Saturday, February 23, 2013

February Birding

Birding in Illinois in February isn't always terribly exciting or productive, but I've had some great times in the past couple of weeks that could only be enjoyed in the middle of winter.  Last Friday, Meghan and I headed to Clinton Lake.  I read several blogs by people who bird Clinton Lake regularly.  I emailed one of them and she sent me back a long, detailed report of good places to find birds.  It was a cold, windy day and while most of the lake was open (meaning not covered with ice) the water was pretty choppy so the variety and numbers of waterfowl we were hoping to see were not there.  We did see plenty of birds of prey, including a huge, beautiful kestrel and a great close-up look at a male northern harrier.  We enjoyed the sights and the change of scenery and will definitely return in spring because the potential is amazing!

Saturday evening Logan wanted to look for owls.  Winter is the best time to find owls because the trees are bare and the owls are much easier to spot.  We headed north of town to Singing Woods, a completely undeveloped area owned by the park district.  We bushwhacked back through the woods to the edge of a ravine.  It was freezing cold and almost dark and we were both getting hungry.  Logan tried a few barred owl calls with no success.  The forest at Singing Woods is much different than Detweiller Park and Sand Ridge where we have previously found barred owls.  I told him to try a great horned owl call instead.  Within moments of his first call, he had two great horned owls  answering.  They were pretty far off, but we were able to locate both and watch them until we could no longer handle the cold.  It was amazing!  I'm pretty sure Logan is convinced that he is the Owl Whisperer.  I believe that as well.  :)

This Friday, Meghan and I did our usual Illinois River birding loop with a few major bonuses.  Our coworker Alyssa had the day off and came along with us for the first time.  Alyssa's big goal was to see bald eagles and we saw plenty.  We also saw dozens of swans, thousands and thousands of snow geese, lots of ducks, snow buntings and a lovely selection of mammals including deer, a coyote and a RIVER OTTER!!!!!!!!! 

The Jake Wolf Memorial Fish Hatchery is located close to Lake Chautauqua and on the edge of Sand Ridge State Forest.  It's a good place to bird because of all the fish ponds and the fact that it's deep in the woods and not terribly far from the river.  Still, Meghan and I usually skip it unless we want nice restrooms.  Alyssa had never been there, wanted to see it and we couldn't possibly have been more happy with our visit!  The hatchery has a very nice museum area with overlooks of the different hatchery areas and a wonderful overlook of some of the outdoor fish ponds.  Most were frozen, but two were open and Meghan and I were concentrating on one that was filled with ducks and gulls.  Alyssa isn't quite as into birding and was (fortunately) scanning the entire area when she spotted a river otter who had apparently found a way through the fence and was majorly raiding the other open pond.  We watched for a good hour as he pulled fish after fish out of that pond.  It got to the point where he brought a couple of fish to the shore and just left them for the waiting crows and eagles.  He was definitely having fun.  Otters can be very secretive, so it was AMAZING to get this incredible, long view of one in the middle of the day.  It totally made my day!  I tell my kids over and over, you never know what you might see- maybe nothing- but if you don't get outside and look around, you'll never see anything.  Of all the times I've walked the levee at Banner Marsh at dusk and before dawn, of all the times I've been in the right places, I finally get my river otter at the freaking fish hatchery in the middle of the day.  Wow.

Next weekend is the Park District/Peoria Audubon Illinois River duck tour.  It's great because you have a dozen experts with spotting scopes pointing out everything they see.  I'm hoping that my duck list for the year will grow considerably and I'm pretty excited.  Oh, and I did tell the people at the fish hatchery about the otter and I do know what that possibly means.  I like to pretend like they will live trap it and move it to a better location.  I'm just glad they didn't go out and shoot it while we were watching...

Monday, February 18, 2013


I think my family is very fortunate.  We are all relatively healthy.  Gene and I both have jobs we love.  We can easily afford all of the basics of life and more.  We live within our means and don't have debt other than our car and house payments.  We appreciate what we have and try to teach our kids to do the same. 

