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.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Usual

Due to unfortunate circumstances at work, I've got septic tanks on the brain.  My grandpa had a septic tank business, so I feel I should know more than I do, but I'm pretty sure he delivered and installed the tanks and didn't clean them out.  He retired when I was around 8, so I guess I was too little to know much of what he did.  Let's just say that even though I clean up excrement for a living, I'm sure glad that I don't have to clean out septic tanks!  What an amazingly disgusting job.  My mind is officially blown.

Other than witnessing the removal of many years of solid big cat waste from a giant tank in the ground, life's been good.  The kids are in their final quarter of school and are starting to get squirrelly.  Both are ready to be done with school and start Camp Zone.  I can't remember Kaylin's title this year, but she will either be a Counselor in Training or a Junior Counselor.  Maybe they are the same?  Either way, she has big ideas and can't wait for summer.  Both kids are playing outside at every opportunity.  Logan is completely disgusted with the neighbor kids who often prefer staying in and playing video games.  He is constantly out playing basketball, hitting baseballs, swinging golf clubs or just bouncing balls on the driveway.  Logan sometimes plays video games, but usually only when it's dark or raining.

And speaking of rain, Gene and I both are done with it.  I know we need it, but we are both sick of working in the mud.  I'm so done with mud I'd rather go back to the frozen winter than deal with this rainy, rainy week.  Come on hot summer and dry ground!

As usual, Logan and I have been doing plenty of birding.  Over the kids' spring break, we did our favorite Banner, Emiquon, Chautauqua loop and found a great horned owl on a nest.  It was one of the cutest things I've ever seen, with the owl hiding at the fork of a tree with only her ear tufts visible.  Meghan and I went back several days later and she was in the same place.  I'd love to go back and see the fluffy owlets!  Last weekend, Logan and I went to the Bloomington area and checked out Lakes Evergreen and Bloomington and Ewing Park.  It was a windy day and the water was choppy, but we still saw several common loons.  Golden-crowned kinglets were EVERYWHERE and we got some great looks at these tiny, but colorful birds.  Saturday night we hiked deep into Singing Woods looking for owls.  We saw one flying shortly after we arrived and then heard two great horned owls, but couldn't see them.  We were so wrapped up in trying to locate the owls, we didn't notice how dark it was getting and we ended up making a looong trek back to the car in the dark.  With no trails, it was a bit of a thorny adventure.  Next time we'll start back a little earlier.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Back Home!

I headed out early Monday morning for some birding.  My first stop was a small park with a pond very close to our hotel.  The pond was maybe half the size of the lagoon at Glen Oak Park, but there were 5 kinds of ducks, including one white-winged scoter.  I also found several bluebirds and woodpeckers.  If I lived in that area, I'd bird that park every day!  I then headed over to Indiana Dunes State Park.  On Friday, there was absolutely no wind and the water was calm.  Monday the wind was almost unbearable and the waves on the lake were big enough to surf.  The water was so choppy the only obvious birds were gulls.  I headed back to the nature center and hiked a trail to the top of another dune.  I also walked to the back of the nature center and found a large selection of feeders attracting a huge selection of birds.  I think between the park and the nature center feeders, I recorded nearly 40 species of birds.  It was a great start to my day!

I made it back to the hotel by 8:30am.  Gene and the kids were just getting up so we all had hotel breakfast before loading our stuff in the car.  Logan was making himself a waffle and for some reason grabbed the waffle iron and burned three of his fingertips.  He has been making his own hotel waffles for years!  I have no idea why he was injured this time, but I bet he won't do that again!  He has nice, big blisters on the tip of each of the three fingers and was in a lot of pain most of Monday.  Fortunately, today he feels fine and the burns and blisters don't hurt at all.  We got everything packed and loaded and headed back to the state park.  The van smelled absolutely horrible and we realized that Logan had picked up a deer leg bone on Friday and it was starting to stink.  He tossed it out of the car, but the smell lingered for a while.  We agreed that unless it's a really amazing skull, there will be no more bones in the car :)

The kids tried to play on the beach for a while, but it was so windy and cold it was just miserable.  We headed back to the nature center and hiked the same trail I did earlier in the day.  We then went inside the nature center.  A couple had stopped by with their pair of golden retrievers and a special surprise- ten 3-day-old puppies.  They were adorable and we got to look at them and pet them!  We then hung out in the feeder observation room for a while before heading out and starting for home a little after noon.  The drive home was quick and uneventful.  We picked up Scout and headed home to the cats.  As always, it was good to return home.

