Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

I haven't posted in forever because I really felt I was changing from a mommy blog to a whining about my foot blog.  The change from a mommy blog is kind of natural since the kids are getting older, friends are becoming a bigger part of their lives and privacy is becoming far more important.  I don't really care if the kids' friends find my blog and read about Logan swallowing pool water until he puked at nearly every swimming lesson when he was a preschooler, but I don't want to write anything that would embarrass him now.  Kaylin is a teenager and at the age when friends are the biggest part of her life.  Seemingly EVERYTHING she does involves friends and while I have written about them in the past, I have never felt comfortable doing it, even when things are kept pretty anonymous.  Again, if her friends found my blog, they would absolutely know who I was writing about whether I used real names or not.  Out of respect for my kids I am officially going to stop mommy blogging as of today.  I don't mean I'll never write about the kids, but no more day to day silly stuff that might come back to embarrass them.

So, then, what is the point of this blog?  I'm not really sure and maybe it doesn't have one.  After all the years I've put into it, I'm not quite ready to scrap it.  I imagine this year I will either find another use for it or else it will fade into oblivion.  I'm still writing quite a bit for work and for personal pleasure.  I'm also now a board member in charge of the newsletter for the local Audubon Society.  My term starts in January so I still have no clue what that entails.  I'll probably find out soon.  I'm also working on some stuff for AAZK (zoo keeper group) that could potentially take a lot of my free time.  I guess right now I will plan to update the old blog about once a month.  It will probably be more often if exciting things are happening and less often if everything is same old, same old.

Moving on to my whining about my foot blog...  Since my last update in November, I learned that I have a new and different entrapped nerve in my foot.  I assumed my nerve issues were left over from my surgery last year, but that seems unlikely because of the different location of the pain/sensations.  This news hit me kind of hard because it meant that I had yet another issue with my foot.  I got 4 or 5 weekly alcohol injections that got progressively worse to the point I went from basically losing every weekend to pain to spending the entire week- shot to shot- in excruciating pain.  Work was horrible.  The doc wanted to put me on a prescription for nerve pain and tried to get me to go back on prescription pain meds.  (Meaning arthritis meds, not Vicodin.)  No.  I have terrible side effects from that stuff.  I'm going to stick with my vitamins and all natural anti-inflammatories.  I have no side effects and they work at least as well as the scripts.  I decided to quit the shots and just see what happens.  I still have some pain, but the nerve issue seems to be slowly improving.  I'm just going to wait and see what happens. 

My giant fear when I missed a bunch of work due to a torn tendon back in July was that I was going to reinjure myself and have no more paid time off.  Well, I'm coming around to my anniversary date on January 30 and at that time will get 6 more weeks of sick time.  I have enough E-time saved up that as long as I can make it through next week without major injury, I can make it to my anniversary date with paid time off.  Not that I have any real thought that I will have another injury, it's just very comforting to know that I won't be BOOM, out of work and out of pay.

Over the past several months I have spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to decide what to do about work.  Zoo keeping is what I love and what I am passionate about.  I find my work fulfilling and meaningful and I think I'm pretty good at it.  Some of my friends have left/are planning to leave the field claiming they want to do something to "make a difference".   Good for them, but I don't feel that way.  I think I have and am making a difference doing what I'm doing.  I have a few more tricks up my sleeve and a few more things I'd like to accomplish before I move on.  If I had the opportunity, I'd move into zoo management in a heartbeat, but it's highly unlikely.

My new plan is to put my all into my projects (that will mostly be unpaid things I accomplish on my own time but are important and fulfilling to me) and try to accomplish as much as possible before my time is up.  As of this moment, my plan is to continue working at the very least until I have another major foot injury.  If/when that happens, I will re-evaluate.  I am doing what I want to do and will fight to do it until the bitter end. 

Otherwise, things are going pretty well.  We all have this week off of work/school and Gene and I spent the past two days tearing out the living room carpet and prepping the floor to put in that fake wood.  Our house just isn't worth huge expense and we have too many pets to have carpeting.  The kids are playing with friends and staying up ridiculously late and sleeping in ridiculously late.  We're not going anywhere and we're all happy to stay home.  Oh, Logan and I did go to Chicago for the day on Saturday in search of snowy owls.  We spent most of the day searching along the lakefront, but I think it was too warm and too crowded with people.  We saw lots of gulls and mergansers, but no owls.  Logan took his metal detector, but his treasure hunting didn't last long with all the disgusting stuff found on the big city beaches.  It wasn't the best birding ever, but we had a good time.  At least it was a beautiful day!

Happy New Year!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday

I had a terrible week at work with stupid foot pain.  For some reason, it hurt if I had anything touching my foot, so wearing a sock and shoe was miserable. I wasn't sleeping much at night and the pain was the non-stop, annoying kind that made me incredibly irritable and impatient.  Fortunately, Thursday was Thanksgiving Day and a short day where 5 keepers go in and do 3 hours worth of feeding, watering, medicating and basic cleaning.  We were in at 6:45am and I was home by 10am.  The great thing about working holidays is that I am wide awake and ready to take on the entire day, but suddenly get to go home and have the rest of the day off still early in the morning.

My bad week took a sudden turn for the much better.  I would probably never buy a turkey, but I get a free one from work.  Usually I donate the bird, but this year I decided to make the whole Thanksgiving feast for my family. I've made a few turkeys before, but this was the first time I actually remembered to remove both the neck and the giblets before cooking.  This was also the first time I basted the bird rather than using one of those plastic bags and I must say that it turned out fantastic.  The white meat is tender and juicy and the legs were falling off the bird when it was finished.  I also made real mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie (made by Kaylin.)  We also had Stove Top Stuffing because the kids won't touch it anyway and jarred gravy because the one time I made real gravy from drippings it made me gag and I couldn't eat it.  (Everybody else liked it, so it tasted fine, it was the gross process that got to me...  I love that I scoop poop for a living but can't handle making gravy.  Such is life.)  Anyway, it turned out to be a really relaxing day hanging out with Gene and the kids.  It was exactly what I needed.  Everyone enjoyed the feast and Kaylin's pie was excellent.

Today we're hanging out together at home.  Everyone got to sleep in and I even slept almost 8 full hours in my bed.  That feels like a record.  I then hung out all early morning watching TV in my recliner while both dogs and both cats took turns sleeping with me.  At one point both dogs had Princess sandwiched between them and we dozed like that for a good half hour until Scout couldn't take it anymore and chased Princess off.  I escaped their altercation with no injuries, but they've been having a standoff with much barking and hissing for the past several hours.  Gage plunks down like a bag of sand and sleeps through everyone stepping on him or trying to shove him off.  Tiger is bigger than the other pets so he just stands his ground like a brick wall and everyone eventually leaves him alone. They keep the peace by their indifference :)

Gene and Logan might go to the driving range later, but I think I'll just hang out and rest.  I'm definitely not going shopping anywhere except maybe Kroger.  I think we'll have a day of leftovers and pets and video games and relaxation.  I'm going to try to keep off my feet and keep calm.  I can't believe it's almost December and almost the end of the year.  This year is just flying by!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

November Update

Again, time is flying and I have so many other things to do I completely forgot about the old blog.  Since my last entry, the kids went trick-or-treating on a rainy Halloween night and scored ridiculous amounts of candy that I am still munching on almost daily.  Both kids decided they were too old to go out and then at the last minute decided they needed to go.  I had already worked in the rain all day, so Gene was kind enough to take them.  I had my 41st birthday and was not using a walker or any other old people device.  40 pretty much sucked, so I'm glad to have it behind me.  Logan celebrated his 11th birthday with everything Minecraft.  I am so sick of this stupid game that both kids play endlessly and has no beginning, end or point. 

Logan received a metal detector as his birthday present from my parents.  His new thing is treasure hunting.  We've been out three times and he hasn't found anything of value, not even a penny, but he loves everything he does find.  Fish hooks, sinkers, random pieces of metal large and small...  He is accumulating a large collection of useless junk.  I bird and look for rocks and stuff while he digs up his latest piece of rusty barge.  It's pretty fun and gets us out of the house and into the great outdoors.

My foot.  I don't even know what to say about it.  Every time I feel confident that it's getting better, it flares and puts me in my place.  I'm currently going through a series of alcohol injections that are supposed to help or even completely end the nerve pain from my surgery last year.  I usually just have some tingling and numbness below my pinky toe, but for some reason the pain started flaring again a few weeks ago.  The shots themselves are no big deal, but for hours afterward it feels like what your mouth feels like on Novocain.  Then I have several days of pressure pain that is pretty bad the two days after the injection and slowly gets better over the week until my next injection.  Actually, I'm awake right now because the weird pain and itching from yesterday's injection is keeping me from sleep.  I hopefully only have one more injection, but may have up to four more.  Ugh.  Stupid foot. 

I've got a bunch of other stuff I'm working on and will probably not post again anytime soon.  It's a busy time of year, I guess. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Another round...

Once again, it's my favorite time of year- parent-teacher conferences!!!  The kids' school offers conferences on Thursday evening and Friday morning.  Friday is my day off so I have always gone Friday morning.  Well, this year with two kids and 10 different teachers, I made Gene come with me Thursday.  The school has two gyms (the smaller one is used as a cafeteria) so 5th and 6th grade teachers are in one gym and 7th and 8th in the other.  The teachers sit at a table with 2 chairs in front and you line up and wait.  And for the chatty teachers, you wait and wait and wait and wait and wait and it takes all of your self-control to not just walk out and go get ice cream instead.  It's an awful system, but it works.

Thursday morning as we were driving into the school parking lot for drop-off, Logan told me I'd probably be disappointed with his grades.  I was teasing him and asked if he'd been playing too much Minecraft and not studying enough?  He completely flipped out and yelled "STUDY! I DO NOT STUDY!"  Then he muttered a bunch of stuff about how ridiculous I was being to think that he would study and then it was his turn to get out of the car.  I drove to work, part laughing, part stunned and part a little scared of seeing his report card.  We never have had a follow up conversation about studying, but I'm going to have to guess that my general definition of "study" that was encompassing all aspects of homework is NOT Logan's definition.  His report card was excellent other than his science grade and that was due to one late assignment and few grades overall.

