Monday, July 28, 2014

Early Morning in Late June - The Drive to Work

If you look closely along the horizon line to the left, you can see the fog bank above the Kansas River.  It is visible for miles.  Everything was brilliantly green to my eye, but the camera captured it differently - (unskilled photographer).
Wabaunsee County Speed Bump
The Bountiful and Beautiful Flint Hills
I grudgingly admit civilization can be beautiful.  A little park in one of the oldest sections of Topeka.  This photo is also suffering from my lack of skills.  
Just a tiny peek of the Potwin area, the most beautiful residential area in Topeka.  The houses were built in the 1880's.  This time of year, the enormous old trees bathe the brick streets and manicured lawns in cool blue shade, pierced by the golden early sun.  I genuinely wish I were a better photographer.
In the intersection of each block in Potwin, the city government built round-abouts to prevent the wild young men from racing their horses at break neck speed on the streets.   Truly, some things never change.
And this is my destination, day after day, month after month, year after year.  And, yes, the camera captured everything in perfect lighting...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A House Attracts "Barnacles", Too

I opened my eyes one morning to see these two granddaddy long legs motionless on the screen. As I observed them, one of the creatures very slowly waved a single, impossibly long and insubstantial leg. I truly have no idea but I assumed it was a gentleman spider wooing a lady spider. Eventually he appeared to be touching one of the female's legs. I had to get ready for work, or I would have continued to watch them.

The next time I checked, only one spider remained. If the female had eaten her mate, as many female spiders do, it had been a speedy meal - poor guy. Maybe his slow leg-waving dance was not the seduction portion of the mating ritual but his patient and careful bid to hypnotize his lady in order to make his escape. They could have also been two critters of the same sex, and the leg waving was some sort of slow motion flexing to avoid aggression.

I marveled over their insubstantial forms, and wondered how they could possibly survive the rigors of life on this hard planet in such fragile bodies. I wondered how they experience their lives in this world. Whatever animates my biomass animates theirs, too. I am guessing they do not have to pay taxes or worry about cube farm politics. It might not be such a hard life to be a granddaddy long legs.

This messy nest right out the front door was the compromise between the birds who thought building a mud nest directly over the front door was a good idea, and me. I did not think it was a good idea whatsoever. Let me tell you, these little birds are industrious! I noticed a big messy spattering of mud on the porch on a Saturday afternoon. It looked as if someone had thrown a mud ball at the door and it splattered all over.  I am slow on the uptake sometimes.  I could not imagine how that had happened or who could have done it.  I had been home all day and had not heard anything hit the house...  A couple of hours later, I realized it was the early stages of a mud nest.

It took more than two weeks of tussling against the force of instinct in the nesting birds.  I would hose the nest away, sometime three times in one day!  There was an enormous amount of dirt involved.  How can tiny beaks carry so much mud in such a short time?  I regretted destroying their hard work, but I was not willing to contend with bird poop and angry bird parents, nor was I going to enter and leave my own home through the garage.

I like these birds because they eat wasps and yellow jackets that also try to build their nests on the front porch.  They are natural stinging insect control.  They decimated an entire colony of wasps that had built what I suspected to be a very large hidden nest directly above the front door in the old house.  They also wiped out the carpenter bees that were slowly destroying the old garage.  As much as I appreciate them, they were simply not welcome to build directly over my front door.  I continued to destroy their efforts, thinking every day they would finally realize their mistake.

I believe one of the two birds was a bit slow on the uptake as well, continuing to build over the front door.  It must have thought the daily failures were due to foundation problems, and worked harder to broaden the base.  Instead of a six inch wide muddy mess, eventually it was an eighteen inch wide muddy mess!  While the nest failure over the door continued, this nest soon began to take shape on the gutter down spout.  It was a workable compromise.  At last the birds stopped their efforts above the door.  I soon noticed the male bringing insects to his wife as she brooded the eggs.  He used the rain gauge as a staging point.  The babies appeared in a remarkably short amount of time.  Each parent would land on the gauge with its beak full of insects, then fly to the nest.

