Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Life gets in the way of life.

This spring has been an interesting one for us. For many years and many houses Amy and I have had backyards. In the spring that leads to all sorts of birds moving in and making nests around the yard. I’ve always enjoyed it because (despite the bird poop) it is nice to hear the chirps and see the new life. But this year lines have been crossed.

For the most part the birds have always made their nests in the trees. We have AMPLE trees in our yard. Occasionally they would find some little sneaky spot on the house – and that was fine, too. Birds, for the most part, seem to be smart enough to steer clear of the areas that are high in human traffic. For the most part.

It started a few weeks ago when Amy was cleaning leaves out of the bushes in the front yard. She disturbed a duck that had made a nest under one of the bushes. I was working on something else when I heard the scream. I looked up to see a pale Amy running to me with a large duck flying behind her. You never really think about how big a duck is until it’s flying out you. Sure, it’s no goose – but it’s also not a robin. Anyway – we quickly got as far away as we could in hopes that mother duck would go back to the nest.

Eventually she did go back to her nest and her eight eggs. I formed a pretty good relationship with mother duck. I gave her plenty of space, and I tried to give her warning if I was going to have to get near. I did my best to let her know that I was no a threat. Eventually – about three weeks after discovery – mother duck was attacked in the night. I’m not sure what attacked, but there were a lot of feathers and eight broken eggs. Maybe it was a cat, or a raccoon – or the neighbor’s dog? I’ll never know. I just wish I could have done something to help.

For a while we were not using the garage – I mean we were using it, but not to park in. So we were not in a routine of opening and closing it daily. Well – that apparently encouraged a robin to make a nest on the light that hangs right next to the garage door. Normally, if I had caught it earlier, I might have “encouraged” that she build someplace else. But, alas, the nest is there. Every morning mother robin and I have our littler interchange – she flies to the yard, I get my bike out, reverse and repeat. I’m OK with it.

Well – now that we have increased the usage of our garage – the light above the front door has become home for a little sparrow (which does not make as tidy a nest as a robin). Again, it was not caught in time that I felt I could encourage a “move.” So, the sparrow and the robin have conquered the front of our house. If you come to visit you will most likely be greeted with a chirp and a flyby.

It’s the backyard where things have gone awry. Last summer a robin made a nest in the downspout of our gutter when we did not get rain for a period of time. I thwarted all those efforts this year with some screen and gutter covers. A family of starlings attempted (every year) a nest in our soffit – but I finally got something that they couldn’t get through this year. Go me! The starlings have since relegated themselves to a knot in one of our trees.

The problem is/was with a sparrow couple. One night while sitting on the patio I noticed – or thought I noticed a sparrow fly into my dryer vent. I decided the next day to inspect and it appeared that it would be virtually impossible for this to have happened. See – under the hood there’s a metal flap that seals the vent from the outside world. How could a bird possibly open that? How could it open with nest making materials? There’s no way there were any birds in there.

Well – guess what? When I did laundry on Sunday I learned that there were birds in there. The kindling – or “nest” as the sparrows call it – did not catch on fire, fortunately. A lot of it blew out the vent – and the rest I pulled out. And I felt AWFUL while doing it. We needed to do laundry – but I certainly did want to be a home wrecker. Since Sunday the sparrows have been hanging around a lot. I cannot decide if they are just pissed at me – or if they are scheming about getting back in. Either way it pains me to think about it.

Well – if only that were the only bad bird decision. There is a robin that is trying to build a nest on my outdoor speaker control. Sure I don’t use the speakers EVERYDAY, but frequently enough that a nest would be burdensome. Not that I am blaming the robin – she’s picked a spot that is well protected. So, each morning and afternoon I have been trying to take down the random twigs and strings that have been brought over…and as soon as I do it they are back.


It wouldn’t be so annoying if there weren’t a plethora of trees in our backyard – but there is a plethora of trees. Actually – I’m not sure what a “plethora” is – but we have like six large trees in our yard. Of those I can confirm one bird family living in one tree. So – I’m no ornithologist, but it would seem that there is plenty of room. I understand that we (people) have completely destroyed nature and we need find ways to coexist – but this house has been here for over 40 years without these issues.

Any thoughts?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

This is getting out of hand!

So - I know that my theory was silly. What are the chances that I can cause an earthquake by NOT watching TV at night? About ZERO!

Yes, it was odd that it happened twice, but I wasn't really taking myself seriously.

Well - I decided not to watch TV on Friday night...and guess what? Don't believe me - here's the NY Times article...


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Waste not, want not. Happy Earth Day!

So I was watching Oprah the other day (thanks DVR) – and the subject was about families that create great amounts of personal waste. Waste in all forms – garbage, power, food, consumerism, etc. The show was obviously produced to encourage other “average” Americans to evaluate their living standards and see what they can do to cut back on excessive waste. I went into it thinking that the families that were picked were going to be extreme cases – but as the show went on we learned that, in fact, they are pretty average.

In one case a family of five was creating 4 entirely different dinners. Now, in theory I have no real problem with this – if they were making the meals individual sizes. But, instead the mother was cooking and entire box of pasta for her son – and throwing out the rest. An entire box (I just checked) is 7 servings. First of all – why cook it all – and if you do – why throw it out? The family then goes to the grocery store and buys it all over again. This was just the tip of the iceberg – they cranked the heat up to 82, they left all sorts of lights and devices on. It was fantastically ridiculous. To their credit – they also thought it was ridiculous and they did make enormous improvements in their lifestyle.