I'm definitely not an optimist.  I am not capable of living in a world of bunnies and rainbows where I believe everything is always going to be alright.  I'm also not a pessimist who lives in constant negativity that all will go wrong.  I am a realist who knows that nothing is guaranteed.  We can try our best to eat right and exercise, but that doesn't GUARANTEE good health.  We can work hard and do our best for our employers, but that doesn't GUARANTEE that our jobs will always be there.  My personal way of living is to enjoy what I have today, but not go overboard in my enjoyment so I/my family will not be completely devastated if the worst happens tomorrow.  My point is, at this moment in time I am fully aware of how fortunate I am. 

Saturday morning, Kaylin and I were shopping for groceries at Walmart.  We needed to complete this annoying chore so we could get on with the fun part of our day, which was going to hike and play by the river.  We were finished with our grocery shopping and heading to the check-out when I noticed that the Easter display was being put out on the other side of the store.  Mmmmm, let's go look at the candy!  We headed over and were excitedly looking at the Peeps and the Cadbury Mini Eggs, when a girl in her early twenties walked up and sort of got in my face.  She introduced herself and told me that God had just spoken to her and told her that I could use a blessing.  Does that sound familiar?  Um, familiar?  What is this girl talking about?!  Uh, no.  She then asked if she could pray a prayer of blessing with me.  I was pretty creeped out and told her no, thank you.  She then tried to hand me a $15 Walmart gift card as proof of God's blessing for me.  I politely refused the card and she got annoyed and almost angry, insisting I take this blessing from God.  I then felt forced to explain to her that I absolutely DID NOT NEED $15 and would she please give the card to SOMEONE ELSE who could really appreciate it and use it?!  She stormed off, completely annoyed, and Kaylin and I stood in shock of what had just happened.

I stood there shocked and offended, trying to think how to explain this to my young daughter.  I mean, this girl was trying to do a good deed, but it was obvious (to us) that she had gotten it wrong and then went about her task in a very wrong way.  Why would this girl choose a mother and daughter with a full cart of groceries, who were happily chattering about Easter candy as her target to bless?  I then noticed what we were wearing.  Wow.  We were dressed for going to the muddy, cold river.  We were wearing several layers of old clothes.  Kaylin was especially poorly dressed and I hadn't given it a thought because we were just going to Walmart.  (Hahaha, I'll have to check to see if we made the People of Walmart website!)  We laughed and laughed about our hobo outfits and as we moved toward the check-out, I noticed our girl scoping out her next blessing victim.  I wonder if she is complaining to her friends (or blogging) about the crazy woman who refused her blessing when it was soooooo obvious she needed it?  How my evil pride got in the way of doing good for my daughter?  She was certainly shocked at my refusal of the gift card.

I feel bad about our encounter and wonder what I should have done differently?  Looking back, I wish I had re-approached her and explained that we were dressed for playing outside in the mud and not for a day of shopping.  I don't feel bad at all for not taking the gift card, but I do wish I would not have made her feel bad- even though it was unintentional.  I guess this was about 2 minutes of time and I didn't have time to think about or process anything until we were long gone from Walmart.  She judged a book by its cover and made a poor judgment.  I'm just glad we mostly stuck to the grocery aisles because I bet there were several more in her group and we could have been approached multiple times!  I guess I'll be more aware of how I dress for Walmart from now on!  :)

Saturday, February 16, 2013


My follow-up doctor appointment didn't go as well as I hoped.  I wanted to be taken off all work restrictions and meds, but Doc wants me to stay on both for a while longer.  I don't have another appointment for 6 weeks, so I guess it will be at least that long.  Ugh.  I hate having work restrictions, but I REALLY hate the meds.  My body does not react well to constant NSAIDs.  I'm going to refill my prescription, but I'm only going to take it on work days and I'll probably try "forgetting" sometimes to see if I can live without it. 

I've now been back at work full time for over a month and I feel like I'm back in work shape- meaning I don't feel weak or tire quickly.  I rarely have any heel pain (my major pre-surgical complaint) but my ankle and calf still get stiff quickly and I have pain in my left hip when I walk around a large store with concrete floors.  I don't know what to do about it other than keep up my stretching routine.  Hee hee, I'm constantly singing "What a drag it is getting old."  I try not to think about 20-30+ years down the road because I see myself in a Hoveround scooter, cruising up and down the street picking up litter with my free grabby stick.  Maybe I can wave my stick at the passing cars and holler "Slow down!"