I hoped I would be home when the babies left the nest but of course, I was not.  I hope they learned to fly almost immediately or Duke may well have helped himself to the babies.  I have waited to see if the nest would be used again this summer, but so far there has been no activity so tomorrow it comes down, too.  I hope they do not build on the house again next year, but I guess it will not hurt anything if they choose this spot again.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

So, I Think I'm Gonna Lose Weight...

I admit I am fat. If I divide the number of pounds by the years I have worked at a desk, it averages to four pounds a year exactly. Sad. I could have easily lost four pounds, repeatedly, and never faced the humiliation as being one of the lazy, undisciplined health liabilities currently being blamed for the health care cost crisis in America - well, fat people like me, and President Obama, and Kathleen Sibelius are blamed. Of course, I did not get fat over all that time. It was after I turned forty that the pounds started packing on. That was when my grandmother's genes kicked in and started turning 200 calories of food into ten goddamned pounds of body fat within fifteen minutes of ingestion, and the warranty on my knees expired.

It is not fun being fat. It is embarrassing when the corporation I work for starts the anti-drug, anti-tobacco, anti-fat campaigns as if fat is a moral failing or an addiction or some other choice you only have to make once. It is embarrassing when people think I am fat because I am simply lazy and have no self control. It is true that I could "watch what I eat" and eventually lose weight. But I am here to tell you that it is NOT easy to lose weight. No human being on this planet wants to be fat (except Sumo wrestlers). If it were easy to lose weight, only Sumos would be fat.

Four years ago, I woke up one morning with an absolute iron clad will power to "do something about my weight". I started writing down the calories of every bite of food I ingested, limiting myself to 1500 calories a day. I stuck to it for almost six months and lost thirty pounds. But I was hungry the entire time. It must be what junkies feel like when they give up heroin - constantly longing for something that shadows all waking and sleeping moments. A year after I stopped smoking I no longer craved a cigarette. A human being cannot stop eating, or reach a point where she no longer craves food. Well, a human being will reach that point - the scientific name of that physical condition is death, Latin for Not Hungry.

After those hard-fought 30 pounds dropped, I woke up one morning to find the iron clad determination had mysteriously vanished. I simply could not continue eating lettuce with a side of air. I began to eat normally and all those hard lost pounds came thundering back, smiling knowingly at me, "We know you missed us!"

So, I sucked it up and bought bigger clothes. The hell with it.

Until I decided to try again, this time with diet and exercise. So, I joined an old lady gym, and go three or four times a week to exercise with the other old ladies, and when I say "old ladies", I mean elderly women. (I even bought an exercise outfit, probably the ugliest outfit in the world, but believe me, fat people are not vain.) I feel like an Olympic athlete when I am working out beside an eighty year old woman. The evil voices in my head say things like "Yeah, bitch, you wish you could do ten leg pumps as quickly as this!" or "Look at that old woman struggling to lift the bar on that machine! HA HA HA HA HA!"

Then a woman my age comes in, someone who is in good physical shape, with dyed hair and lycra exercise pants showing off her tight old rear end, and the evil voices in my head say things like, "Yeah, bitch, you wish your face wasn't all wrinkled up" or "I'll bet she only wears a 36 B cup bra" because you know, my face, being fat, isn't all wrinkled up yet, and Lord knows I do have a set of breasts.

Luckily, those evil voices are just fleeting thoughts in my head, and I do not speak them aloud, at least I do not think I am. I hope I am not saying anything like that to any of those nice women minding their own business beside me in the gym. If I were saying horrible things, I would not be allowed to come back. When I left tonight, the proprietor said "See you tomorrow!" So far, so good.

For three months I have been struggling to eat 1500 calories a day, and I have been going to the gym three or four times a week. I have lost a whopping 4 pounds - all of it from my breasts, apparently. I have not lost any inches either. I have gained inches because, I guess, I am getting muscular beneath the blubber. Working out gives me an appetite. The last couple of weeks I have been cheating on the calories. I am dangerously close to becoming a Sumo wrestler.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Am I in Danger of Bicycles?

Bicycles have been steadily infiltrating my life for the last decade.  It began innocently enough with friends who live in Bend, Oregon.  Visit Sunnysidesports to learn more about their business and biking adventures. They lived far away and posed no immediate danger to my preference for motorized two-wheeled vehicles.  Bicycling is interesting and environmentally safe, but far too much work, I thought to myself.