Another family that was spotlighted was dealing with similar issues – but the thing that stuck out the most with the second family was the amount of time they let their five-year-old play video games. He played roughly 3-5 hours a day. A DAY! This family also made dramatic changes for the better after living through an experiment that involved giving things up/trying not to waste so much.

As vain and as superficial as I might be about myself – in most circumstances I try not to judge. Certainly in the case of my students (where it is my job to judge their work) I judge but I try to be constructive about it – and I try to stay on task (don’t believe a word that my co-workers say to the contrary). Looking at these families, in my heart of hearts I know that they need to just work through their issues and I should not condemn them. However, we are sharing the same planet and dipping from the same resource pool. If these families represent a “normal” slice of America, it’s no wonder we’re screwed as a nation and as a planet.

I will make no claims that we are perfect in our house – as a matter of fact I can list things that we need to be better about. That being said – I feel like all the good things that I do are just negated by the “everyday” actions of those around me. This is where I get on my high horse – so if you don’t want to read, stop now.

Let’s start with the actual house. There are only two of us (and a little white dog) so we don’t need a lot of room. That being said, in the event that we start a family, there is plenty of room in this house to do so – at roughly 1800 square feet, three bedrooms and two bathrooms, there is more than ample space. The house is also an older home. It was built in the early 60’s. We looked at a few new and newer homes – but when push comes to shove – isn’t it better to use what is already there? The materials that we have used to fix this house and make it not only livable, but also attractive are far fewer than what it would take to make an all new house. Additionally, all of our appliances are “energy star” and most of our utilities are as well. The improvements to be made there are with the type of water heater and water softener that we have. So – once we can afford to change those and/or something goes wrong with the ones we have – we will. I’d also love to convert the house to at least partial solar power – but I feel like there is still a lot of other work before I drop the expense on that.

Inside the house we have some halogen lights – so those use halogen bulbs. However, in most places we try to use CFLs. Sure, they’re not perfect with their mercury lined interiors – but they are certainly more efficient than a regular incandescent, and the color is good now. Ideally, LED technology will be all figured out within a year – but that stuff is not really fully available to the consumer market.

We use cloth napkins and wash EVERYTHING in COLD/COLD on the washer. It works the same, folks. We recycle everything that we can – although our curbside has recently changed what all they pick up (now they take less). Still, we produce approximately one kitchen size bag of trash every other week. We do NOT compost, but we don’t really have anything to compost. Most of our food is eaten the first time or as leftovers.

Neither of us smokes or has a Starbucks habit – so we aren’t producing a lot of consumer waste that way. I tend to eat out for lunch once, maybe twice a week – but again – I am careful to recycle what I can from those meals (bottles, etc).

The question is, does it matter? When a majority of the people around me are so cavalier about these things, does it matter what I do? At my place of employment I frequently see people throwing away recyclables – not even things that are hard to recycle – they are throwing away bottles and cans. Does the school need more bins? Would it matter – it seems to happen that way even if the trash can is next to the recycle bin. While I appreciate that you are not littering – I’d almost rather have you throw you trash on the ground so that I don’t have to dig through the rubbish bin after you to save your recycling.

I routinely see all sorts of lights and equipment left on. And, while I realize that there are safety codes for buildings, is there any reason that they have to look like shopping centers at night? Why are there so many emergency lights? The problems that I see are not limited to students – they are just as prevalent in the faculty and staff. That means that some of my colleagues aren’t even trying to set an example – unless the example is “how to kill the planet.”

I would like to reiterate that I do not do everything perfectly. I still have plenty of room to grow – and I push myself everyday. These past few weeks we have been purging our lives and trying to remove things that are overcomplicating and crowding our home and lifestyle. I know that the little things add up – but I feel like we need big change.

How long do we passively do this? I don’t want to be a jerk and get in faces – but somebody has to, right? Otherwise our entire nation will continue to deplete all our resources and seemingly not care. Or at least not care until it is too late. We can ban smoking – but we cannot ban SUVs? We can enforce all sorts of laws (some ridiculous) – but we cannot get people to recycle? It’s just dumb.

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 21, 2008

What the?

So - no TV last night.

Earthquake - AGAIN!

I think I will be watching TV before somebody gets hurt.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Earthquakes...and their causes.

So, normally Amy and I watch TV when we go to bed. We set the sleep timer and doze off to some mindless drivel. The other day I decided to just go to sleep. No TV. Break the routine a little.

At 5:30 am there was an earthquake in Illinois that we felt here. Coincidence?

Sunday, April 6, 2008


We moved into this house in June of 2006. My "office/studio" has always been in a state of disrepair. As a matter of fact - the room has been a veritable dumping ground for "things that we don't know what to do with."

Not anymore. This week we painted, bought new furniture, cleaned, organized and got this room into working condition. And lest you think "that's all you did all week?" No, we also cleaned garage, the yard, the Mazda and prepared for a HUGE garage sale. If you need a couch, futon, TV, entertainment center, etc. etc. - let me know.

Anyway - here are pictures of the office...and me looking cheesy in it. The ONLY thing that is left is the paneled wall behind the desk. We weren't sure what we wanted to do. We have now decided to leave the shelves dark, and we are going to paint the wall some accent color - to work with the yellow/green wash. Once I pick that color - we'll get on it.

Yay for finally getting something done. Tomorrow I'm going to hang the outdoor lights and mount speakers in the office.

ps - yes, I have a turquoise case for my Macbook...and I'm OK with that.