For the Birds

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Iowa is great for bird watching!

In fact, though I’ve always loved birds (especially ducks — they’re my all-time favorite animal), I had no idea how much I loved them until we moved here.

Birds are amazing. I love to watch them fly and land, peck, hop, run and more than anything I love to listen to them sing. It’s so beautiful waking up to their joyful song amidst the morning breeze and rustling of the trees.

My husband and I have really embraced our new aviary friends and even purchased a bird feeder (then another soon after) so that we can appreciate the birds even more. Now we get to watch them from our front window! And since spring has sprung, it seems we have become a bird haven. It’s awesome.

I even started appreciating some more than others. I love this one particular red bird best who visits us. Jason says it’s a cardinal. I don’t really care what he is; I just know I love him. He’s a brilliant reddish orange. And I adore this group of small black birds who fly by every day and land in the field across the street. They’re not just black; they look like they’re wearing black, red and yellow striped tuxedo jackets — so stylish! And when they extend their wings, it’s majestic. I also love these cute little bright yellow finches. They are so cute and happy. Jason really likes these cool looking blue ones, though I forget what he called them. And orioles… we’ve seen a lot of those and he and I both like those, too.

Anyway, we’ve been getting curious about which birds have been visiting us most and in learning more about them. So we started researching. In doing so, we’ve learned a lot of neat local bird factoids.

But of everything I’ve learned on the topic, the names have to be my favorite. Some seem pretty standard and I’ve certainly heard, if not seen, most of them before. But others… well, others are FAR more interesting. And by “interesting” I mean hilarious.

Seriously, whoever came up with these names was either high at the time, had their minds in the gutter or simply had a sick sense of humor.

Either way, I appreciate the outcome.

Here’s a list of my favorite funny bird names, some new and others newly appreciated now that I’m thinking about it:

  • Dickcissel
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Swallow
  • Chickadee
  • Killdeer
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Loon
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Coot
  • Magpie
  • Wood Thrush
  • Red Faced Booby
  • Grosbeak
  • Zitting Cisticola
  • Scrub Jay
  • Clark’s Nutcracker
  • Northern Screamer
  • Brown Trembler
  • Fluffy Backed Tit Babbler
  • Cuckoo
  • Shag
  • Thicknees
  • Agile Tit-tyrant
  • Morepork
  • Wild Turkey
  • Turdus
  • Cock-of-the-rock
  • Penduline Tits
  • Wrentit

Seriously. Who comes up with this stuff?!?!

Monty

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My husband and I planted our first tree today in our backyard.

In fairness, my husband did most of (read: all) the hard work of lugging and digging and scooping and planting while I played with our daughter and took pictures.

What a wonderful feeling to have planted our own tree. Another first for us. And certainly a first for me. Growing up in the city, I never had the pleasure of doing something so naturistic (is that a word?) until now.

I feel so lucky to have such a wonderful husband and child. We love each other so much and that love grows stronger each day. Isn’t that what life is all about? We are building such a beautiful life here together in Iowa in our new home. Everyday life has its ups and downs and we do our best to savor the highs while working together to get through the lows. Things aren’t always easy and breezy and, like you, we have our challenges. Some days are harder than others but having each other makes it all worthwhile.

Today is a good day.

We planted a tree.

He’s a Montmorency Cherry tree but since that’s a mouthful, we’ve decided to name him Monty. I’m looking forward to watching him grow and perhaps planting more. He will make a nice addition to our family and our home.

Just Another Day in Iowa

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The other day,  while on my way to meet up with my super-awesome sister-in-law, Randi, with plans to tag along with her and participate in my first ever cookie exchange, the strangest thing happened…

Well strange by my apparently somewhat sheltered city girl standards anyway.

I was alone in my car driving down (or would it have been up?) Highway 34 (just past 360th Street) toward Carson from Malvern when I saw something that seemed rather odd in the not-too-distant distance. While it didn’t appear to be a car or vehicle of any kind, I wasn’t quite sure at first what it was. But whatever it was, it was definitely in my lane and coming my way fast.

