Friday, June 29, 2018

Pride Parade and Some Words About Birds

Tammy and I took in our first Pride Parade event last Sunday. Rachel was in the parade, walking along with a friend of hers who is a candidate for Hennepin County Commissioner, Irene Fernando. We drove to Mall of America where we picked up the light rail for a ride into the city. Storms to the west of us threatened to rain on the parade but they fizzled out. It was a fun time. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the recent retirement announcement of Justice Kennedy from the Supreme Court of the United States and the likelihood that another conservative pick by Trump* will risk rolling back many of the gains made through the court in recent years, and not so recent years. The protections for same-sex couples affirmed by the court not so long ago are now in jeopardy of being stripped away. But we've got the Citizens United decision that tells us corporations are people too, so you'll have to excuse me for being more than a little confused.

I finally got our cuckoo clock back from Blackstone Manor Clock Repair in Hopkins after having dropped it off 10 weeks ago for repair. They're a busy shop!

The clock is around 23 years old and was something my former stepson Joe picked up for me when he was visiting Germany while in the Army. The little cuckoo bird stopped functioning some time ago, and more recently the clock would simply stop altogether. $100 later and it appears to be as good as new. I was telling Tammy that someday we're gonna have little grandkids and they're going to want me to hold them up and wait for the little bird to come out at the top of the hour. I want to be ready! The clock probably doesn't really fit with our decor anymore but our home feels like it's missing something without it. We're both glad to have it back.

And speaking of little bids, our neighborhood is full of the sounds of little tweets coming from various nests everywhere you go. I was walking Charlie a couple nights ago and he stopped at a mailbox a few doors down from ours. He was intently staring at the mailbox. I backed up to see what he was focused on and I could hear the tweets from a nest inside where the paper is put. Alex told me it's a nest of Great Crested Flycatchers. He saw the mother fly out of it one day and recognized what kind of bird it was. Alex is our go-to guy in the neighborhood for so many of our nature-related questions.

In addition to baby birds, we've also got an abundance of tiny toads hopping all through our yard. I'm as careful as I can be to not mow over them. I'll stop the mower and take them to an area between ours and our neighbor's home where there's a lot of ground cover and where they'll not be in my way. I love those little guys! Is there anything cuter?

I took some time a few days ago to set up my video camera to capture the action at the birdhouse in our front garden where a family of wrens resides. I compressed 30 minutes of video down to just a few minutes of footage (video embedded below). Watch as the adult bird exits the birdhouse with something white in its mouth. That's actually the droppings of the babies in the nest.

Description from Wikipedia:

"A fecal sac (also spelled faecal sac) is a mucous membrane, generally white or clear with a dark end, that surrounds the feces of some species of nestling birds. It allows parent birds to more easily remove fecal material from the nest. The nestling usually produces a fecal sac within seconds of being fed; if not, a waiting adult may prod around the youngster's cloaca to stimulate excretion. Young birds of some species adopt specific postures or engage in specific behaviors to signal that they are producing fecal sacs. For example, nestling curve-billed thrashers raise their posteriors in the air, while young cactus wrens shake their bodies. Other species deposit the sacs on the rim of the nest, where they are likely to be seen (and removed) by parent birds.

Not all species generate fecal sacs. They are most prevalent in passerines and their near relatives, which have young that remain in the nest for longer periods. In some species, the fecal sacs of small nestlings are eaten by their parents. In other species, and when nestlings are older, sacs are typically taken some distance from the nest and discarded. Young birds generally stop producing fecal sacs shortly before they fledge.

Removal of fecal material helps to improve nest sanitation, which in turn helps to increase the likelihood that nestlings will remain healthy. It also helps to reduce the chance that predators will see it or smell it and thereby find the nest. There is evidence that parent birds of some species gain a nutritional benefit from eating the fecal sacs; studies have shown that females — which tend to be more nutritionally stressed than their mates — are far more likely to consume sacs than are males. Even brood parasites such as brown-headed cowbirds, which do not care for their own offspring, have been documented swallowing the fecal sacs of nestlings of their host species.

Scientists can use fecal sacs to learn a number of things about individual birds. Examination of the contents of the sac can reveal details of the nestling's diet, and can indicate what contaminants the young bird has been exposed to. The presence of an adult bird carrying a fecal sac is used in bird censuses as an indication of breeding."




And one last video before I close out this post. This is from my loop to the single track trails at Murphy Hanrehan, a little more than 6 miles from home. Always a fun time, unless I crash and injure myself!


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Piqued Curiosity and We're No Longer Deserving

Another rainy day today had me sitting on the couch in our sunporch fixing dead links on my website. I don't add to the site all that much anymore but I've got a lot of time invested in it over the years so I'd like to keep it and its links somewhat relevant. The one area of the site that I'm considering refreshing are the pages devoted to stained glass. Much of what I have there are photos of my early work. I'd like to add photos of some more recent creations. Also, I need to add SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) coding to each of the sites I manage (a total of 3). Beginning in July, unless I've got the coding added to the site it will show that it's an unsecured site next to its URL, looking somewhat like the image to the left. A secure site will have a padlock icon next to the URL. GoDaddy wants $60 a year for each site to keep them secured. For that price, I'll figure out the coding on my own.

I received a message via Google Hangouts a couple hours ago: "Hi, Kevin! I am a journalist (freelance, though this piece is for ________) and I am writing about someone you know. Wanted to see about having a quick interview with you."