Next, my son began to ride nature trails hell-bent-for-leather on a mountain bike.  He was born willful, wild and reckless.  I tried not to imagine him wheeling like a maniac up and down and around those blind trails, flying through the air, likely yelling like a rebel.  (There should be a patron saint for the mothers of such sons.)

Sadly, my own daughter purchased a bike designed to ride long distances.  In her customary all-or-nothing fashion, it took a mere matter of weeks for her to persuade the entire family to participate in the famous RAGBRAI, the Registers Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.  (You may refresh your memory here: The Vacation of Disappointment and Despair.)

RAGBRAI started in 1973 when two writers for the Des Moines Register newspaper decided to bicycle across Iowa then write about it.  Though 300 brave souls started that first historic ride across the cornfields, a mere 114 finished.  Noteworthy among those who finished the first RAGBRAI was 83-year-old Clarence Pikard.  He went the distance on a ladies Schwinn, dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, trousers, woolen long underwear and a silver pith helmet.  (Safety first!)

And now, this very month, a coworker, one Gary Hamm*, succumbed to the unfathomable torture of bicycling long distances.  This affliction spreads in families with alarming speed.  Mr. Hamm*, who lives in Kansas, infected two of his brothers long distance, one living in Colorado, and one living in Idaho.  It will require serious science to unravel that disease vector!

May 31, 2014, the three Hamm* brothers rode in the Dirty Kanza, a 200 mile race on gravel roads in the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas.  Educate yourself here: The Dirty Kanza, World's Premier Gravel Grinder!  This race is designed in gradients of torture to satisfy everyone:  200 miles in one day, 100 miles in one day, and the DK Lite FUN Ride, 20 or 50 miles.  How much fun can you endure?

The Hamm* brothers made it a respectable 60 miles, from Emporia to Cottonwood Falls.  They had so much fun that they have already committed to 2015.  In my considered opinion, if they want to go the distance, they must look to Mr. Clarence Pikard's magnificent achievement and don woolen underwear and silver pith helmets.  A ladies Schwinn might be in order, too.

Post Script:  The son and nephew of the Hamm* boys completed the Dirty Kanza 200, coming in 18th of 31 males 29 years or younger.   There is video of him rolling across the finish line like Genghis Khan sacking Eurasia on two wheels.  No pith helmet.

*Hamm is an entirely non-clever pseudonym because I have not asked permission to use his legal name.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Toadally Awesome

Why the sad face, Mr. Toad?

It could be the beginning of a biblical plague. Every morning for the last couple of weeks, I have emptied Duke's water tub because there has been a toad enjoying the deep water. (No one should have to drink toad water!) I thought it was the same toad until this morning when I spotted two others almost invisible in the dirt at the edge of the house. They were either waiting their turn for the facilities or they were waiting for the guy (gal) in the tub.

I enjoy seeing the cute little guys. Maybe they are the grown babies who lived under the porch last season. I found a fourth toad in the driveway. He had apparently met his tragic fate beneath the wheels of the Ford. A moment of silence, please.

. . .

Tiny frogs also live close to house. They are so small that I do not see them until they spring into the air. They pop up about a foot, careening recklessly through the air to crash land wherever. They have little control over their direction or landing. I do not know if they are the tree frogs that sing at night, if they are full grown, or fresh out of the tadpole stage. I do not know what species they are. What I do know is if the environment here is clean enough for frogs to live, then that is a wonderful sign.

He lives under Jake's food dish.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Parenthood Finally Pays Off - BIG TIME!

This guy actually belongs to me. He is on the roof of my home, clearing the gutters - because I ASKED him and he agreed to it.

(And, maybe because he was already going to be at my house for Mothers Day.)

(Well, he did need to borrow a few bucks.)

(I doubt if it was because he was feeling regret for being such a willful teenager.)

(He still sprayed water on his poor, long-suffering mother from the roof - but it was just enough to hear me cuss.)

Some things never change.

I am glad of it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mother's Day

The view from I-70 early Sunday morning.

Spring is an amazing transformation from blackened hills to emerald green almost overnight.