Thinking maybe it was just something or someone passing something or someone else, I looked to the left of it and in the other lane there was a caravan of vehicles all bunched up beside and behind it, moving slowly, sort of like a funeral procession. I was perplexed.

I glanced back and as it continued getting closer, I realized it was a horse.

A fucking horse!!

And (damn it) it was coming right at me! If having a horse galloping full-speed-ahead into the direction of my front bumper wasn’t bad enough already, no one was riding it. I didn’t know what to do. So I slowed down and eventually came to a complete stop right there in the middle of the road. Then I did what I think anyone in my position would have done: I closed my eyes and hoped for the best. And in the event that the horse had exceptional hearing or was taking subliminal requests, I whispered the words, “Please jump!”

When I opened my eyes, the horse was in the other lane passing me.

Feeling happy that it hadn’t actually attempted to jump over me, since in retrospect it may have miscalculated and crashed through my sunroof, I removed my foot from the brake and, with my heart still beating out of my chest, pressed gently on the gas pedal and speed dialed my husband.

He and I talked for a few minutes and I eventually calmed down as he casually said things like, “Welcome to Iowa.” After assuring him that I was indeed fine and so were the five dozen homemade baby cheesecakes I’d been transporting, I told him I loved him and hung up the phone.

But then, mere (not mare… get it?) minutes later, before I had the chance to fully relax, something else happened. I spotted deer (plural) darting across the road ahead of me.

I’m not going to lie. I was a bit startled by them at first, having heard horror stories about deer-in-headlights type accidents and having seen my fair share of Allstate Mayhem (I love that guy!) commercials. But still I felt confident that I could handle the situation. Shit, I’d just survived my first potential head on horse collision! Compared to that, this was just Bambi (or Bambis?).

Besides, I’d been warned about this. My husband and practically every other member of our family and close friends had been warning me since we moved here about the dangers of deer this time of year. And they taught (or at least told) me what to do if I happened to encounter one (or in this case, about eight or so).

No problem. I got this! After all, I’m an Iowan now. So I simply slowed down (again), put on my hazard lights this time, stayed as alert as possible and carefully watched back and forth from side to side for more deer. Easy-peasy.

It wasn’t scary. On the contrary, it was beautiful. What I got was the equivalent of a front row center seat as these delicate, majestic creatures jumped one by one clear across the road and darted off into a field. It was probably one of the coolest, most peaceful experiences I’ve ever had while driving.

Well… That was until I saw the white pickup truck coming from the opposite direction screech to an abrupt halt onto the side of the road. The truck had stopped so fast that I thought for a second that maybe it had hit one of the deer. Suddenly, I was concerned for the driver and any potential passengers, as well as the deer. But my concern quickly morphed into pure panic when two men in bright orange vests flung open the doors to the truck and jumped out wielding weapons. Before I could think or even blink, one of them ran into my lane, waved his gun in the air (like he just didn’t care) and immediately opened fire!

Are you effing kidding me, Iowa?

For the record, he missed. And for obvious reasons I’m totally relieved.

So we’re clear, I don’t stand on either side of the gun issue. Americans currently have the right to bear arms and, while I choose not to do so (and certainly not without the correct bra), I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s rights or strike up a debate. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no fan of violence and I adore cute furry things with faces just as much as the next gal, but I also occasionally like to eat them. Sorry. And, that said, I’m grateful to farmers and hunters and all other people who get their hands dirty so that I don’t have to.

But even though I have no personal, political or moral dilemma or issue with hunters or guns, I’d prefer not being shot by one. So if you enjoy hunting and/or if you’re planning to shoot a gun for any reason, please spare me the details and (for the love of God) aim that thing away from my face.

This was not my first time in the presence of an overly anxious, obviously desperate dude with a gun. I don’t mean to brag, but when I was 17-years-old, I got held up at gun point. That’s right, bitches. I apologize; I’m not sure what just came over me. That bitches comment just felt right in the moment. Anyhoo, I was a freshman in college at the time, working the register at a Wawa (if you’re unfamiliar, it’s kind of like a 7-11 only better) in Philadelphia.