For meet the teacher night in early September, Gene went to Kaylin's classes and I went to Logan's.  We switched for conferences.  Gene said that all of Logan's teachers said he was great to have in class.  He participates and isn't disruptive and does a good job.  (Haha, they will never know that he absolutely does not study!)  Kaylin's teachers said the same things I've been hearing since 3rd grade.  She's very quiet in class, very smart and understands all the material.  If she doesn't have an A in the class it is ALWAYS because she failed to turn in assignments.  She does the assignments, she just can't seem to locate them when she needs to. 

My biggest annoyance of the night was when I got home and showed Kaylin her report card.  Her first comment was "An A in gym? I wear Crocs every day and sit on the bleachers with my friends. I guess I'll keep doing what I'm doing."  Obviously, that's a terrible attitude, but how can I argue?  Seriously, if they are going to give her an A when she doesn't participate at all but she's not disruptive, she might as well keep doing what she's doing.  The gym teachers probably don't even know her name.  Whatever.  Another thing to add to my list of why I don't believe report card grades mean anything.

I'm glad conferences are over for a few more months.  I had no surprises about the kids and no teachers physically touched me in any way beyond a handshake.  Success!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Slow down, October!

Wow, once again I have fallen way, way behind on blogging!  The rest of my zoo keeper conference was fantastic.  They turned up the temperature in our main conference hall and it was cool but comfortable the rest of the week.  We spent one entire day at the North Carolina Zoo which was huge.  Most of the animal enclosures (at least for the hoofstock) were enormous, which is great for the animals, but the layout of the zoo was such that you walked and walked and walked between exhibits.  I compared it to if Peoria Zoo kept our same number of animals but increased the size of the grounds by about 10 times.  I would say about 80% of the time you were walking through the wooded grounds with no animal enclosures in sight.  I probably would have loved the zoo if not for my bad foot.  I mean, I DID love the zoo, but I didn't love walking the zoo.  Someone said it was 5 miles from one end to the other, but I have no idea if that is true.  It felt like 5 miles!

I missed the kids and Gene was planning to take them to a White Sox game in Chicago for the weekend, so I drove home in 15 hours on Friday.  It was a loooooooong drive all at once, but I was glad to be home all day on Saturday.  The White Sox plans went all wonky and Kaylin ended up staying home but spending the night with my parents and Logan and Gene went to the game but only on Sunday.  The boys had a great time at the Sox game where they got free tickets and $10 parking.  Their Sox game ended up being cheaper than a Chiefs game!

I returned to work on Sunday, September 30th.  I hadn't worn my boot cast since the last day I worked a week and a half before, but my doctor told me I should probably put it back on when I went back to work.  I did and it was a big mistake.  By lunch my calf was so cramped I could hardly walk.  I took off the boot for the rest of the day, but spent the rest of the week stretching and massaging the knots out of my calf.  I've now completed two weeks of work without the boot and while my foot is far from perfect, I can make it through the work day without icing.  It seems like my tendon tear pain is completely healed and gone, but my foot is still weak overall and the nerve pain by my pinkie toe is still flaring.  It's not ideal, but I've worked with much worse pain and it seems to get slightly better over time.

Work's been a bit crazy with preparing everything for the cold season and the zoo preparing for Howl-Zoo-Ween.  I had to round up the budgies in the aviary to bring them inside for the winter.  After a week of preparation, feeding the birds mostly inside, adjusting doors and waiting for cool  night time temperatures, the majority of the ~200 birds were locked inside last Saturday night.  My boss worked late at a special event and snuck down after dark and shut the door.  It was a surprisingly good catch!  I only had ~50 more birds to round up outside.  On Sunday, I hung sheets across half of the aviary and several coworkers came down and we netted birds until there were only 8 remaining outside.  I then set a food "trap" in one of the double-doored vestibules the zoo visitors use to enter the aviary.  It was basically like putting all their food into a closet.  I came in early Monday morning and all of the birds were happily eating.  I shut the door and then just had to net them in the small area.  It was sort of fun and definitely gave a sense of accomplishment when complete.

Kaylin and I worked at Howl-Zoo-Ween last night.  Our zoo keeper group was selling glow necklaces as a fundraiser and Kaylin came along to help.  I bought 450 necklaces online and felt it was a major financial risk.  Thursday night was for zoo members only and only 50 necklaces were sold.  I about panicked wondering how much money we would lose because of MY purchase.  I need not have worried.  The event was PACKED last night and the six of us working sold ~325 of the remaining necklaces, with ~25 defective and unsellable.  I'm sure they will have no problem selling 50 necklaces tonight!  Even if it pours rain and no one shows up, we will still make a good profit!  It was fun to see all of the costumed kids and Kaylin and I even had time to walk the trick-or-treat trail for candy.

Otherwise, almost everything is pretty normal.  The kids are doing their school thing and the pets are doing their pet things.  Gene had a lay-off week from work last week and will have at least one more before the end of the year.  I'm still keeping my eyes and ears open for other career opportunities, but am very much hoping to be able to remain a zoo keeper for a while longer.  I suppose only time will tell.  I was somewhat encouraged this week because while I was scrolling through some online want ads, just seeing what is available, I was interested in 3 different jobs I would currently qualify for and another job I had never thought of that I would probably only need a few classes to qualify.  I know competition is probably fierce and just because I'm interested doesn't mean I would actually get the jobs, but it is an incredible feeling to know there is something out there.

Monday, September 23, 2013


I just spent nearly 10 hours in the most freezing cold conference hall imaginable.  I did have a 30 minute lunch, but was still cold when I got back.  I would have like to have stayed for the 5:30-6:30 presentation, but was so miserable I decided to come back to the room to warm up before the 7-8:30pm presentation.  I can look out my window and see countless restaurants, along with a huge shopping mall with a food court just across the parking lot, but I'm so cold I'm eating crackers and peanut butter because I can't stand the thought of going out into the cold hallway.  I really need to ice my foot but that is just not going to happen.  I think I have my Carhartt winter work coat in the trunk of my car and I may have to go get item.  I wonder if JC Penney sells footie pajamas and big fuzzy slippers because that's what I want to wear under my coat.  I think my bibs are in my work locker or I'd wear them too.

Okay, I'm done complaining about the cold.  Otherwise, the conference is great!  Today lots of the topics covered animal welfare issues.  For those not in the profession, animal welfare is the scientific approach to animal care covering everything from proper diet to proper housing to emotional state.  This is opposed to animal rights which is the philosophical viewpoint that animals deserve the same rights as humans.  Anyway, I learned some great stuff I'd never considered, along with lots of differing ideas.  I also attended the meeting for chapter leaders and I best be going over our chapter's constitution and bylaws ASAP.  We also had speakers from Lewa, the International Rhino Foundation and the cheetah organization that Bowling for Rhinos helps fund.  It's been a long day and I'd probably be exhausted if not for all the coffee I drank trying to keep warm.

Yesterday's trip to Duke Lemur Center and the Durham Science Center was fantastic!  The lemur center had acres and acres of wooded areas where troops of lemurs roamed free.  We got to go in 3 of them.  One had a group of sifakas along with some other lemurs I can't even remember because being inches away from multiple "free-roaming" sifakas was so cool.  The next yard was full of a large family of ring-tailed lemurs.  There were many babies of different ages and all would run right over your feet.  The dominant male went right up to everyone.  We then saw several pairs of breeding lemurs who were in enclosures rather than huge free yards.  Finally, we got to go into the nocturnal building which housed aye-ayes, pygmy lorises and gray mouse lemurs.  Before I saw my first aye-aye at Omaha Zoo, I thought they were tiny.  They are actually the largest nocturnal primate and one of the largest (maybe the largest, I can't remember) lemur.  Anyway, they are crazy-looking and super, super cool.  They have to have tons and tons of enrichment and can only have fleece cloth because they pull apart everything.  They also can make a small hole in an orange or a nut and perfectly clean out the fruit, leaving the shell/skin intact.  I don't think I've ever seen gray mouse lemurs before, or if I have, I didn't get a good look.  There are adorable!  They are probably the cutest primates I've ever seen.

The Durham Science Center was also way better than I thought it would be.  They had a really nice butterfly and insect house.  We got a behind the scenes tour of the black bears and a keeper did a demonstration with one of the bears in the squeeze cage.  Meanwhile, two of the other bears came right up to the fence and we were an inch away from them.  We also got to see the wolves and farm animals up close.  Last night was the conference ice breaker at the Greensboro Science Center.  The Greensboro Science Center is also an AZA accredited zoo and aquarium with a large ray touch tank.  The food was a fat girl's dream with a mac and cheese bar (yes bar) and a huge selection of dips with home made chips.  There was also a table with vegetables and cheeses.  Delicious food followed by a ray tank with no children.  Pretty awesome!

Ugh.  I have 10 minutes to make it back to the meeting room and I'm still freezing.  I guess I'll come back and take a hot shower.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

North Carolina

I'm in North Carolina for the next week for a zoo keeper conference.  I'm excited for countless reasons, but the main ones are that I love road trips, I've never been to a national level conference before and my doctor said I don't have to wear my boot as long as I'm not doing anything strenuous.  I've been wearing the boot for the past 7 weeks, including all week at work last week.  I'm sick of it!  Back to work went really well.  My first day back I was in so much pain when I got home I thought maybe I made a mistake.  I iced my foot and then used my heat wrap and was a lot better in the morning.  I then started icing my foot during my morning break and lunch and the difference at the end of the day was huge.  By Thursday (my Friday) I was much better than I was on Sunday.  My foot still hurts, but it's not the unbearable pain that kept me out of work.  I went off all my pain meds ~6 weeks ago and switched to all natural options.  I'm taking a specially formulated joint pain vitamin pack along with an herbal anti-inflammatory.  I would normally assume the holistic approach is a bunch of hooey, but it seems to be working at least as well as the prescription that was giving me all kinds of nasty symptoms. 