This morning I had a recheck appointment with my podiatrist.  I was taken off all work restrictions and don't have another recheck for two months.  Yay!  I then took my doctor release to the zoo and put up our zoo keeper group's favorite animal contest.  That was something that was hanging over my head for so long it was great to have it done.  Well, for April anyway...  I spent the rest of the day running the kids around and taking them to Galena Marina and Detweiller Park.  I'm trying to rest up and force myself to go get groceries tonight.  Right now if I had my way I'd just take a nap.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Back to the Dunes!

Yesterday was Easter Sunday.  I think I mentioned before that when we planned this long weekend trip we hadn't looked at a calendar and had no idea it was Easter weekend because the kids' spring break is ALWAYS the first week of April and it didn't even occur to me that Easter would be the last Sunday of March.  Whoops.  I'm sad we missed the family dinner and an egg hunt with cousins, but I'm glad we got away. 

For the past several years since Kaylin has refused to miss school for family vacation, we have only taken family trips during the busiest times of the year.  Hotel rates are outrageous and prices are jacked up on everything.  Northern Michigan on Spring Break?  Not so much...  I'm thinking we might be the ONLY family who decided to do this :)  We've had absolutely no trouble finding hotels and when we do, they're like $60 a night, including a hot breakfast and an indoor pool.  Right now we're staying at a halfway decent Comfort Inn in Porter, Indiana, and when I drove around the building (on a return trip from a nearby park with a large pond full of ducks) at 8pm, there were only 10 cars parked at this 3 floor hotel minutes from Indiana Dunes.  The kids had the pool to themselves for the hour I sat with them and then one family with two small children came and a group of adults came to use the hot tub.  Not bad!  Also, we didn't go ANYWHERE that wasn't free (including several beaches that charge for entry in the summer) so this has been a pretty cheap vacation.  Of course, we did go to Northern Michigan at a time that's still cold and snowy...

My final impression of Michigan is that it is the Land of Litter and Christmas Tree Farms.  If I drive past a Christmas tree farm in Illinois, it is such a novelty I think it's cute.  In Michigan, it seems like 90% of the trees you pass are or were Christmas tree farms.  I have no idea, but I'm guessing the tree farms are better for the environment than corn and beans (especially the ones that have grown up), but they still made me sad.  The highway litter was abundant and disgusting.  To be fair, it's probably been covered with snow for months, but man, I have never seen such a dirty state except maybe the panhandle of Texas.  I was very much expecting Michigan to be similar to Wisconsin- clean and beautiful- and that I would love it.  I definitely didn't love it!  I would like to go back to the U.P. someday and go to the nature preserves and Whitefish Point. However, I think I'll drive up through Wisconsin.

Yesterday, once we finally made it out of the Land of Litter and back into the Indiana Dunes area, we stopped at a nice beach where you could walk way out to a lighthouse.  I found my lifer white-winged scoters along with MANY red-breasted mergansers and horned grebes.  The kids played in the sand and we finally got the owl kite up.  It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, and we stayed at the beach for at least a couple of hours, before heading to our hotel where we ordered pizza and the kids swam for two more hours.  As soon as it's light, I'm heading out birding by myself while Gene and the kids sleep in and then we're going back to Indiana Dunes State Park for a few hours before we head home.  I'm excited because since it's April 1, every bird I see will be a month bird.  We need to make it home before 6pm to pick up Scout the wiener dog.  Other than the very long drives, this has been a fun vacation.  Both kids want to come back to Indiana Dunes ASAP, so it's great that we got to spend half of our time here.  I'm looking forward to several more days off at home and have a huge mental checklist that I'm sure I'll fail to complete :)