It was right smack in the middle of the day, during the dinner rush when a man pointed a gun at me and told me that if I gave him all the money in my drawer, then he wouldn’t shoot me in the face. Once I pushed past the panic and remembered how to open it, I gave him the entire drawer. It and the sum of its contents were not worth my face or my life.

In case you’re wondering, I did not see my life flash before my eyes that day, nor did I have any sort of out of body experience, probably because I had zero plans of losing my life that day over a drawer full of hoagie money. Nope. Not me. Sure, I was scared beyond comprehension. I was only 17. But I managed to refrain from passing out, throwing up or shitting my pants.

And despite my latest Iowa encounters with the runaway horse, deer and even the overzealous hunters, I did none of those things the other day either.

I admit that I briefly considered running over the dude with the gun just to teach him not to phuck with a Philly girl. But I quickly thought better of it. I know better than to antagonize an armed and possibly intoxicated a-hole.

So I opted instead to speed up and give him a friendly Iowa wave (and not just my favorite finger) as I passed him and his buddy as-quickly-as-possible. I needed to get on my way. Like I said, I had a cookie exchange to get to.

Have you ever seen a cow riding a bicycle?

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Well I have and it was awesome.

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays (3rd favorite to be exact). And ever since way back when I was a kid, I’ve always loved getting dressed up for it, typically alternating clever and disturbing costumes year after year.

Against his will, I usually “urge” my husband to dress up too. In fact throughout our relationship, I’ve tortured him with one awful costume after the next. He claims he hates it. But I don’t believe him since he almost always gives in to whatever I want. One year, I made him dress up like a turd. Yep. It was a group theme. I made the costumes myself. Corn and all. He was a good sport about it… even though it was a little shitty of me. Another year, we were simply ketchup and mustard. He said “no” at first but eventually he agreed and there we were, two condiments at a New York City bar together. He even let me be mustard. That’s love. But he drew the line the year I wanted him to dress up like a vampire. I didn’t see the big deal, really. Honestly he was fine with it until I admitted I planned to dress as a tampon.

Whether I’ve been single, half of a couple or part of a group, I’ve always had fun on Halloween. But being a mom at Halloween is the greatest. Playing dress up with my daughter is so much fun. And rather than simply play dress up once, I get to do four straight days of Halloween festivities with her this year. She and I have already been trick or treating twice in two different towns and it’s not even the 31st yet. If you ask me, that’s pretty awesome.

She’s being a cow for Halloween this year. It seemed fitting since we’ve seen plenty of real cows since moo-ving to Iowa. Like most 2-year-olds, she loves mooing back at them. But she is by far the cutest cow I’ve ever seen!

Today, I put my little cow in her child seat and we went for a bike ride together through town. That was a first! I mean, have you ever seen a cow on a bicycle? I would (probably) never have done that in New York City. But it was great! And you know what? She had a blast being a cow on a bicycle.

Admittedly since Lyla entered our lives, I’ve focused more energy on her costumes than mine or my husband’s. Last year, I didn’t even bother getting dressed up. My husband was stoked when he learned he didn’t have to get dressed up either. Instead, I focused all my creative energy on our daughter. She was a strawberry. Simple enough. But. Cutest. Strawberry. Ever!

My husband doesn’t know it yet but this year, we’ll be making a soft comeback as a family. To expand upon our daughter’s costume, all three of us will be dressing as cows tomorrow night at his parents’ Halloween party.

It’ll be our first Halloween together as a family in Iowa. I can’t skip this one!

But rather than make him dress from head to toe in plush cow apparel like our daughter, I’m simply giving him a button that says “Moo” and a hat that says, “More cowbell!” So yes, I’m going easy on him. But next year… well, that’s a surprise… but if he thought being a vampire was bad!

Tomorrow night, I’ll be wearing a hat that says “I love cows.” And although I’ve never put much thought into that before, this year I know it’s true. If my husband and my daughter are cows, then I must love cows.

Together as a family we plan to party till the cows come home… but really we’re already home so I guess we’ll just party till our little cow needs her nap.

Happy Halloween!

Walk for PKD

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The Nebraska Walk for PKDis tomorrow!

