Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Bridge

Well, I have to admit that Michigan has been a bit of a disappointment.  It's okay, but I don't like it nearly as much as Wisconsin.  I don't find Michigan nearly as pretty or interesting as Wisconsin.  The Lake Michigan Circle Drive (or whatever it's called) signs in Michigan are almost nonexistent.  In Wisconsin, we never even used a map because the signs were so easy to follow.  Also, after days of googling, I still haven't found any good Michigan birding sites or listservs.  Oh, well.

We spent most of Saturday driving north.  Most of the non-moving water north of Grand Rapids was frozen and the farther north we drove, the more snow was on the ground.  We stopped at a Big Boy restaurant in Gaylord for lunch and none of us were too impressed.  It wasn't terrible, but it reminded me of IHOP in that we way overpaid for mediocre food.  Next was one of our major stops of the trip- the Chillermania! book store near Indian River.  It's just a dinky store that only sells Johnathan Rand's books, but it was something Logan REALLY wanted to see.  Rand's series "American Chillers" is what got my son to start reading.  Each book is about a specific, real town in each state that is being invaded by some kind of monster.  They are quick and easy to read, just scary enough to maybe cause a nightmare, but not scar a child for life and interesting enough to keep kids wanting to read more.  I've read a couple of them and while I normally LOVE children's books, these are not for me.  I do like that while the books are aimed mostly at boys, they all have strong girl characters who are just as brave and smart and important as the boys.  Anyway, Logan went through a phase earlier this school year where he was almost never without a book.  He finished all of the American Chillers available at the school and public libraries and the ones I could still find on Amazon and then tried to move on to a series by Rick Riordan that is MUCH more advanced reading than the Chillers.  He got bored and frustrated and stopped reading fiction.  Chillermania! had a bunch of out of print books, along with the earlier Michigan Chillers series that isn't available in Illinois.  We bought him a bunch of new books and now I need to find him some other authors more on his level before he completes these.  I love you, Johnathan Rand, for proving to my son that reading can be fun!

Hahaha, that was quite a long paragraph for a fifteen minute stop...  The Mackinac Bridge was less than an hour north of Chillermania!  Let's just say that Gene was not disappointed and that it was totally worth $8 to drive over twice.  It definitely made his day.  We stopped at the visitor center on the other side of the bridge and when I told the man at the counter I had no idea where we were headed, he loaded me up on Michigan brochures and told us we need to come back in the summer.  We ended up driving to Sault Ste. Marie and checking out the locks.  The kids were beyond excited to look across the water and see Canada.  It really was disappointing that we could have driven 5 minutes and been in Canada if we had passports, but oh, well.  Next time.  It was cold and ugly and starting to spit rain.  Four inches of snow were predicted for the Soo area and rain all day today for northern lower Michigan.  We drove back down to Gaylord and found a Hampton Inn with a pool.  The kids swam for probably two hours and had a good time.  By MapQuest, it's a 5 hour drive back to the Indiana Dunes.  It's supposed to be in the mid-50s and only a small chance of rain today, so I think we'll head that way and spend this afternoon and tomorrow morning in that area before heading home.  That's where we all had the most fun.  It was also the best birding.  It seems that all of the cool winter hawks and owls have already migrated, but the spring birds haven't come this far north yet because of all the ice.  We might as well go where the birds are!  (And the fun beaches for those of us who aren't as into birding...)

Oh yeah, one last thing- It took me a couple of days to identify an amazing bird I saw right around the border of Indiana and Michigan.  It was a huge, hawk-like bird, soaring high in the sky, but its markings were very distinct.  It had a dark silhouette with round, white markings on the wings.  It really couldn't have been more distinctive, but I had no idea what it was.  My good, thorough bird book was buried in the back of the van under all kinds of winter gear.  When I finally dug it out and searched for my bird, I was beyond thrilled to find it was a golden eagle!  A lifer and so far my favorite bird of the trip.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spring Break!

Whoooooo!  We are on Spring Break!  I put in for this time off last July- long before I scheduled or even knew about my foot surgery.  I didn't even remember that I took it off, so when I was freshly returned from 2 1/2 months off work and received the acceptance slip in my work mailbox, I almost changed my mind and said I didn't need it.  I'm glad I didn't do that!  I also somehow still had one day of E-time I needed to use, so I took Thursday off for parent-teacher conferences.

Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time knows how much I HATE parent-teacher conferences!  I've dealt with dramatic teachers, stupid teachers, teachers who didn't like my kid for lame-o reasons, teacher who did like my kid for lame-o reasons and teachers who just didn't care.  We've had a few great teachers over the years, but most of the time I leave conferences wishing I could pull my kids from public school and homeschool.  This round was different.  It was even somewhat pleasant!  Both kids are behaving well, got good grades, understand everything, etc.  Other than Kaylin's English teacher keeping me for well over 30 minutes while she vented about all the standardized tests the middle schoolers have to take (not AT ALL about Kaylin, just a general rant), everything was quick, pleasant and inoffensive.

I spent the rest of Thursday tearing around packing and getting everything ready for a long weekend in Michigan.  Gene got Good Friday off and took Monday off, so we only have 4 days.  We needed to go somewhere we could easily drive and Gene wants to drive over the Mackinac Bridge.  I tried to change his mind and do this trip in July, but we couldn't come up with a better plan.  So far, I'm glad we didn't.  We had a blast yesterday!

We left home Thursday after Gene got home from work and drove a few hours to Indiana.  I wanted to go to Indiana Dunes State Park and we spent the night at a hotel a few miles from the main park entrance.  I was up much earlier than the rest of the gang, so headed over just to scope things out and figure out where we were going.  I hiked a trail from a nature center that turned out to be WAY longer than I expected.  It lead me through birdy forest to the top of a huge dune overlooking Lake Michigan.  It. Was. Awesome.  I think I picked up 6 year birds on my little jaunt!  I also saw about a dozen red-headed woodpeckers, which always makes me happy.  I was back to the hotel a little before 9am and we packed up and headed to the beach.  The kids had a blast playing in the sand, searching for rocks and other treasures and climbing the dunes.  We tried to fly our new barred owl kite, but there was so little breeze, we only got it up for a short time.  The birding at the beach area wasn't fantastic- other than the dozens and dozens of noisy sandhill cranes that kept migrating over :)  We then headed up along Lake Michigan.  We stopped and climbed Mount Baldy, a gigantic dune that the kids tore up and down three or four times while Gene and I took in the view of the gorgeous water and the not so gorgeous neighboring nuclear power plant.  We spent the rest of the day stopping at random beaches and places to hike.  We completely forgot about the time zone change, so we unexpectedly lost an hour.  We stopped a bit early for the night so the kids could swim at the hotel and so we could have our annual gigantic hotel Easter egg hunt.  We had so many eggs this year (no, Mom, I don't count them) I'm guessing housekeeping will find at least one surprise.  Overall, it was a fantastic day!

Our original goal was to get to Traverse City last night, but we were having too much fun on the beaches.  We only made it to Grand Rapids.  So far, Indiana and southwestern Michigan were fairly warm and snow-free.  Just as we were nearing Grand Rapids, I noticed most of the small lakes and borrow pits were iced over and there are still some patches of snow in the shady areas.  The plan for today is to take the highway up to the U.P. and go over the bridge and check out what there is to see.  That way, if it's too cold or not as much fun, we can come back down and have more beach time.  The kids definitely want to stop back at the Indiana Dunes if we have time Monday.  We'll see how it goes!  Right now, I'm going to shower and get dressed and head over to the Meijer store next to our hotel.  Maybe I'll also find somewhere to bird before everyone else is up for the day.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Out like a lion

Well, I can't believe how much personal time I lose by devoting an hour each morning to exercise and another 20+ minutes to preparing my breakfast and lunch.  By the time I do all the other stuff I need and want to do, I have no time at all for blog writing.  And I suppose that's okay, because there's not a whole lot to write about at the moment. 

I've REALLY been enjoying working outside this week.  It's been cold, but it was finally dry and not icy or muddy.  I got a huge amount of yard work and general spring cleaning done in the takin and Aussie yards.  It felt great to be working outside for long periods of time.  The kids have been having a blast playing outside and Scout the wiener dog begs to go out every moment he's in.

Speaking of Scout, I did my first ever home dog grooming session.  The results ain't pretty, but he kept getting the long, fine hair on his feet and legs caked in mud.  One night instead of bathing him yet again, I grabbed the scissors first and chopped off all the muddy fur he'd tolerate.  I won't be offered any dog groomer positions, but the before and after difference in cleaning him is wonderful.  I think you'd have to look pretty closely to see how choppy and bad my grooming was.