Back to North Carolina...  I left Friday morning after I dropped the kids off at school.  I took my time and drove without any real goal in mind.  I stopped at interesting rest areas and landmarks.  I found a really cool Audubon center near Dayton that had a great sitting room overlooking a large bird feeder area with a water feature.  I enjoyed the scenery and pulled into Charleston just as it was getting dark.  I would have liked to drive another hour or two, but I decided that I wanted to be able to see my surroundings.  It was a wise decision because the drive through West Virginia and Virginia was one of the prettiest I remember.  The never ending foothills covered with green trees that were just starting to change.  West Virginia's slogan is "Wild and Wonderful" and it certainly was.  I was meandering through North Carolina, sort of sad my drive was almost over when I saw an exit sign for Mt. Pilot.  Wait, what?  Mt. Pilot?  Like from Andy Griffith?  There really is such a place?  Indeed there is!  And there is even a restaurant called Aunt Bea's.  I've been there.  I also stopped at Pilot Mountain state park and drove to the summit.  Today was foggy, windy and drizzly, but this is the time of year for hawk migration and it turns out Pilot Mountain is one of the counting points.  If next Friday is a little nicer, I will be going back to count hawks!

The convention center/hotel in Greensboro looks like it was built in the 50s.  It has one large tower and two small ones.  There are more than 1000 hotel rooms and countless conference rooms.  My room looks like it has been recently updated.  It's nice, but the bathroom is weird.  Specifically, the shower is weird.  There is no tub, just an enormous shower stall with only a half sheet of glass floor to ceiling and no door.  The shower head is mounted to the ceiling and rains down over the drain.  I have to step completely out of the water to adjust the faucet.  There is no towel bar convenient and no curtain rod or side of the tub or other place to hang a towel.  The toilet is right on the other side of the shower glass so the only place for a towel (other than the rack all the way across the large room or the bar behind the toilet) is the floor in front of the toilet.  GROSS!  The way the shower is set up with a huge area out of the water, there is no floor mat.  I had to lay a towel on the floor in front of the toilet to set my clean towel on.  Weird. 

Tomorrow I'm going on a pre-conference trip to the Duke Lemur Center.  It's a place I've always wanted to visit and now I get to go AND go behind the scenes.  Tomorrow night is the conference ice breaker at the Greensboro Science Center that is also a zoo and aquarium.  Monday through Thursday are conference days with a trip to the North Carolina Zoo thrown in at some point.  I've got a few extras planned for the evenings.  It should be a fun week!

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Well, I'm pretty sure I'm in my final week of being off work for my foot.  I have been doing so little for the past 6 weeks that pretty much the only thing I could have written about would have been my woes about not being at work.  When I look back to what I have accomplished during my time off, it seems like I should have done a whole lot, but I really did next to nothing.  Of course, I've been trying to keep off my foot and allow it to heal, but that's probably no excuse for my son's bedroom being a complete pigsty and the rest of the house having 1/4 inch of dust everywhere. 

I went to lunch with my dad and aunt Sharon last week.  I hadn't seen Sharon for a while and was filling her in on my foot.  Dad told Sharon that I'm looking into changing careers to something less physical.  He then went on to state that I'm "taking it very well."  Uhhhh...  I don't think that is true at all!  The truth is that I am completely devastated!  I love being a zoo keeper.  I love working at a physical job outside.  I absolutely love working with the animals!  There are certainly things I don't love about my job, but most of those things involve something going wrong with the animals (illness, injury, old age, death) which is extremely stressful sometimes, but ultimately makes the job more meaningful and special.

I have needed most of my time off to just process the thought of leaving the zoo.  I've had very productive days where I've made phone calls and gone to appointments and worked hard on my resume.  They are usually followed by days curled in my chair, doing only what I'm absolutely forced to do.  I'm not very good at showing emotion or letting people know how I really feel.  I hate drama and really don't cry or rant or anything.  My plan as of this second is to go back to work next Sunday and work until at least January 30th- my work anniversary date when my retirement vests.  If my foot is perfectly fine, I will continue at the zoo for a while and give myself more time to research (and hopefully find) other jobs.  If my foot is bad, I will probably quit soon after my anniversary date.  I'm certainly no closer to finding another job than I was 6 weeks ago, but I'm in a lot less denial and have a lot more ideas.  I'm not there yet, but I'm slowly coming into acceptance.  I know I'll eventually be okay.  Seriously, scooping poop is not the only thing I can do.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Stupid Foot, Part 94

I had an MRI on my foot a week ago Monday and found out that I tore a tendon.  Again.  And this time I have absolutely no clue about a specific incident that would have caused this fairly major injury.  It is extremely upsetting and frustrating to not understand how and why I am injuring myself.  Back in mid-July I had what felt like very tight calves and ankles in both legs/feet.  The right leg improved to completely better in a few days.  The left calf improved, but my entire left foot started to hurt more and more each day.  Several different tendons were inflamed and painful.  At one point I had a large lump on the bottom of my foot but it went away.  After about a week and a half the pain became unbearable and there was swelling on the outer side of my foot that prevented me from putting on a shoe.  That was July 30th.  I haven't been back to work since.

I have spent my month off trying to come to terms with the fact that it is time to start looking for another, less physically demanding career.  I've talked to my doctor, my bosses, friends, family and people in the career centers at ICC and ISU.  I have a call in to some lady at an employment agency.  I've revised my resume and am signed up for a career change class.  I'm signed up at several job posting sites and will add my resume soon.  I'm constantly googling different jobs and ideas.  It totally sucks.  I don't want to leave the zoo.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to make the best of a bad situation.  I'm enjoying my extra time with the kids and the pets.  This weekend we learned that Gage is a water dog.  We took him down to the river for the millionth time, but for some reason this time he LOVED playing in the water.  It was beyond cute to see him leaping along the edge, barking at the waves.  Then he played swim fetch for sticks over and over until we had to leave.  I wish I could take him more often, but the river is pretty disgusting and he will need a bath every time he goes in.

The kids started school and are glad to be back with friends.  Logan isn't much of a school lover in general, but he's enjoying having a locker and switching classes.  Since he isn't in band or other music, he has to take French.  He's not impressed, but I think it's great.  Kaylin is thrilled because she got into algebra.  She took a test at the end of last school year and the teacher said she did great, but she didn't know for sure if she was one of the "lucky ones" to place into the class until the first day this year.

I have a doctor appointment on Thursday and will find out whether I get to go back to work Sunday.  At this point it could go either way.  If I do go back it will almost certainly be in the boot and with restrictions.  My foot still hurts, but it's much better than it was...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Wisconsin Dells

I've had another major setback with my feet, have been off work for more than 2 weeks and still don't know exactly what's going on.  I know I have tendonitis in several different tendons in my left foot and I'm in a lot of pain that's not improving much with rest and time.  I have an MRI scheduled Monday that will hopefully help figure out if something else is going on.  I've had cortisone shots, wraps, different meds and am back in the boot cast.  I'm making some tough decisions about work while getting a dose of reality about the current job market.  I'm having a rough month and haven't felt like writing about it.  I still don't.

The kids finished their final week of Camp Zone and I was surprised at how fine both were with summer being basically over.  They both loved camp, but are ready to go back to school.  They enjoyed their final week out of school by mostly staying inside.  Logan played video games with the neighbor boys and Kaylin hung out with Kira.  I couldn't get Columbus Day off work for our annual trip to Tanner's Orchard and the small town of Bradford, so we went ahead and did it this week.  We added the nearby town of Wyoming to our trip and the kids enjoyed the town's park so much we will probably have to go back.  On Columbus Day, the playground at Tanner's costs $10 to enter.  My kids are too big for the pony and barrel train rides so we haven't been to the playground for a couple of years.  Tuesday it was free and they actually had a good, nostalgic time playing on the old tractor tires and hay bales.  They were too big for most of the play structures and felt awkward trying to dodge the little kids, but it was fun.  I also got a photo of them on the same teeter-totter as when they were 1 and 3.  I will have to scan the old photo so I can do a side-by-side 10 years apart.  It's pretty cute.

We're currently in Wisconsin Dells.  We have stayed at Great Wolf Lodge many times over the years and decided to try Kalahari this time.  We stayed here once before when the kids were really little, but it has expanded a LOT in that time.  Kaylin doesn't like the crazy, scary water slides Kalahari is famous for and both kids prefer Great Wolf's huge wave pool.  Kalahari has an indoor theme park with go karts, mini golf, a ropes course, climbing wall, multiple rides and tons of other stuff including a huge arcade.  Great Wolf has a huge arcade.  However, there is an even bigger indoor theme park practically in their parking lot called Knuckleheads.  Everyone prefers Knuckleheads.  Kalahari has a more fun atmosphere with themed shops and restaurants, fountains and better looking décor.  Great Wolf is dated and worn-looking.  Kalahari has photo ops with baby tigers and coatis.  Well, that's sort of a deal breaker for me!  I can't tell you how much I hate this practice because these baby animals- no matter how endangered- are poorly bred FOR the photo ops, taken from their mother to be bottle fed- again for the photo ops, and then sent to spend the rest of their lives either breeding more babies for photo ops, stuck in a rescue facility or in questionable traveling shows that do ridiculous and reprehensible things such as breeding ligers.  It's a bad, bad practice I can't support.  I was sure everyone would be crazy for Kalahari and we'd come back over and over, but we probably won't.  We all want to try out the Wilderness Resort next time.  Kalahari is fun, but we can do better.

