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.