions over and over.  I was really thinking maybe things were worse than I thought.  Well, I've improved a lot over the past several days.  I still have some nerve pain, but it's steadily improving.  I'm still using the cane, but I can walk around the house without it. 

I had a coupon for 25% off my entire purchase at Michaels and I wanted to get the kids some stocking stuffers.  I figured I knew where I was going and Michaels isn't a huge store. I could handle it. Not. Friday morning I took my first solo shopping trip since the surgery. Well, Michaels changed their entire store around and I had to walk more than expected. Ouch! At least I got my shopping done and won't have to go back on Black Friday. But- lesson learned; I'll stay away from the big stores for a while longer.

Thursday was Logan's 10th birthday AND his parent-teacher conference.  My baby is in double digits, sniff, sniff.  Logan was very excited and took cupcakes to school and got his favorite pizza for dinner and Sweet CeCe's for dessert.  He wasn't happy about going to school on his birthday, but he had a good day anyway.  I was a little nervous about the conference because I've dealt with this teacher before and she came off as not being very interested or caring. Ha! She's one of those teachers who values a good boy. She kept me there the entire 15 minutes, going on and on about how well-behaved and helpful Logan is compared to the typical boys. I was sort of torn between "Yeah! My kid's good!" and "Why do you teach if you can only stand the perfectly behaved children?" I know, I know...  I want all teachers to be fantastic and take the time to understand each individual child and actually care.  Teachers aren't paid enough, blah, blah.  Well, the good ones aren't in it for the money!

The kids are off school today (Monday) so we came to Wisconsin Dells for their long weekend.  I wanted to be cleared by my doctor to take this trip, so I didn't book a room at Great Wolf Lodge until after my appointment on Tuesday. Yikes! I almost blew it! Fortunately, I had a good coupon for the room.  Unfortunately, all of the cheap rooms were taken.  We have this ridiculously huge room with a king size bed and living area on the lower floor, and a loft with a queen sized bed upstairs.  We also have a fireplace and a balcony.  And three TVs.  And the biggest hotel bathroom I've ever seen!  We brought the wheelchair, but we're not terribly far from the pool or the restaurants so I've been able to walk most of the time.  I can't swim because I can't be barefoot on the concrete, but it's been wonderful to be out of the house, even if I'm mostly still reading and watching TV. 

We got Logan the birthday party package, and even though he's almost too old for it, he's really enjoyed the trip being all about him.  Our room door is decorated and he got a pizza and salad meal, a cake, a build-a-bear type stuffed animal, candy, arcade tokens, a birthday button, bag, disposable camera and strangely, a scrapbook.  Uhhh...  I guess they had to do something with the scrapbooks that didn't sell in the gift shop? Just what every 10-year-old boy wants!  Anyway, we've all been having a great time.  Yesterday we ate at a restaurant where a train delivered our food.  It was absolutely pouring rain all day so we then went to an indoor amusement park where Gene and the kids rode bumper cars, go carts and many other rides while I played some arcade games.  They had an amazing ropes course where the kids were harnessed and walked across tightropes and all kinds of stepping stones in the air and other obstacles.  They both loved it.  They've also spent countless hours swimming and in the arcade at our hotel.  Logan has probably ridden the glass elevator hundreds of times now.  He has to come check in with Gene or me every 15 minutes, but he goes up and down over and over and over.  I'm shocked they haven't kicked him off or come to talk to us about it.

This trip was also planned around my birthday and my big birthday adventure was going up to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge to bird.  It's about an hour drive, so I left a little before 6am so I'd arrive around sunrise.  It's an absolutely gigantic reserve, and as I drove in, flocks and flocks of sandhill cranes were flying out.  I went to the observation platform first (a short walk on a flat trail) and there were still hundreds and hundreds of cranes hanging around.  I then went to the visitor center and found hundreds more.  The refuge is supposed to be a major stopover for ducks and other migrating waterfowl, but I was either in the wrong place in the reserve (this place covers miles and miles) or else I was too late in the year, because I only saw a few Canada geese and mallards.  I drove 45 minutes back to the other pools known for waterfowl migration and both were nearly empty except for a pair of whooping cranes so close to my car I didn't even need binoculars!  The water in the lake they were in was drawn way down and they could wade "ankle deep" through the entire area.  It was neat to see them so close, but of course they quickly flew much farther away.  I also saw a few bald eagles, a harrier and lots more sandhill cranes, geese and mallards.  I had been hoping to find crossbills and redpolls, but the ONLY small birds I found were American tree sparrows.  On the long drive from the visitor center to the pools with the whooping cranes, I stopped for every small bird I saw.  I saw hundreds, perhaps thousands, and every single one was an American tree sparrow.  Whoop.  Around 10am, it started pouring rain, so I headed back to the resort.  It was a good trip with the thousands of sandhill cranes and the great look at the whoopers, but I was hoping to see 50 different species and I saw maybe 10.  Oh well, cranes are always wonderful :)

This morning the kids want to swim in the waterpark one last time.  I imagine we'll stop at the cheese store on the way out of town.  The goal is to get home in time to pick up Scout the wiener dog from his weekend of boarding before the vet's office closes.  I got two wonderful nights of sleeping without a dog, but I must miss him a lot because last night I dreamed about dogs all night long.  It's been a great weekend.  Hopefully we'll have a safe and uneventful drive home.