There’s still time to make a donation if you can spare it. And if you’re local, come out and walk with us!! It’s going to be a great day so why not spend part of it helping fund the cure for Polycystic Kidney Disease?!!

To check out my personal PKD site or to donate, please go to www.pkdcure.org/valzane

I was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease in November, 2009 – a few short months after giving birth to my daughter, Lyla. That’s when I learned that my mother also has PKD and my  grandmother had it, as well. There is a 50% chance that my daughter may  someday discover that she too has the disease. Before that happens, we need to find  a cure!!!!

Polycystic Kidney Disease is one of the most common life-threatening genetic  diseases, affecting more people than Down Syndrome, Cystic Fibrosis, Muscular  Dystrophy and Sickle Cell Anemia – combined. Currently there is no treatment and  no cure… But there is hope!!
The PKD Foundation is a wonderful organization here to ensure that  someday, no one suffers the full effects of PKD. Wouldn’t that be great?

The PKD Foundation aggressively  seeks to convert:
– Ignorance into knowledge through high quality patient  education materials
– Despair into hope through communication, support  groups and research advances
– Isolation into community by involvement in  more than 70 PKD Foundation chapters and by lobbying congress
– Ideas  into reality through the research the Foundation funds and through clinical drug  trials
– Basic science into therapies through grants and  the Foundation’s work with the FDA
– Small dollars into large dollars by  leveraging grants into expanded PKD National Institute of Health (NIH) research  through passionate advocacy
They are doing the hard part but it is our support that  makes it possible.

If you can spare it, please give.

It’s www.pkdcure.org/valzane (in case you missed it the first time).

If money’s tight (and, boy, do I know that feeling!), please find a way to support in another way. I know it doesn’t always feel like it but money is not required to make a difference in this world. There are endless ways to help out.

Be creative! Donate time, say a prayer, join a local charity, offer a helping hand. Find your cause and do something to make a difference. Let’s save the world together. I bet if we work together, we can do it.

If you are able and willing to support the Walk for PKD, thank you. Your support means the world to me and my family.

xoxo

You’re It

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My husband and I made a trip to the DMV yesterday.

That’s never fun… right?

Well I wasn’t looking forward to it. That’s for sure. But we’d put it off long enough. Finally, after (practically) receiving death threats from the New York DMV, we gave in and got our vehicles registered in Iowa (a task we should have done much sooner but our titles had been lost in the seemingly bottomless abyss of boxes still stacked in the garage from our not-so-recent relocation).

Not only was it kind of hard to part with my New York plates (silly, I know), but who wants to spend a day at the DMV? Last I checked it still wasn’t the happiest place on earth. In fact, it’s usually the opposite of that.

But if you were at the Mills County, Iowa DMV yesterday, you wouldn’t have known it by looking at my kid. Nope.

She was as happy as could be, skipping and hopping and having a grand time running up to random people (as if there’s any other kind at the DMV), smiling and joyfully shouting “I see you!!!”

Yes, she was playing Hide ‘n Seek. And, perhaps by default, the people at the DMV ended up playing Hide ‘n Seek too because a 2-year-old reminded them that it was OK to do so. I was amazed how she so easily transformed one of the most hated places on earth into a magical, whimsical playland in a matter of minutes. She actually managed to make it fun.

It was wonderful to see complete strangers playing along. Some were DMV employees, while others were patrons waiting their turn or simply passers-by. Some were far more serious than others. A few were dressed in business suits, possibly on their way to the court house. They certainly weren’t dressed for play time. They had other things on their minds. But eventually everyone gave in and played. It was nice. A little odd at first but nice.

In fact it rather quickly turned into Play Day at the DMV. Everyone participated. My daughter saw to it that no one was left out. That’s for sure. People, both children and adults, were peek-a-booing at one another playfully. It made it so, for the first time in my whole life, not only did I enjoy my time spent at the DMV but I didn’t want to leave. Have you ever truthfully (and without sarcasm) been able to say that?