Thursday, we went to the International Crane Foundation for the first time as a family.  I absolutely love the place and have been there many times, but usually go alone.  Gene and Kaylin weren't too excited about the visit, but they ended up loving it.  How can you not love a zoo that is nothing but cranes?  Friday, we checked out the Timbavati Wildlife Park for the first time.  It took over an old Dells park (I think it was called Storybook Land) and is responsible for breeding the photo op tiger cubs.  The place is a giant craphole and I hope it fails.  I could write pages about how horrible this place is, but I'll stick to what I hated the most.  Number One would be the bird exhibits.  There was no barrier between the birds and humans other than the wire mesh covering the cages.  The cages weren't small, but they weren't very tall and birds that would normally be perched were on the ground without adequate cover for hiding.  There was a crow that completely enjoyed all the human interaction, but there were two eagles and a falcon that were obviously stressed.  The falcon was on the ground panting, but it was only 65F and it was in covered shade.  HORRIBLE!  The second thing I hated was the zebra/ostrich exhibit.  They had a huge yard, but were fed along the public fence line.  I was petting the zebras who were so used to it they didn't react and I even touched an ostrich.  This is just stupid and begging for a lawsuit when someone's kid gets bitten.  I then discovered that other than the big cat area and the primate/small carnivore area, most of the animals had no extra barriers to prevent the humans from touching them through the fence.  This can lead to transmission of disease both ways, unwanted bites, I could go on and on about why this whole zoo is a bad idea...  I will give them one praise- Their giraffe/camel feeding area was amazing and super fun.  You could buy a large Dixie cup full of carrot sticks for $4 and the 3 giraffes and 3 camels (separate yards, same feeding platform) were right there eating like piggies.  Even having worked with and having regularly hand-fed both giraffes and camels, I have to admit that was really fun.

I forgot to mention that the Timbavati tickets were included with our stay at Kalahari.  Also included were tickets to the Tommy Bartlett waterski show.  This show is something I would NEVER have considered doing without free tickets.  The general admission tickets for our family would have cost around $90.  And a waterski show sounds kind of stupid!  I have to admit that we all really liked it.  They did some amazing things and it was fun to watch.  Then, the second half of the show was jugglers and circus-type performers and was equally enjoyable.  I don't think I'd pay full price to go back, but if we got free tickets I'd probably go again.

This morning we're planning on swimming at the water park one last time, maybe hitting the indoor theme park again and then the kids REALLY want to go to the Deer Park.  I'm not normally much of a hot tub lover, but the heat and jets have helped my foot more than anything else I've tried, so I'm going back for more!  I don't know if we'll really go to the Deer Park, but it is something we all love.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Kaylin's Birthday Party

It's August and I've been such a blog slacker that I never wrote about Kaylin's birthday party!  Kaylin's group of friends at day camp call themselves the Gooseberries.  She wanted a party with the Gooseberries and we discussed all kinds of options such as go karts at Kartville or painting ceramics at Fired Up.  I'm normally willing to shell out extra money to NOT have to host guests at my house, but these ideas were becoming incredibly expensive and the party length was nowhere near as long as Kaylin wanted.  I wasn't too thrilled with the thought of both an expensive activity and time at home.  We studied our options over and over and finally came up with the idea of having a "messy" theme party.

I will admit that the messy theme started out as a joke.  We were discussing different things the girls could do at our house and Kaylin said that Dad would freak over the mess.  I laughed and said that we might as well just go ahead and make the theme of the party "messy" and Dad would have to deal.  We then started coming up with all kinds of messy games to drive Daddy crazy and the joke started to sound really fun.  We moved our ideas from centered around Gene's chair and TV to outside and the perfect party was born.

Kaylin wanted a long party, but not a sleepover.  That seemed like a good tradeoff to me, but how do you keep 6 girls entertained for 5 hours?  Lots and lots of messy activities.  We had squirt guns, water balloons, sidewalk chalk, cans of shaving cream, bubbles, markers and a white plastic table cloth, pudding, whipped cream and 4 pounds of cooked spaghetti for the spaghetti fight.  I'm usually very against wasting food like that, but a spaghetti fight sounded too fun.  For dinner, we decided to roast hot dogs and marshmallows over our portable fire pit.  I was pretty surprised to find that out of all the messy activities, the gooey marshmallows were by far the worst.  Kaylin originally wanted to have a flour fight, but I was having terrible visions of furious moms cursing me for their daughters' heads full of flour-pasty hair.  I had to nix the flour fight.

We moved the kitchen table and chairs to the back patio and while Gene thought I was nuts, that was probably the best decision of the party.  The girls showed up and I was shocked at how long they sat at that table, talking and drawing with markers on the white plastic table cloth.  While they were all together and relatively quiet, I told them I didn't care how much of a mess they made, but there was one rule- Keep the spaghetti in the front yard so the dogs can't eat it!  I can only imagine how sick our two stupid dogs would be from eating 4 pounds of spaghetti!  They would probably die.

Speaking of dogs, Gage absolutely loved the party.  He loved the action and attention and allowed the girls to spray him in the face with the hose and decorate him with wrapping paper and bows.  Gage wanted to be where the girls were and had a blast.  Scout and the cats kept an eye on the party, but tried to stay out of the action.

Once the messy activities started, the rest of the party was nonstop crazy.  The spaghetti fight lasted all of about 2 minutes.  It was worth it, though.  The girls then tore around the front yard with water guns and a slip and slide and plenty of shaving cream.  Gene left and went to Walmart, so I was able to get the majority of the spaghetti mess cleaned up before he got home.  I used a rake and scoop shovel and cleaned it up zoo keeper style.  After a while the girls were all STARVING, so we let them roast hot dogs over the fire.  I was a little nervous about 6 crazy girls, 1 crazy boy and FIRE, but they were all great about it.  We had S'mores for dessert and I'm sure everyone ate plenty of marshmallows because marshmallow residue was all over EVERYTHING. 

Before we knew it, the party was over and everyone was heading home.  I think everyone had a great time.  I was even glad to have hosted.  We spent about an hour cleaning up and moving the table and chairs back inside.  The spaghetti left in the yard sort of dissipated over the next week or so and the rain took care of the rest of the mess.  It turned out to be a perfect party for Messy Kaylin's 13th birthday.

Friday, July 26, 2013


Once again, I haven't posted in forever.  I thought that once baseball was over I'd have lots more free time, but then I had other obligations and then other writing obligations for work and I'm just now getting around to updating the old blog.  I've also had foot issues for the past couple of weeks and haven't felt like writing about them.

I had been feeling trapped in a rut of the usual and bummed about my foot, so last weekend Logan and I drove up to Wisconsin to bird.  My doc told me I could go as long as I limited my walking and didn't overdo it.  Our first stop was the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo.  I've been there several times and even have a family membership, but it's something I do by myself while Gene and the kids are at their favorite Wisconsin Dells amusement park, Knuckleheads.  I wasn't sure whether Logan would love it or be bored, but it's a pretty small place so I wasn't too concerned.  ICF is the only place in the world that displays all 15 crane species and we saw them all.  Some of the cranes are very territorial and run right up to the visitor pathway and call.  Logan loved it!  He was very interested in the differences between the cranes and spent longer than I would have imagined checking them out.  I bought a "Cranes of the World" t-shirt at their gift shop a couple of years ago and then proceeded to accidentally bleach it.  The bleach spots turned to bleach holes and I was hoping to replace the shirt.  Well, the shirts were on clearance and between the clearance discount and my membership discount, I was able to get two shirts originally marked $30 apiece for $20 total.  Score!  A great start to our little trip!

We then headed north to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.  It was really hot and really windy, so not really the best day to see birds.  We drove the long drive from the visitor center to the pools where I normally see dozens of sandhill cranes and have twice seen whooping cranes, but they were completely deserted.  It was so windy, even the swallows and sparrows weren't out.  We decided to check out the observation tower area before we left the park and we finally found some birds.  There were TWO PAIRS of whooping cranes and at least 100 sandhills.  We got our fill of cranes and then decided that since the weather was supposed to be the same the next day, we'd head out of Necedah and spend the night in Wisconsin Dells.  On the drive, Logan was reading about whooping cranes in my Sibley's bird guide.  He was beyond thrilled when he read that there are only ~200 whooping cranes in the wild and we just saw 4 of them!  (Seriously, I can't begin to tell you how proud and happy it makes me that he gets this.) 

We pulled into Wisconsin Dells around 5pm and realized we had made a terrible mistake.  Every hotel parking lot was packed with cars.  We checked several hotels before we found an AmericInn that had one room with ONE bed that they were willing to give us for $180.  Uh, NO!!!  We decided to leave Wisconsin Dells for a hotel room, but at that point we were still hoping to return the next day.  Before we left town, we spent some quality time at Knuckleheads riding go-carts and playing arcade games and then stopped at the Disney Store for some fairy stuff for Kaylin.  We drove south and drove some more and finally came to a little town with two large chain hotels.  Both were completely sold out.  Crap!  Our only option was to keep driving on to Madison.  We found a Super 8 right away and crashed.  The next morning, I researched where to bird in Madison and found a nice park on a lake.  It was hot and windy, but the woods kept the wind from being an issue.  They also contained millions of mosquitos.  We sprayed ourselves with repellant, and were equally excited about the cloud of mosquitos avoiding us as we were about the birds.  We stopped at the Fuddruckers in Janesville for lunch and then headed home.  We had been toying with the idea of stopping at Starved Rock, but decided to just head home instead.  It wasn't the best, most fun trip ever, but we had a good time and were glad we went.  The whole family had been trying to decide where to go for a 3 day end of summer getaway.  Logan and I were bummed about missing out on the Dells and decided we wanted to go back.  Gene and Kaylin were more than happy to go along with that idea, so I have Kalahari booked for two nights in a few weeks.  What can I say, Wisconsin Dells is always fun!

About my foot- I have a couple of different tendons that are inflamed and painful.  I don't know what I did to cause the injury, but it scares me because I tore a different tendon in this same foot and missed nearly 2 months of work.  My doc put me on a large dosage of an anti-inflammatory arthritis meds and it made me feel incredibly sick at work all week.  Yesterday he ordered me a topical cream from the compounding pharmacy (yeah!) and told me to try wearing compression hose at work.  Well, that's just super-duper. 