Monday, November 5, 2012


As I've made obvious, I have been very worried about the slow pace of my recovery.  At the appointment right before my surgery, the doctor was going on and on about how the last person he performed this surgery on felt no pain.  Then, at my 5 day post op bandage change, he said that I could stop using the walker when I could walk without pain.  At my appointment a full week later, I felt nowhere near ready to give up the walker.  However, I think that the vast majority of my pain has been nerve-related.  My usual doctor was on vacation last week so I had to see his associate.  Other Doc really put my mind at ease by telling me that since my nerve pain is slowly getting better, the nerve was probably just irritated by surgery and will hopefully heal completely.  I was pretty disappointed that Other Doc left my sutures in for another week, but I suppose it was for the best (and I probably scared him off when I told him how worried I was about suture removal because that was the area I could just barely touch and nerve pain would shoot to my big toe.)  Other Doc told me to be patient and to follow the signs my foot gives me as to how much activity I can do.

Thursday morning was the annual health screen for park district employees.  It's optional, but if you participate you get a free blood panel done, and more importantly, a free $25 gift card and possibly other cash prizes.  I wanted to get out and I wanted that gift card.  I hobbled into the Riverplex for my 7:10am appointment and was immediately met by two of my bosses who laughed and commented on the walker.  I don't hold this against them as I would have done the same, but I was feeling really self-conscious and uncomfortable.  Combined with a personality flaw of not liking to show weakness, using the walker in front of my zoo coworkers as well as many others I know throughout the park district was a humiliating experience.  I normally don't embarrass too easily, but this was embarrassing!  I couldn't just zip in and out because the mandatory annual insurance meeting was at 8am.  If I was well enough to show up for the gift card, I probably didn't have much of an excuse to miss the meeting during which I sign all of the insurance papers for the following year.  As I was sitting waiting for the meeting, the woman in charge of insurance stuff (she probably has a respectable title) showed up and took pity on my situation and allowed me to sign my papers right then and skip the meeting.  Hee hee, that made up for a whole lot of embarrassment.  I could go the rest of my life without listening to the marvels of the flexible spending plan!

Friday, Gene and the kids were off school/work for parent-teacher conferences.  Logan's conference had originally been scheduled for Monday the 29th, but I rescheduled for the following week because it involved a lot of walking and stairs.  Gene and I went to Kaylin's school and decided to divide and conquer.  I took the classes closest to the door, which included the language arts/literature teacher.  As usual, Kaylin is bright and creative and well-behaved, but she failed to turn in a major assignment and didn't take any AR tests despite the fact that she reads constantly.  I was pretty shocked that she had blown off a major project and went home pretty angry.  As it turns out, Kaylin DID do the assignment, she just didn't turn it in.  It's probably buried somewhere in her pigsty locker.  Gene also learned of incomplete assignments in other classes (though fortunately all minor worksheets.)  I blew my top.  Kaylin was supposed to have two friends over on Friday to work on hair clips (Flufferdoodles) for Saturday's craft show.  She called and cancelled.  We decided that she'd be grounded from friends until her room was completely cleaned and organized.  The craft show was scheduled months in advance so I allowed her to do that on Saturday, but the timing stunk that she got to spend most of the day with her friends.  However, Friday, Saturday afternoon and Sunday, Kaylin spent cleaning her room.  We filled two huge garbage bags, two large recycling bins and a large box of stuff for Goodwill.  I helped and/or observed most of the process and had to wear a dust mask the entire time or I had horrible allergic reactions to all the filth.  I don't know how many hours we put in on that room, but it's almost done.  She has to fix some of the art projects that are falling off one wall and dust a high shelf on another wall.  The carpet is completely destroyed and desperately needs to be cleaned, but Kaylin's not quite strong enough and my foot's not good enough yet.  Hopefully that will get done later this week.  I'm going to call the school today and see if it's okay for me to come after school and monitor a major locker cleaning.  I have no idea what the rules are for something like that.  We have a plan in place and hopefully Kaylin understands that there will be terrible consequences if this behavior continues.  At least her room is mostly clean.  That's sort of a miracle!

Saturday morning, Gene and Logan took me to my grandma's house in Morton to borrow great-great-aunt Ida's old wheelchair.  We had a nice visit with Grandma and then the guys pushed me around Farm and Fleet Toyland.  We then stopped at Kaylin's craft sale.  It was soooooooo great to get out like that!  I found that when I'm using the walker, people stare.  I don't like any extra attention so I was pretty self-conscious about the wheelchair.  However, I found that when I'm in the wheelchair, people look away.  Haha, perfect!  I'm now REALLY looking forward to our Wisconsin Dells trip next weekend where I will use the wheelchair for the long walks at the giant water park resort. 

I think all of the walking around Thursday at the Riverplex and Friday at Kaylin's school stretched out my foot and leg and did me a lot of good.  I took my first steps without the walker.  It seemed like BOOM! all of a sudden my foot improved greatly.
I'm still taking it very easy, but I'm no longer using the walker.  If I walk more than a few steps, I use a single crutch like a cane.  This is just around the house- I wouldn't go walk the zoo or the mall- but it's wonderful to not need the walker to walk 10 feet to the kitchen to get a drink.  I'm still having some nerve pain and numbness below my pinky toe, but it's much better than it was even a few days ago.  I'm finally feeling optimistic about my healing.