Children are wonderful, aren’t they? Who else could make the DMV fun? If an adult had done what my daughter did today, he or she would have likely been arrested or shot with a tranquilizer dart or something. OK, maybe that’s extreme. But certainly they would have received strange looks and maybe even a twirly-finger-around-the-ear type gesture or two.

Perhaps it’s simply impossible to stay serious when approached by a child, smiling from ear to ear with sweet, inviting “let’s play!” eyes and a face beaming with innocence and excitement.

And, really, what better place for an impromptu game of Hide ‘n Seek than at the DMV? Seriously, I can’t think of one… can you?

Granted, the Iowa DMV is nothing like the New York DMV. Sure, they do the same things. But, for example, my husband and I were first and second in line to have our cars registered. Crazy, huh? Even crazier? It’s a holiday week!

In the past, we’ve waited hours (and not just the minimal quantity of hours to technically qualify as the plural form of the word hour but an actual # of hours long enough to fully cultivate an urge to stab yourself in the eye). New York DMVs have serpentines and electronic number machines and dozens upon dozens of lines, each one with a separate function, and hundreds of rows of chairs full of people who honestly look like they’d been waiting for days, weeks, months maybe. My husband and I once waited for over 4 hours only to be told we were in the wrong line and then had to start over. And it smells there! No, not like cookies. And you wait so long that you inevitably become numb to that smell, then eventually you become that smell.

Here in Iowa, like I said, we were first and second in line. I can prove it too. Our license plates are literally one number apart. Weird, huh? I would post pictures but I’m not sure what the rules of identity theft would say about that (and I’m too lazy to look it up). So you’ll have to take my word.

Even weirder? The people there are nice! They gave my daughter a lollipop. Sure, banks do that all the time… but the DMV? Really? And I feel confident that had I asked, they’d have given me one too. The only thing I’ve ever gotten at the NY DMV was a headache and a receipt.

Not to bag on New York. I have huge love for the state and the city, the people (even those at the DMV) included. I’m just saying that maybe, just maybe, they would benefit from an impromptu game of Hide ‘n Seek. Or maybe Tag is more their speed?

Do you remember how wonderful it was to play games like Hide ‘n Seek and Tag? I loved both, especially Tag though I hated being “It.” I still do.

Sometimes I too want to run up to a random friendly face, smile and say “I see you!!” I would like it if someone (preferably not a violent lunatic with a knife) did that for me. But it’s nice being seen. Isn’t it? Who wants to be invisible? Maybe for a moment but not forever.

Or simply tag them “It” so I don’t have to be “It” anymore. Sometimes I need a break from being “It” all the time. I’m sure it’s not just me. Do you ever feel that way? Maybe you and I could share a laugh and frolic together instead for a moment, letting go of the stress of the day. It might be nice to share “It” – whatever “It” is with someone else rather than struggling with “It” or through “It” on our own, or keeping “It” buried inside. The burden of “It” can be a big one. “It” isn’t always easy. Is it? But if we share “It” maybe the burden of “It” will become easier to bare.

Maybe it’s not appropriate in everyday life to break into Hide ‘n Seek or Tag or any other childhood game. Red Rover, maybe? Nah, probably not. After all, we are grownups and we have very serious matters to attend to. We don’t have the time for silly childish things like games or recess or naps.

Well that’s too bad.

But wouldn’t it be great?

Check that. It is great. Life. Who says we have to be so serious all the time? You’re not the boss of me. Saw that one coming, didn’t ya?

I think children have it right. The world doesn’t always have to be such a serious, uptight, stressful place. After all, it’s full of butterflies and daisies and kittens. I want to laugh and be silly, frolic (yes, frolic! what? you don’t frolic?) and have fun. I want to enjoy this moment while we’re in it.

I bet you do too.

So tag! You’re It!!

Not-so-Super 8

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The ride from New York to Iowa was a breeze. Lyla slept the first 14 (YES, 14!!) hours so we decided to make a go for it and drive straight through. I’d like to give a special shout out to Huggies Overnites! Thanks to them and some marital teamwork, we made it in about 20 hours, counting a dozen or so pee and coffee breaks.
We arrived a day earlier than originally expected, got to surprise a few people and stay the weekend with family. That was fun. Then, late yesterday afternoon, we drove the rest of the way and checked into the hotel. We are staying at a Super 8. But I have to be honest. So far, it hasn’t been so super.