Other little tidbits- Newt Gingrich was at the zoo yesterday.  I didn't meet him (and didn't particularly care that I didn't) but I checked out his entourage and he was kind enough to sign a rhino poster for our Bowling for Rhinos raffle.  I was playing neverending fetch with Gage and not paying attention to where I tossed the ball.  I accidentally threw it onto the couch where Princess the cat was resting.  Gage went for his ball and there was a nasty little scuffle.  I later pulled a long cat claw out of his head.  The claw broke off cleanly because Princess was fine and there was no blood.  School starts in less than a month and there are only 2 weeks of Camp Zone left.  Bowling for Rhinos is a week from tomorrow.  I should probably get up and do something useful.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Still Not Sewing

Whoa!  The summer has flown by!  Kaylin is now a teenager.  Logan's last baseball game of the season is Wednesday night.  Sunday at Wal-Mart, the Back to School area was being set up.  July 4th is over.  It's all going too fast.

My grandma's funeral was last weekend.  As we were driving back to the church from the cemetery, I was telling the kids (my two plus my oldest niece) about how much fun my cousins and I had playing at Grandma's house.  I told them how we would run across the top of the white horse fence and then jump onto a tree limb and swing to the ground.  We climbed the apple tree and pulled apart hundreds of sycamore balls.  We played gorilla (or maybe guerilla?) in the dark and hid inside the front bushes.  We rummaged around the attic and dared each other to open the cookie tin containing the decades-old top layer of Grandma's wedding cake.  (It was totally as disgusting as it sounds.) 

Grandpa and Grandma had moved to a condo by the time the kids were old enough to remember visiting.  We drove by their old house so I could show the kids and see it for myself.  The white fence was collapsing and the apple tree and the bushes were long gone.  The sycamore was still there, but what surprised me was how big I remember the yard and how the houses seemed so much farther apart.  The wonderland I had described to the kids looked pretty much like a normal house in a normal neighborhood.  Uhhhh...  At least the kids didn't seem disappointed.

As for my memories of Grandma herself, she was always hard at work on something.  I loved helping in the garden and picking apples and plums.  I remember sneaking cookie dough and putting honey on my breakfast cereal.  Grandma read to me and played with me and tried and failed to teach me to sew.  It was probably for my 6th birthday that Grandma got me a cross-stitch? kit and attempted to help me complete it.  I don't remember the design other than it had purple flowers.  It seemed like we worked on it for years and years and never came close to finishing.  Hahaha, I imagine I frustrated her half to death, but I was completely uninterested in sewing.  Still am.  Oh, well.

Well, time to plan out the second half of the summer.  It should be a bit more relaxing without baseball games three times a week.  But I sure will miss watching my little slugger!

Friday, June 21, 2013


With vacation over, we're settling into summer.  The kids are thrilled to be back at Camp Zone, spending every weekday playing and playing and playing with friends.  I'm trying to get used to Monday and Wednesday baseball and not eating dinner until 8 on those nights.  It's high season at work which is always crazy and fun.  Gene's two main coworkers are both out of work with health concerns, so he is having to pick up some major slack.  We've spent the past two weeks adjusting to the craziness that summer brings and now we're settling in to enjoy it.

The kids and I have been watching a red-tailed hawk nest in the golf course for several weeks.  A few days ago, Logan ran into the house and yelled at me to get my shoes because there were three hawks on the telephone pole up the street.  I quickly went with him and realized that the two hawks sitting together on the pole were juveniles and that it was probably mama hawk repeatedly screaming her objections to our presence from a nearby tree.  We watched for a while and I snapped some pictures.  We've had daily encounters with our young hawks ever since.  It's been amazing to watch them attempting to hunt and failing ridiculously.  They are so stinking cute when they awkwardly dive onto prey, miss completely and then hop around confused.  The young hawks make an adorable "meep" sound, but you can only hear it if you are close and then mom's screaming drowns it out.  I'm sure that in no time our hawks will be expert hunters and on their own.  We are definitely cherishing every moment spent with them!

Gage the terrier is settling in nicely with the family.  I am head-over-heels in love with this dog and so glad we got him.  Gage and Scout are finally starting to become buddies.  I still worry about them fighting over food and toys, but we all try to be careful with food and they have different interests in toys (Scout likes plush and squeaky, Gage likes balls and hard chew toys.)  Both dogs love tearing around the back yard and barking at the neighbor dogs.  Gage isn't nearly as high energy as one would expect from a terrier and the usual backyard running and some in-house fetch are enough exercise.

My serious, rule-following, straight and narrow son is morphing into a silly tween.  He's cracking me up with the dumb things he's doing that he never would have considered a year ago.  At camp last Friday, Logan held a bunch of Pepsi in his mouth while a friend tried to make him laugh.  The goal was to shoot the Pepsi out his nose.  What actually happened was he laughed and inhaled the Pepsi.  He choked until he puked all over the bus seat (yeah, they were on a bus.)  Fortunately, he had a damp beach towel and used it to clean up the vomit.  Unfortunately, he then shoved the disgusting towel into his backpack.  Mmmmm.  Good plan.  The towel was old so we left it in a garbage can at the park.  I made him clean everything else out of the backpack, but I washed it all.  Yuck.  Another yuck occurred a few days earlier when on the way to camp Logan was fidgeting and acting worried and I asked what was wrong?  "Mom, I did something really gross this morning."  What?  What did you do?!  He kept stalling and not wanting to answer.  I went from mild interest to close to freaking out about what on earth he did!  Finally, he said "I'll whisper it... I used Dad's toothbrush."  Kaylin and I about died laughing.  It was a total accident and he didn't realize it until he was done and putting the toothbrush away.  That's why I don't keep my toothbrush in the family cup.  Blech!

I better get off the computer and on the exercise bike.  I'm usually off on Fridays, but I have to work today since I had Sunday off.  I am a little excited because I get to work my old Africa string with the lions, zebras and pigs.  I haven't worked it since I left it nearly a year and a half ago, so it should be an interesting day!  I had a follow-up foot appointment this week and my doctor was happy with my progress, even with the recent setback following my long swamp hike in Crocs.  He didn't fully release me from his care, but I don't have another appointment for three months.  That's a pretty nice change since around a year ago I was seeing him every week to two weeks!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Back to the Grind

Blech.  I can't believe my long-awaited vacation is over and I'll be heading into work later this morning.  I don't have the equivalent of Post-Disney Depression (where the shock of being out of the magical world of Disney and back in the real world gives you a serious case of the blues), but I had such a great week and enjoyed myself so much I'm not ready for it to be over.  I want more time off with Gene and the kids.

Thursday and Friday I tried to take it easy and heal my feet as much as possible.  I got all of the vacation laundry done and all of the bags and extra trip stuff from both us and the kids put away.  I spent a lot of time playing with the dogs and cats.  I watched Game of Thrones and spent some time vegging in front of the computer.  I took care of some AAZK business I had been putting off and paid some bills.  In other words, I did the usual weekend chores, but I didn't overdo it with any of the extras.

We took Scout to PetSmart for his first ever grooming session.  He is either a total sweetie-pie or else a complete snippy jerk, so I wasn't sure how he'd behave for grooming.  I didn't know if he'd be great or if he'd need a muzzle and I'd need to go pick up sedatives from the vet.  According to the groomer he did really well!  She shaved all the long hair from his feet and trimmed up the long, feathering hair on his legs, chest and rear.  (Kaylin was surprised that he was missing his "butt drapes".)  He also got a nail trim and had his teeth brushed.  I had no idea what to expect, but he still looks like a long-haired dachshund- just a much neater and more trimmed-up version.  All of the mud this year and a very low to the ground, long-haired dog have not combined well.  I spent way too much time bathing Scout and brushing mud out of his coat.  I should have had him groomed months ago!

Logan finally had his first baseball game yesterday.  His first two games were rained out (or maybe the other team forfeited one?) so he was very happy to actually play.  He pitched the first three innings and then caught the last two.  Logan did great.  I was really glad that if he threw a bad pitch he didn't get flustered and then get worse, he composed himself and soldiered on.  It was only the first game so I probably shouldn't judge yet, but I think that once again Logan is one of the best players on his team.  This isn't a brag, it's a shocking truth.  I still don't see how a child with Gene's and my DNA can be good at sports.  It doesn't make sense :)  I still think many of the other kids will catch up with him in a few years.  Logan works hard and he IS good, but what he has over most of the other kids is an incredible awareness of the game.  He knows exactly what is going on at all times and if the ball comes to him he's ready to catch it and throw it to the appropriate place.  Overall, the kids are getting better, but most of them are still shocked when the ball comes at them and have no idea where to throw it once they have it. 

Saturday, Kaylin went to the Moss Avenue sales with Kira and her family, so after the game, Gene, Logan and I went to see the new Star Trek movie.  The new Star Trek movies sort of remind me of the "new" Batman movies.  Where Batman goes from the old Pow! Bam! silliness to the dead serious Dark Knight, Star Trek goes from the corny original cast movies to a cooler version with more action and danger.  Both versions are fun and enjoyable, but the new versions likely appeal to a much wider crowd.  I guess they're a little less geeky sci-fi and a lot more action-adventure. 

Sigh.  I guess I better get off the computer and restart my workout and stretching program.  I also have a large load of laundry in the dryer and need to pack a lunch and get to work early to do some AAZK stuff.  Back to the grind...

Thursday, June 6, 2013

New Orleans trip wrap-up

Well, I dipped on the painted bunting this trip.  The Jean Lafitte swamp was very interesting, but so hot and sunny by the time we arrived, it turned into a herping trip rather than being all about birds.  I found a few warblers and heard several barred owls calling, but most of the birds were in deep cover.  The snakes, lizards, frogs and alligators, however, were EVERYWHERE!  It was amazing to see so many snakes in one trip.  We also found 5 alligators, one big turtle and little lizards and frogs pretty much everywhere we looked.  We stopped at the trail I had read about and was most excited about first, but there was a big school bus full of screaming kids.  We got back onto the road and went to the visitor center.  I opened the door and the place was packed with school kids.  Ugh.  We turned around and immediately got onto a trail.  Well, we hadn't been to the visitor center and had no idea what we were getting into...