Logan starts flag football today.  He loves football, but doesn't want to play "real" football because he doesn't want to get hurt.  Gene and I were disappointed at first, but after hearing my cousin talk about what a major time commitment JFL is, I'm more than okay with his decision.  Flag football is one hour a week and always indoors at the Y close to our house.  It's fun to watch and the game times can't go over because the next set of teams needs the gym for the next hour.  Today is practice only, with games starting next week.

Between football practice and a Bradley basketball game at 1pm, Gene and Logan will be gone most of the day.  I'm hoping to do something fun with Kaylin (and probably Kira.)  I tease them constantly about taking them to "flute circle" at Forest Park Nature Center.  I'm not sure exactly what flute circle is, but I think some guy who carves Native American flutes comes to sell his flutes and teach people how to play.  I saw it in the paper once, joked about going and Kaylin's reaction was so severely opposed that I have teased her about going ever since.  If that's happening today, we're going for real.  Otherwise we'll probably just go to Barnes and Noble and Sweet CeCe's.

Tiger the morbidly obese cat is sitting between my my arms, trying to block my keyboard.  He's staring deeply into my eyes and giving a sharp meow at intervals to let me know 5am has arrived and it is feeding time.  It's pretty creepy.  He's been on a very strict (and expensive) diet for ~2 years now and hasn't lost any weight.  The vet says he'll never lose weight.  She said we could run expensive tests to confirm he has whatever issue causes this, but it would be a waste of money because nothing will help.  Meanwhile, he's getting a high protein dry food that will hopefully delay the inevitable onset of diabetes.  When Tiger knows it's feeding time, he will literally herd me into the kitchen.  I can't tell you how many times I've absent-mindedly headed back to the bathroom and he has stepped in front of me to herd me into the kitchen and I trip over him like an unexpected cinder block in my path.  Yeah, I broke down and took a break and fed the poor guy.  I think he was so hungry it hurt :)

Monday, February 11, 2013


I've now been back at work for a month and my feet are still feeling really good.  After being on my feet all day they are tired and I want to sit for a while, but I'm not in much pain.  Before surgery, I came home and forced myself to immediately shower because once I sat down it hurt too much to get up again.  It probably sounds silly and pathetic, but I can remember nights when I literally crawled back to bed so I wouldn't have to walk.  I am not a drama queen and I HATE drawing extra attention to myself- especially if it is to showcase physical weakness- so I was not faking or being dramatic.  I can only imagine how stressful it was for my body to respond to the constant pain.  I have a follow-up appointment with my doctor on Thursday.  I'm hoping he'll fully release me for work (I still have a restriction that keeps me from getting a load of hay or putting away a truckload of meat or grain, but I can do all of my usual day-to-day stuff.)  I also hope I'll be able to stop taking my arthritis drug.  I don't need it for pain, but I'm taking it to help prevent inflammation.  I have no idea what the doc will say about either thing.  I have learned my lesson and will not speculate!

I was at a work meeting, sort of half-listening to a discussion about Zoo Camp, when it hit me hard that this will be the last year Kaylin will qualify.  I was shocked!  I mean, when I started back at the zoo, I was dropping her off at pre-K before I went to work and suddenly she's almost in 8th grade!  Zoo Camp is a week-long summer day camp.  Even though I work at the zoo, it would have been impossible to send Kaylin to Zoo Camp before the 7th/8th grade session because the hours didn't work out to use Camp Zone as before and after care.  This year, I have it worked out with both the zoo and the park district camp.  The biggest issue is that Zoo Camp gets out at 3:30 and even though Camp Zone meets right in front of the zoo, they are sometimes not back from swimming or whatever until 3:45 or even slightly later.  Kaylin will be 13 and if she can't go directly to Camp Zone, she will be allowed to help clean up Zoo Camp for 30 minutes.

When I called the park district person to see if this plan would work, I was also surprised to find out that not all 13-year-olds are allowed to attend Camp Zone.  Kaylin will be considered a junior counsellor and will wear a counsellor shirt.  I still have to pay for her to attend because park district volunteers have to be at least 14, but next year she can attend for free as a working volunteer.  When I go to sign the kids up for Camp Zone (my summer day care ever since I returned to work at the zoo) I will need a staff or management person to override and allow Kaylin's entry because she's technically too old.  Wow.  I wonder how Logan will feel about being a junior counsellor?  I hate the idea of leaving a 13-year-old home alone all day for four days while I'm working!  (My days off are Friday/Saturday.)  Oh, and I also plan to send Logan to Zoo Camp, but the shorter hours of his session make it impossible until he can be in the 7th/8th grade session.  My busiest work time of the day is between 4 and 5pm, so it would be really unfair to my coworkers for me to leave early every day for a week.  I would have to take a week of vacation just to send my kid to Zoo Camp.  Nope.