We're all looking forward to a Spring Break mini vacation.  I didn't look at a calendar and didn't realize Easter fell on March 31 this year, so Gene took Friday and Monday off and we are planning to go away for a long weekend.  At the moment, our plan is to go to northern Michigan.  I'm not 100% convinced that will happen since pretty much every day in the 10 day forecast they have snow and cold temperatures.  We'll see how things look in a week.  We have boarding scheduled for Scout and Gene really wants to get out of here.  At the moment I don't have a back-up plan.

I need to zip around and do some laundry and other chores, so I guess this entry is just a check-in.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In like a lion

I can't believe it's already mid-March!  I guess time flies when you're having fun.  We've been keeping busy and having a good time with the slightly warmer weather.  I've also been trying hard to get back into an exercise routine.  I'm still only supposed to ride an exercise bike.  Gene's new job makes it impossible to go to the Riverplex before work and life with kids makes it inconvenient and undesirable to go after work.  I bought an exercise bike and have been riding 30 minutes every morning.  I follow that with another 30+ minutes of stretching.  I've also been trying to eat better and I make myself an omelet most mornings.  Combined with all of my usual morning chores and all of the other household things I try to accomplish in the morning, I haven't had any extra time to write.

With the warmer weather bringing open water, I've been birding every weekend.  Two weeks ago, Meghan and I went on the Park District Illinois River birding field trip.  It's a fun day because we're with a bunch of experts who can look at a distant flock of ducks and find five different varieties.  Unfortunately, it was a cold day and a lot of the water was frozen.  We still found five species of geese, three species of swans, a large variety of ducks and many birds of prey.  Despite the cold and wind, we had 50 species for the day.  Not bad! 

Logan and I did the same loop (minus Spring Lake which was a jackpot the week before) last weekend and we found a lot more open water and thousands and thousands of snow geese and greater white-fronted geese at Emiquon.  As always, Logan and I were looking for owls.  We happened upon a great horned owl near Banner and then found a barred owl sitting right by the road at the fish hatchery.  Those two were freebies, but what Logan really wanted was to try to call barred owls again at Sand Ridge.  We waited until dusk and scoped out the area to make sure there were no crows or obvious hawks, etc.  We found an area near a pine forest and he started calling.  Within less than a minute, he had an answer.  We then heard at least three and possibly four owls calling to each other.  We saw one, but the others were deep in the forest.  It was incredibly cool!  I have completely lost count, but we have seen at least 15 owls this year and heard many others.  I don't think I've seen any owls without Logan along.  He is the Owl Whisperer.

At some point I will figure out how to make my 2012 bird list a link so I can put my 2013 list in the sidebar.  It won't happen this weekend because I need to work on some stuff for my zoo keeper group's 2013 favorite animal contest.  I also hope to go birding and have a zillion other things to do. 

Logan's really enjoying flag football again this year.  His team this year is the Sea Hawks.  I tease him that even in football he's a birder because this is the third year he's played and the third year he's had a bird team.  His previous teams were the Ravens and Eagles.  Maybe next year he'll play for the Cardinals.  The teams are much better this year and it seems like all the kids know how to play.  It makes things much more exciting and fun to watch.

Both kids just finished their week of (stupid, annoying) achievement tests.  I'm glad they are over.  Apparently, a large chunk of the schools' funding is dependant on the outcome of these tests, so the teachers completely flip out and lose all of their common sense and freak out the students.  This year, one of Kaylin's teachers sent the kids to the bathroom and told them they wouldn't be able to go again until after a certain time.  She then gave them each a bottle of water which they all sucked down with a snack.  Shockingly, a large number of kids had to pee again, but the teacher wouldn't let them go.  They were given the water as a special treat because of the testing, but when the inevitable happened and they had to use the bathroom again, they weren't allowed.  So instead of concentrating on the test, Kaylin was mostly thinking about how much she had to pee.  Brilliant, teachers!  This goes right along with in the weeks before the testing when ALL they do is drill for the tests and the kids are extra bored, when they get loud in the halls or cafeteria they are banned from talking and going outside.  Instead of being allowed to burn off their excess energy, they build up more and more and then get in huge trouble (I'm talking the entire 7th grade class, not my kid) and are banned from talking and going outside.  To me this is such a huge DUH!  It seems you would schedule EXTRA time to burn off energy during testing prep time, not ban it all.  I really have to wonder if it was like the good old days and they just took the stupid achievement tests without all the prep and stress and special t-shirts and snacks if they wouldn't do about the same?

Ugh.  It's only 1:30am and I need to try to get some more sleep.  I have a long day ahead with work, being in charge of a fundraiser bake-off and then an Audubon meeting tonight.  Too bad I'm wide awake.