The trails at this park are a series of low-lying boardwalks through thick swamp.  We were surrounded by and above water the entire trail.  It was really cool.  We took a side trail to get away from the kids and found ourselves unexpectedly on a long, long, long, long trail.  I'm guessing we hiked at least somewhere between 3 and 4 miles. I was expecting a short tromp through the woods and I was wearing Crocs.  I probably shouldn't have made this hike on a cool day in my best shoes and custom orthotics.  I definitely shouldn't have made this hike when it was 95F and I was wearing Crocs.  I'm still paying for my stupidity.  My feet and ankles swelled and my calf muscles are just now starting to loosen up.  Oh well, at least it was a cool place!

The original plan had been to stop back in New Orleans to pick up some last minute souvenirs, but we were both soaked in sweat and I was in too much pain to go wandering around town.  We stopped at City Park instead.  It was a great stop because it's right on the edge of town and we got to drive by several huge cemeteries.  The park is sort of like Central Park in Manhattan and full of trees and water and fun things to do.  We didn't walk too much, but we did see some birds (no painted buntings, of course) and some beautiful old trees.  It was a fun stop.  Gene is very into bridges this and wanted to drive the 26 mile long causeway over Lake Ponchartrain.  I couldn't even pretend he didn't do all kinds of things for me, so we did it.  It was pretty cool to think about the work that went into this bridge (to nowhere.)  I plan to read about it because it seems like a whole lot of money to spend on something that connects some dink towns to New Orleans.  I'm guessing there is some scandal involved.  Anyway, there were of course no birds out in the middle of the lake, but just as we were exiting the bridge a huge bird came flying toward us.  I assumed it was some kind of heron, but nope, it was my first and only brown pelican of the trip!  I have no idea why it was there all by itself, but I'm glad it was!

We drove on to Jackson, Mississippi for the night.  I was too sore to go hiking around the reservoir early again, but Gene wanted to see it.  The morning I went birding was cool and rainy and yesterday morning was hot and sunny.  The birds were mostly hidden, but Gene was impressed with the spillway and by the huge reservoir itself.  We headed to Memphis to the zoo and were caught in some torrential downpours and minor thunderstorms.  I really wanted to see the zoo and figured I may never have another chance (or at least not for years and years) so we stopped.  It was a good decision because the zoo wasn't busy and the rain made all of the animals very active.  We walked through the big cat area at 2:30pm.  Normally at that time the cats would all be curled up sleeping and barely visible.  We went right after a big rain and all of the many cats in the area were walking around or playing.  We even saw the cheetahs up and moving around.  That's always one of my jokes- it seems like every nice cheetah exhibit has so many hiding spots all you ever see is a yellow blob in the grass.  I had heard negative things about this zoo, but it seems like they are trying really hard to update all of their old, outdated exhibits and most of the zoo was new and beautiful.  I really enjoyed it.

We headed out of Memphis just before 5pm.  I don't know if we just went the right way or if Memphis doesn't have a terrible rush hour, but we had no traffic at all.  We had a 7 hour drive home and we stopped once for food and once for gas.  Gene drove the entire way (I offered, he declined) and we pulled into our driveway at exactly midnight.  The cats were happy to see us.  I can't wait to go get the dogs and I really can't wait to pick up the kids from Camp Zone this afternoon!  Overall, the trip was great.  It was fun to spend time with only Gene and do things we enjoyed that the kids would have found boring.  We had a great time being together.  I have about 80 things I'd like to do during my final 3 days off work, but I think I better force myself to relax and allow my feet and legs to heal.  Grrrr.  Stupid feet.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

New Orleans, Part 2

We spent our second day in New Orleans walking around the French Quarter and the Riverfront, taking a cemetery tour and then drove just outside of town to a National Wildlife Refuge where we saw a jackpot of wildlife.  We're staying at a Holiday Inn near the French Quarter and I just can't quite figure it out.  It has the strangest mix of décor I've seen.  The furnishings are just plain weird and there are Andy Warhol paintings everywhere.  Our room has Marilyn Monroe and a can of tomato soup.  The hall by the elevators has a cow.  A Planet of the Apes movie is being shot a block over from our hotel, so there are trailers and equipment EVERYWHERE for blocks around.  We get to see the set at night, but they put up big tarps during the day that block the filming.  It's pretty interesting because there are signs directing everyone involved all over the place for make-up, extras, food, etc.  We haven't seen any apes walking around, but the tech crew is everywhere and we saw some (I assume) extras because it was at least 95F and they were dressed like it was cold.  Ugh.  It's been interesting to walk past and hasn't been an inconvenience.  Maybe I'll actually watch the movie when it comes out but I doubt it.

I wanted to walk down to the Riverfront because 19 years ago that was the happenin' place to be.  Well, not so much anymore.  The riverboat casino is gone and replaced by a 2-block Harrah's Casino and Resort.  The gorgeous fountain is empty.  The tourist trap mall with all the fun stores is mostly empty and will soon be closing for good.  The row of giant cruise ships was gone.  The aquarium was still there, but no longer looks shiny and new.  The skyscraper that used to have a revolving restaurant at the top was still standing, but completely deserted.  The whole area was kind of a sad surprise.  I hope someone has great plans to knock everything down and start over.  Even a casino would be better than what is there now.  What we saw of the rest of the town looked great.  All of the trendy shops that used to be at the mall moved to strips along the river in front of the French Quarter.  The parks were beautiful, the neighborhoods were beautiful, etc.

We are such non-foodies and we go to these towns that are known for great food and eat at the hotel restaurant or the Hard Rock Café.  Yesterday I forced Gene to a local place for local food.  I don't remember what it was called but it was something like Good Gumbo.  I had red beans and rice with smoked sausage and Gene had a shrimp po' boy.  It was freaking amazing.  If we didn't have plans to go to the swamp today, I'd go back.  We followed our delicious lunch with a cemetery tour.  I didn't know what to expect, but it was educational and entertaining and wonderful.  Our guide Ernie was fantastic.  He was so full of it that I sort of doubt he's truly from this area- he probably grew up in Cleveland or something- but the man was smart, knowledgeable and hilarious.  I learned more about the history of New Orleans than I ever thought possible and laughed the entire time.  We got a great tour of St. Louis Cemetery #1 and got to see the tombs of many famous citizens.  It was a fun couple of hours and something I'd definitely recommend and do again.

We had been walking all day so we came back to the hotel to rest for a bit before trekking out to the wildlife refuge.  The refuge is vast and includes a former landfill and thousands of acres around it.  The two public areas were quite small.  However, the one area had a long boardwalk that went out into the swamp and on this short walk I could look around and see 9 types of herons/egrets, ibis, stilts, skies full of diving terns and swallows, whistling ducks, a Mississippi kite, anhingas and cormorants and on and on.  We also saw two large alligators and several giant alligator gar fish.  It was probably the most amazing bird experience I've ever had!  The numbers of birds were comparable to the birdiest places I've been in Florida.  Wading birds were everywhere you looked!  It was a fun time for me and so amazing and full of wildlife that Gene stayed interested (though I'm sure we stayed a little longer than he would have preferred.)

Today we hope to go to Jean Lafitte Park and take a swamp tour.  I have added gobs of birds to my year list in and around New Orleans.  The bird I hope to get today is the painted bunting.  I've spent two years sad that I missed it by only a couple of weeks when we were in Texas and I'd REALLY like to see one.  Preferably a very colorful male.  I can't remember the exact number of my year count, but I do know that it's early June and I have already surpassed my total for the entire year of 2012! 

Monday, June 3, 2013

New Orleans

Woohoo, Gene and I are on vacation!  We're on vacation!  Actually, we are on our first ever trip without kids to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary and we are having a blast!  We are currently in New Orleans for 2 or 3 days.  As always, I'm a morning person and am up early writing and Gene is a night person and is happily sleeping.  I stayed out until TEN last night and was completely exhausted from a full day, so I actually slept in until 6:45 this morning.  That would probably be comparable to a normal person sleeping in until 10:30 or something.  :)

We left home Friday evening after Gene got home from work and we packed up our car and my mom's car with the kids' stuff.  Then we stopped for a quick bite at Panera, so we didn't end up leaving Peoria until a little after 7pm.  Our goal was to drive until Gene was too tired to go on and get as close to Memphis, Tennessee as possible.  A storm system thwarted our plans and heavy winds and driving rain forced us to stop for the night in Troy, Illinois- about 20 miles short of St. Louis.  It was a little disappointing, but this was a serious storm.  We were surrounded by tornado warnings and there were trees and branches all over the highway.  We were going about 25mph and saw two semi-trucks that had blown over in about a half-mile stretch.  It was nasty.

We set off for Memphis Saturday morning with a (I think) five hour drive to Graceland.  It rained steadily most of our drive, but I don't remember any real wind or lightning.  The fields and rivers the entire way down have been terribly flooded.  Anyway, we listened to a little Elvis music on our drive, but what kept going through my head was Paul Simon's song Graceland.  "I'm going to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee, I'm going to Graceland.  For reasons I cannot explain there's some part of me wants to see Graceland."  Gene had the entire Graceland album on his phone so we got to listen to that!  Graceland itself was interesting.  I guess I expected it to be MUCH larger or at least somehow more impressive.  Maybe I've seen too many episodes of MTV's Cribs or something, because the superstars of today live in actual MANSIONS with full size skating rinks in their basements and nine hole golf courses on their lawns.  Probably it was pretty crazy to have TVs in every room back in the day, but since that's so common now, it didn't impress me.  I was beyond surprised that we entered the house through a single, regular-sized front door.  Anyway, I did enjoy the entire experience and was really shocked at how much I liked looking at all the costumes and jumpsuits. We paid $4 extra per ticket and added on the car and airplane areas.  They were totally worth the money!  They were more along the lines of expected extravagance.  We looked in all the souvenir shops, but they didn't have anything I needed to own.  Except...  Except for an Elvis Pez dispenser!  It is pretty awesome!