My past two weekends have either been insanely cold or wet and muddy so I haven't done much birding.  Logan and I want to go to Singing Woods to look for owls, but there aren't trails and I thought last weekend would have been a muddy mess.  (It was also cold and windy and I wussed out.)  The month is almost half over and I think I've only gotten one year bird for February!  Meghan and I are planning a birding trip this weekend, so hopefully I'll see a bunch of different ducks or something.  I need to get crack-a-lackin'!

Well, it's almost 5am.  I better wrap up my computer time and start on my 30 minutes of foot stretches.  One last quick tidbit- I weighed the tiger cubs last week.  They are now 7 months old and the largest cub was 117 pounds!  My babies are growing too fast :)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

THAT house

I'm trying to be better about updating the blog, but seriously, when there's nothing to write about, there's nothing to write about.  We spent the week working or going to school.  It was very cold.  But wait, wasn't the first part of the week unseasonably warm?  I don't remember back that far because this week we worked and went to school and Friday was cold enough that our hot water line froze.  Gene has since thawed and insulated the pipes and we have showered and washed dishes and appreciated the hot water we normally take for granted.  Otherwise, we pretty much worked and went to school.

This weekend, we all stayed home.  It was too cold for birding or going to the driving range.  I ran a bunch of errands, but I couldn't come up with anything better to do than come on home afterward.  I thought about going to a movie, but when I read the listings I'd never heard of any of them and nothing really stuck out as worth seeing.  I didn't have any work or AAZK obligations.  I cut Logan's hair and Scout's nails.  I paid bills and balanced the checkbook and did lots of laundry and a dozen other boring chores.  Saturday was mostly spent wondering why all of the neighborhood children hang out at our house?

Gene and I aren't the cool, fun parents who drop everything to play with the kids.  We aren't the awesome, understanding parents who the neighborhood kids will come to for advice.  We aren't the screaming, nasty parents that scare the kids.  We are boring and invisible, going about our business and occasionally objecting when things get too loud or messy.  I suppose that one advantage of our house is that EVERYTHING is kid and pet friendly.  We don't have breakable knick-knacks or a formal living room where the pile of the carpet must be vacuumed just so.  We have enough pets that we're not worried about the kids ruining the furniture or the carpet.  We encourage creativity in crafts and cooking as long as you CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF.

I remember when Kaylin was one or two I was visiting a friend and marveling at her back yard swimming pool, sand box, playhouse and swing set.  The adjustable basketball hoop out front and the garage full of sports equipment and toys.  I joked that she was living in kiddie paradise.  She immediately replied that she WANTED to be the neighborhood fun house and hangout.  She went on and on about how much she loves having the kids' friends over and when all of the kids are at her house she can keep an eye on them.  We then discussed how instead of spending money on vacations, they spend money hosting parties and making their home as fun as possible so they don't ever want to leave.  As a staunch introvert who loves nothing more than a road trip, I was secretly shocked and appalled.  I immediately vowed to NOT be that house and to take my kids on as many adventures as time and money allowed.

I have upheld my end of the bargain, but the kids keep flocking over.  Saturday I was fed up with the noise and constant commotion and asked 13-year-old Kira "Why our house?"  She replied that our house is the most fun.  We have the best pets (true!) and everyone can run around and play and be noisy.  Her parents like to nap on Saturdays and want silence.  Well, can't you be as loud as you want next door?  The adults are deaf!  She agreed that they could be loud, but they can't run around because the obnoxious dog chases them.  Last time it bit her butt and ripped her jeans.  (Yeah, that dog is pretty awful- I have a chipped tooth to prove it.)  So basically, we're not doing anything right or special, we just don't nap constantly or have a crazy, awful dog.  Sigh.  In the blink of an eye the kids will be grown and out of the house.  I wonder if I'll miss the crazy commotion of all their friends?  Probably not.