It’s located about an hour from Jason’s job, and a bit further from our family. We could have stayed closer but all the nearby hotels had no pool. I was fine either way, but knowing that I really wanted a pool, Jason insisted on driving the longer distance to and from work each day so that Lyla and I could be happy. If you know him, this will not surprise you. He is a very thoughtful and generous person, especially with his family. And if you know me, you know I wasn’t about to argue.

Today’s Jason’s first day at the new job. I’m very excited for him and I can’t wait to hear all about it. I wonder if this is how it will feel when Lyla goes to Kindergarten? Hmm, probably not considering I was sound asleep when he left this morning. To be fair, I’d been up all night. Unfortunately, we all were. Lyla had a tummy ache (too much Iowa corn too soon perhaps) and because of it, none of us got much sleep. I hope Jason doesn’t nod off during training.

Then this morning, I realized – after he’d already driven away – that I left my cell phone in the car. Now I have no way of reaching him at his new job, nor would I ever think of calling on Day 1. I don’t want to do anything to hinder his first impression (or mine – I don’t want to be perceived as the crazy wife who calls and has him paged on his first day!). Besides, I’m fine and I’m certain he’ll try to call me on his lunch break to check in. Hopefully he’ll do so from inside the car so he’ll at least hear my phone ring before he gets too worried about why I’m not answering. He probably won’t jump to the same serial killer or Children of the Corn conclusion I would, but I still don’t want him to worry.

But let’s get back to the not-so-Super 8.

The bad signs started the moment we checked in. First, they messed up our reservation. We were planning to stay here a full 30 days. But somehow, they have us checking out and back in 3 times during that time. We didn’t find that out until we were standing at the front desk with all our stuff… our 30 days worth of stuff! While I love surprises, some things are nice to know before you arrive.
It might not have been too awful if it wasn’t for the fact that the checking out parts were rather lengthy. For example, the first time we’re scheduled to check out is on the 14th and then they don’t want us back until the 20th. So… uh… where do they expect us to go for 6 days?? Rather than repack and reload the car weekly and live in and out of our car for 6 day spurts, we’ll make other arrangements. So much for my blog about 30 days at a Super 8! Oh well. I’ll happily get over it!
I’m writing this blog while my toddler destroys the room behind me. When it comes to destruction, Lyla’s worse than a hair band.
She’s already broken one of two phones in the room, ransacked the towels, unrolled the toilet paper, unplugged the lamps, somehow locked the safe, and tried to eat the complimentary soap. Not bad, considering we’ve been here less than 24 hours. By the time she’s done, I’m sure I won’t miss the place. There’s no such thing as childproofing here. She can get into everything. Whoever designed this place couldn’t possibly have had children. Everything is the perfect height for her little hands to reach. She can open the front door (luckily not the deadbolt). Right now, she is opening and closing the fridge like she’s suddenly come down with a nasty case of toddler OCD. She can even reset the thermostat because it’s at eye level. I feel like I’m having hot and cold flashes, but at least she’s having fun.
She’s prank called the front desk so many times that I decided to unplug the phones. Now the hotel phones are her play phones. She has been on a very important conference call with the puppy, kitty and mouse all morning. Rather than interrupt, I’m blogging.
This morning, we made it downstairs in time for free breakfast (it ends at 9am – what the??). I thought free breakfast was a great feature until Lyla dumped free Fruit Loops all over the lobby. Tomorrow, we’ll eat bananas and cereal bars in the room. There’s a little coffee pot and that works for me.
The indoor pool is great. It’s the saving grace of the not-so-Super 8. We’ve spent more time there so far than in our room. On the drive here, we stopped and bought Lyla a little inflatable floating toy. She loves it. Floating in it makes her laugh and smile nonstop. My plan is to spend most of our time in the pool. It’s the easiest way to keep a baby happy. And if she’s happy, then I’m happy. That (and coffee) is all I need.