We headed out of Memphis around 5pm and made our way to Jackson, Mississippi.  The weather in Jackson was actually really beautiful, so I eagerly planned an early morning of birding.  There was one of those brown highway signs by our hotel exit that said "To Reservoir".  I had no idea what that meant, but where there is water, there are usually birds.  I woke up and dressed and peeked out the window to see- ugh, rain!  I went anyway.  The reservoir was huge and I hiked back into some woods and found several warblers and zillions of great blue herons and great egrets.  It was a totally worthwhile birding adventure.  I went back to the hotel and while sitting in the breakfast area waiting for Gene, I was reading a publication about free things to do in Jackson this summer.  Watching alligators at the reservoir was number one.  Eek!  I was sort of watching for snakes, but didn't even consider alligators!

On to New Orleans.  I loved, loved that part of the drive!  The never ending swamplands with birds everywhere...  That was really cool.  We eventually made our way to the zoo.  I had read that the zoo is a great place to bird and whoever wrote that was correct!  All of the gorgeous old trees and swamp areas made great homes for wild birds.  We saw at least 5 types of herons, including some darling, "fuzzy" young green herons.  Black crowned night herons and white ibis were everywhere.  We watched a great egret snatch up a little lizard and gulp it down.  The herping was probably even more fun than the birding, with lizards and turtles everywhere and even an occasional snake.  The zoo grounds are just gorgeous.  There had been a fairly major thunderstorm shortly before we got there and we were told most of the animals had indoor access.  We saw everything except giraffes- their yard was too mushy to let them out.  I don't think it rained one drop in the several hours we were there, but the threat from the earlier rain must have kept everyone away because the zoo wasn't busy at all.  We found a hotel for the next couple of nights and then walked down to Bourbon Street. We had dinner at the Hard Rock Café (I think an overpriced tourist trap, but Gene loves it) and then sat in the outdoor gardens at Pat O'Brien's and drank Hurricanes while we talked and I watched chimney swifts and a night heron.  We did a little feather mask shopping for the girls, but I was so exhausted I just wanted my bed.

Whoa!  Gene's up and dressed and I still need to shower and everything.  It's a vacation miracle.  Wowsers, it's a little after 8am, I best be going.

Friday, May 31, 2013


I don't think it will be terribly surprising to anyone that I dislike the public school system.  I'm not referring at all to the teachers- there will always be a few great teachers, a few terrible ones and plenty that are adequate.  I think the system as a whole is broken, with the results of standardized testing being held more important than actual learning.  I watch year after year as both of my kids- kids with very different learning styles and personalities- sink into boredom and frustration the third quarter as learning is replaced by test preparation, and then testing and then more testing.

At work and at home I believe strongly that if I am going to complain about a problem, I better at least be actively trying to come up with a solution.  I can certainly accept help from others, but as a responsible adult I should never just expect others to solve my problems.  Some issues are much harder than others, but if I'm having an issue with the tigers, I come home and email other zoo people who work with tigers.  I post questions and google and try to find answers.  I don't whine to my boss and expect her to do all of my work and solve the problem.  Likewise with the kids, I go to other parents or even the internet for advice, but I don't just dump the problem on Gene and expect him to deal with it.  (Unless the problem is new baseball cleats for Logan- he can deal with that.)

School drives me completely nuts because I feel like I'm in completely over my head.  How can I possibly address issues that are driven by the federal and state government???  How can I complain when I feel like I can't do anything?  How can I possibly make time to do anything when I'm already too involved in too many other things?  I know I would be a terrible homeschooler.  I don't have a lot of choices in private schools and really have equal issues with them.  I feel stuck and like I'm being a bad parent- but really, how bad can I be if pretty much everyone else is doing the same thing?  I can't be the only parent in Peoria who feels this way, but what can be done?

Certainly not what I have been doing!  Or I suppose I should say what I have NOT been doing.  This year by the second semester I became so frustrated I pretty much stopped caring.  I literally never looked at Logan's homework folder and never once saw any paper that Kaylin brought home.  I warned both kids that if they had something like a permission slip or needed money for something they BETTER let me know or they were going to miss the field trip or fun and I'd never know about it.  I completely forgot about lunch money, was never sent any notices and the kids were never pestered at school.  They used to only get cheese sandwiches if they owed more than $10.  Well, I went online the night before the last full day of school and each kid owed over $100.  Uhhhh.....  Yeah, I have no excuse for that!  Whoopsies.  Fortunately, both kids are good students and good learners.  I don't need to look at every worksheet and as long as I know they understand everything, I don't care about letter grades.  I mean, Kaylin's straight As in gym do not reflect ANYTHING in reality!  Let's just say that she is most likely not going to grow up and be an athlete.  I am not proud of her accomplishment, though I am proud that she apparently participates enough and is good enough in class to avoid being noticed.  A for Acceptable :)

Right now, I'm just glad the year is over.  I'm glad Logan is done with primary school.  I will start the new school year in the fall with a much better attitude.  I always do.  But...  How do I keep a good attitude when second semester starts and all fun ends and the drilling and drilling for tests begins?  Do I fall into silent acceptance?  Do I start a revolution?  Do I block it out to the point I forget to pay lunch money for a really (REALLY) long time?  I don't know.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Post #500

According to the count on the entry page to my blog, this is my 500th post!

Last Saturday, Logan and I took Gage on a long birding adventure.  We left a little after 6am and didn't get home until 3pm.  We did a lot of driving and a lot of walking.  Gage did very well with both.  He spent his driving time either on Logan's lap or curled up sleeping in the back seat.  He's really good on leash and spent his walking time snooping into everything he could find and picking up as many ticks as possible.  (I had to remove one from between his toes.  Yuck!)  Gage was excited about the whole trip and happy to be along for the ride.  I never heard him whine or cry even once.  Gage is a bit more laid-back and a lot less exuberant than Duncan was, but that is probably a good thing.  We had a great time and Gage proved himself to be the buddy dog we were hoping for!

Including today, the kids have 2 1/2 days of school left.  Both are VERY excited and can't wait for Camp Zone to start the first week of June.  I can't believe that my babies will be in 8th and 5th grades!  It will be fantastic to have them at the same school, but dang, I feel old!  Logan really didn't like his teacher this year.  She was one of those who assumes all boys are wild and poorly behaved.  She often punished the boys as a group and Logan was very offended.  Kaylin also had this teacher and she really didn't bother to get to know the kids individually.  This was her last year before retirement, so I think she was counting down the days until she was done teaching and cared even less than in previous years.  In the fall Logan will be in middle school and will get to change teachers several times a day.  I think he will greatly prefer that to being stuck in one room.  Kaylin certainly does.

Gene and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary on Wednesday.  Well, we didn't really "celebrate" because we worked and then Logan had baseball practice from 5:30-7:30.  We hope to go to dinner and a movie this weekend and then have a trip to New Orleans planned the first week of June.  It will be the first time both of us will be away from the kids for more than one night.  That's hard to believe, but I guess with our limited time off work and school we want to take the kids along and spend the time with them.  I am looking forward to spending some time alone with Gene, though!

Last night we were talking about the many, MANY things we've learned in 20 years of marriage.  I think one of the biggest things both of us had to figure out was that Gene wants to "fix" everything and while I sometimes need to complain about something to him (anything from a headache to an annoying coworker) I don't EVER expect him to find a solution to my personal problems.  Well, not only did he spend years driving himself nuts trying to find solutions to my minor issues, it never once occurred to me that he would even dream of doing such a thing.  It literally took us years to figure out that if I came home from work and said "Ugh, I have a headache." the response I wanted and the ONLY thing I needed from him was "Oh, poor Susy."  What I would sometimes get was a very frustrated "Well, I'm not a doctor, what do you want ME to do about it?"  Um, nothing?  I'm a big girl and I took some aspirin.  I want you to do the same thing as I do when you whine about a headache.  Say "that stinks" and move on with your evening.  It took a looooooong time for both of us to figure this out about the other person!

 I will never forget many years ago running into a former Pizza Hut coworker at the mall.  This girl had annoyed me to no end when I was her manager.  She missed a lot of work and had millions of excuses.  I apparently complained about her to Gene a LOT.  Anyway, this was several years later and I was thrilled to see her.  I walked away from her happy and nostalgic, but Gene was silent and furious.  It turned out that he couldn't stand this girl for all she put me through and had never been able to come up with a solution to fix that problem for me.  I was beyond shocked because yeah, she had been annoying, but it was only for a short time and I hadn't given her a thought since.  I certainly never expected Gene to solve that problem- but he wanted to!  A few months ago, I had an upsetting meeting and my (single) boss was trying to be positive and told me to go home and complain to Gene and that things would look better in the morning.  My boss did cheer me up, however unintentionally, because I spent the rest of the day thinking about how Gene would be the LAST person I would complain about this minor work-related slight to because he'd probably think I wanted him to execute the director of the park district or something.  Nope, that's not at all what I wanted :)

Friday, May 17, 2013


We got a new dog!  Gage is a five-year-old Jack Russell terrier.  We picked him up from the shelter on Monday and so far he's doing well.  He's a total sweetie who absolutely loves the kids.  The cats were initially scared, but Gage and the cats now pretty much ignore each other.  Scout the dachshund has his ups and downs.  Shortly after Gage came home, Scout attacked him over a toy.  Gage is bigger and has a much more muscular build, but he more or less stood and took the attack which left him with several scrapes on his face and leg.  We moved all of the toys out of the dogs' reach and there have been no further incidents. 

Our dog Duncan was hit by a car a little over a year ago.  Duncan loved playing with the kids and slept in bed with Logan.  Duncan also loved riding in the car and going on adventures.  We got Scout as Duncan's "replacement" and while we all love him, he is a completely different dog and not at all a replacement for what we lost.  Scout is fine with the kids, but he definitely prefers adults.  He hates car rides and adventures.  He isn't AT ALL fun to take places because he literally whines and cries the entire time we're gone.  Gene has a special relationship with Scout that he didn't have with Duncan and Kaylin prefers the cats, so neither of them felt the gaping loss that Logan and I couldn't seem to shake.  We wanted our buddy dog back!

We'd been half-heartedly looking for another dog for months.  We stopped at the Peoria and Pekin shelters when we had the chance and I looked at the Petfinder website regularly.  We were just sort of waiting for the right dog to fall into our laps.  Saturday, Logan and I stopped by PAWS in Peoria just after they opened for the day.  We walked into the dog room and the first kennel contained a sweet, cute little Jack Russell who seemed thrilled to see us.  We gave him some attention and checked out the rest of the giant, barking menaces before going back to Gage.  Hmmm, was this dog really special, or did he merely stand out because he wasn't a cookie cutter of the usual?  We watched him for a bit.  A shelter volunteer came around and tossed Gage a Kong toy.  Gage gleefully played with the toy, tossing and catching it until it dropped into his water pail.  We continued to watch as he figured out how to remove the toy from the large pail.  That sealed the deal.  We pulled his card and asked to meet him.

When the shelter employee brought Gage to the room, he immediately ran to Logan.  Point.  He then checked me out and submissively rolled over to have his belly rubbed.  Oooh, another point!  I filled out the paperwork to put him on a 24 hour hold and immediately called Gene, hoping he'd be able to come right down to meet Gage.  Gene brought Kaylin, Kira and Scout.  I kept Scout outside while Gene and the kids met Gage.  He was great with everyone and beyond thrilled with the kids.  After meeting the kids, a shelter worker brought Gage outside to meet Scout.  I knew this wasn't exactly a true test as it was in a neutral place, but I honestly had no idea how Mr. Jealous Scout would act around a dog we were all fawning over.  Both dogs seemed very interested in each other, with not a hint of aggression.  Point and Game. 

The shelter always makes adopters wait 24 hours before taking an animal home- this gives people time to think and weeds out many of the impulse buyers.  Since it was Saturday and the shelter is closed on Sunday, we had to wait until Monday afternoon.  We were fortunate that Gage was already neutered or we would have had to wait until at least Tuesday.  Gene had conveniently taken Monday off work long before any thought of dog adoption, so he was able to pick up Gage before the kids came home from school. 

Other than the little fight the first day home, things have been going very well.  Gage sleeps with Logan (though early this morning he was in Kaylin's bed) and loves playing with all the neighbor kids.  I've been trying to keep sort of in the background and let Gage develop a strong relationship with the kids, but I couldn't help myself Wednesday morning and took him in the car to get coffee.  He loved the ride and wasn't at all stressed or whiny!  Hooray!  Hopefully, Gage will fill the void left by the loss of Duncan.  I know that's not his job or responsibility and we will love him no matter what, but I think we got lucky and found our dog that will love kids and adventures!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Another May

So, yeah. I guess I continue my 2013 trend as a major blog slacker.  I'm guessing there's exactly one person who cares.  Sorry, Mom. 

May is by far my least favorite month of the year. With all kinds of major projects at work and all kinds of school projects and events it is a crazy time of constant obligations.  However, it's also a great month thanks to the amazing weather and the even more amazing birds.  I've still been working out an hour every morning and it stinks how much that cuts into my writing and reading the newspaper time.  I've been getting the daily paper since I moved out on my own and this is the first time I can remember that I've regularly gone days without even glancing at the headlines.  I'm considering canceling my subscription.  Gasp!  Okay, enough of this boring crap.

Since sometime last semester, I've been in an unofficial daily "race" to school with Kaylin's friend Kira's mom, Lisa.  The girls need to be at school at 7:23am, so we leave at about the same time every day.  At first, we just sort of noticed that we usually saw each other.  Then we realized that Kira's mom almost always passed my putzy little Toyota.  One day Lisa tried to pass me (probably not personal, just trying to get to school) and got stuck behind a slow car.  I joked that we "won" and Kaylin bragged to Kira.  Kira's very competitive and the daily commute turned into a race, with Kira begging her mom to pass me and win.  Well, I don't know much about cars, but I know my little Yaris isn't going to beat out a luxury car with dual exhaust pipes.  I won't pretend to know or care what dual exhaust pipes do, but I'm guessing they somehow go along with a big, fast engine.

I've spent months and months giggling every day as Kira's mom zips past us.  Once in a great while we win and celebrate and rub it in to Kira.  Lisa and I gesture to each other (like holding up the number one finger or waving victoriously, never anything vulgar :)  When we talk, she almost always apologizes for the competition because aside from the whole thing being incredibly juvenile, she knows she has the major advantage.  I don't feel bad at all about losing this impossible competition and our rare wins make it fun. Kaylin also enjoys the occasional win and isn't at all bothered by the regular losses.  Logan, on the other hand...  He couldn't comprehend why I was "letting" Lisa win every day.  I kept telling him her car was better, but I guess with two parents who don't care a hoot about cars, he just didn't understand.  He kept telling me I just needed to floor it.

Today the stars aligned and we got our opportunity to really race.  We zipped past Kira's house as Kira and Lisa were getting into their car and then hit the long red light at Knoxville.  We then hit the light at Pioneer Parkway just as it turned red.  Lisa and I were side by side, first in line at the light.  We opened our windows to talk and I told her about Logan wanting me to floor it and win for once, but I knew that wouldn't work.  We laughed and chatted and I noticed the light turned green a split second before Lisa.  I floored it.  We sorta slowly took off and I got to see Lisa's shocked expression in my mirror.  She jumped into action and easily passed me within seconds and of course beat us to school.  Logan finally understood the difference between our cars.  "Yeah, Mom, your car is crap."  True, but I bet I get a lot better gas mileage.  Lesson for the day: Gas mileage is not impressive to 10-year-old boys- speed is.  Beepy (that's my car's name) is lame!

I've been doing lots of birding.  Meghan and I did the Peoria County Audubon spring bird count last Saturday.  I was a little freaked out because the other teams were a bunch of old pros.  Our territory was the entire city of Peoria along with Bartonville.  We started ~7am and birded until 7pm.  I also watched my feeders for about an hour before and after.  We concentrated on the major parks and nature areas (rather than randomly driving up and down streets in town) and ended up with 73 species and over 1200 individual birds.  I found 19 year birds, several of which were lifers.  I still need to go back and look at what I recorded last year to get an exact number.  We saw 13 different warbler species, scarlet tanagers, orioles and a variety of other beautiful birds.  We picked up Logan to try to call owls at Detweiller Park, but it was a bit early in the evening and they didn't answer.  At Detweiller Golf Course, nearly every tree had at least 5 yellow-rumped warblers.  It was a fun, amazing day and I want to do it again!

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Sometime this winter, our 16-year-old cat Tess moved back into the house.  We've had her since she was a kitten, but she's been living outside (by her own choice) for many, many years.  Before that, she always tried to avoid us as much as possible.  At our old house, she had her own little world in the ceiling pipes in the basement.  When we moved to our current house in 1999, she became a little more social, but has never been the kind of cat who wants to curl up in your lap and be petted.  Tess always did have a wonderful relationship with our nearly 100 pound shepherd mix Brady, but has pretty much hated every other pet we've had.

Not that I would ever be able to pick her up and weigh her, but I'm guessing Tess weighs at most 8 pounds.  That doesn't stop her from completely ruling over the other much bigger pets.  I can only guess that this sudden bravado comes from senility because Tess has always been terrified of the other cats and dogs and has done everything in her power to avoid them.  Suddenly, in the past few months, she started completely standing up for herself and even regularly chasing down the other pets.

Scout the wiener dog is the most amazing.  Scout loves to play fetch over and over and over.  This drives Tess nutty and she will hide and then jump at him, smack him and chase him as he tries to retrieve his toy.  She sometimes chases him for no apparent reason.  He will chase her back and they'll go back and forth, but Tess always ends up winning.  Sometimes she'll even casually stroll over and steal food out of Scout's bowl and then smack him with her paw when he growls at her.  Scout kind of wavers between healthy respect and outright fear of the little old granny kitty.

Princess has only lived with us since late December, but she is the kind of cat who is very much in charge.  I assumed from Day 1 that she would be our alpha pet.  She takes no crap from Scout or Tiger (or even any of the humans) but she does accept Tess' dominance.  Yesterday Princess was basking in a spot of sun in the living room.  Tess walked up and gave a sharp meow.  Princess moved and Tess took over the spot.  Princess never appears afraid, but she does back down to Tess.

Tiger is funny.  He spent his kittenhood chasing Tess.  At first he only wanted to be friends, but this tiny kitten got such a reaction of fear and hissing and yowling that he couldn't help himself- at every opportunity he chased and tormented the crazy old kitty.  Now Tiger is an enormous, obese cat.  He has no fear of Scout or Princess because all he has to do is stand his ground.  They can't move his bulk.  However, when it comes to Tess, Tiger literally quivers with fear.  She regularly forces him to leave a spot or even a room.  The other morning Tiger was on my lap, purring and enjoying being petted.  Tess sauntered into the room and didn't like what she saw.  She gave a sharp meow and Tiger's eyes got huge and scared.  He looked at the little kitty and slowly got up from my lap and crept away.  Tess didn't want the lap spot- she never wants to be petted or fawned over- she just wanted Tiger to go away.

I can't quite imagine what changed to make this cat who spent her first 15 1/2 years avoiding us and the other pets suddenly turn so tough and mean.  It's both amazing and hilarious to watch.  I'd love to get at least some of the Tess and Scout chasing on video.  I know I'll miss it someday.