My curiosity was piqued.

I replied, "sure".

We spoke on the phone for maybe 20 minutes but he asked that I not mention any specifics at this point, so I won't. I can say that he began the conversation by saying he didn't want to mention the person's name that he wanted to ask me about ahead of time because he was looking for an organic response from me. With my permission, he recorded our conversation for possible use on his podcast in addition to the publication he's writing for. Watch this space.

I've been kicking around whether or not I wanted to pile on to the voluminous coverage and outrage that's already out there about the separating of immigrant children from their parents on our southern border, many of whom are seeking asylum for humanitarian reasons, meaning, they hold no hope for their children or themselves if they remain living the lives they're living; meaning, they risked their lives and the lives of their children to make the arduous journey to our border. I have no doubt that I would be among them if I was in their shoes. How about you?

I started writing about it but quit, lacking sufficient words to express how I truly feel. Heartless, was about the best I could do.

We've got $1.5 trillion dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy but we have only a dismissive, hateful reception for those who desperately look to us for help because they remember a time when we were that shining city on a hill. But no more.

We're no longer deserving of either the Statue of Liberty or the words of Emma Lazarus enshrined on her base.

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

What's become of us? I no longer recognize my country!

Like I said, heartless.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Finding a Balance and So Long, Anthony

It's a dreary day outside my den window but I welcome these sorta days. We're between lines of thunderstorms and the birds are using the respite to fill the air with their songs. I've got nowhere that I need to be.

It's taken me nearly a few years of retirement but I've finally reached the point where I'll allow myself to take an afternoon nap. A nap was never something I could indulge in when I was working because it only made more of a mess of my sleep schedule than it already was. It's nice to know I can play that card pretty much whenever I choose to now.

I've been spending more time riding than golfing this year and I'm enjoying the change of pace. I sorta neglected my riding for my love of golf last year and although I have no regrets about my time spent walking the links, I wanted to find more of a balance this year.

While I enjoy the relaxed nature of a round of golf, it can't compare to a hard workout on any of my bikes. My fitness is still lacking on the bike but it's coming around and I find that to be encouraging. I still have issues with knee pain (and likely always will) so I especially enjoy days when they're both feeling good and allow me to go hard to where my quads are feeling the burn and my heart rate's history shows an abundance of time spent in the red zone afterward. A good ride will leave me with a satisfied feeling long after my bike has been put away. I also try and manage at least one to two days of long walks each week.

Toby woke me up before 6:00 AM yesterday as he typically does. I let the pups outside and went back in to turn on the TV and fill their bowls with food. I stood there stunned, hearing talk of the passing of Anthony Bourdain. I was especially saddened when I learned that he'd taken his life, leaving behind an 11-year-old daughter. What a tragic loss but just as tragic, what sort of demons must he have been battling?

It's understandable to question how someone who seemed to be blessed in ways unimaginable to the rest of us could throw it all away. But that's not how depression works. I'll get in an occasional funk where I'm feeling blue, but I can typically pull myself out of it by taking a quick inventory of my life's blessings then dutifully banish my pitiful thoughts. But that's me. I have to accept that for some my method isn't an option.

Sometimes I'll hear people say that God won't ever give you more than you can handle. I used to nod my head in agreement but I no longer do.

I loved his show for the way it gave us a glimpse of worlds unfamiliar to our own, and for his commentary. He was a remarkable man in a most down-to-earth way.

I think I'll go catch a quick nap then go for a walk; maybe the rain will be done by then.

(I just noticed that the video below needs to be opened on YouTube's page. Just follow the link. It's worth the extra click.)


Saturday, June 2, 2018

WWJD?

As I sorta figured would happen, my stained glass items on Etsy lost much of their rankings (for search engine queries) while I had my shop on vacation mode while we were away. It'll likely take awhile but I'm hopeful that they'll make their way back up in the rankings to where they were before we left.

I've been able to chip away a little at a stained glass project I'm doing for my brother Bryan and his wife Sue. I was hoping to have it done and mailed to them before they leave for vacation in July but I don't think I'll be able to finish it in time. The lure of being outside is simply too much for me this time of year as it always is. I'm trying to work on it just a couple hours at a time but even that's a big ask for me now. I'd include a photo here of the design but I want it to be a surprise for them.

Tammy and I made a fairy garden for Trinity Care Center where her mother is a resident. We're pleased with how it turned out. It's indoors and in a common area where it's easily seen. We thought it would be fun to occasionally change it up and add to it so it gives the residents a little something to look forward to. We hope little ones coming to visit their elderly relatives will also enjoy it.

I continue to struggle with the dismantling of the world I once knew, or perhaps it was all an illusion and I'm just now catching on. It wasn't that many years ago when Tammy and I were active members of a mega-church, volunteering with their Tuesday night services meant to reach the disadvantaged in the community and even going there to cast our election day ballots for every Republican candidate that was put before us because that's what good Christians do. We accepted the lip-service paid about welcoming all who came through the doors at Hosanna! -- except when it came time to allow "everyone" to participate in the functioning of the church. Those in the GLBT community need not apply. I had ditched my Republican ways long before penning this piece where I was examining and coming to terms with the role of the church in my life.

WWJD?

I'd had enough of the hypocrisy, and so I walked away. It would take Tammy a few more years but she would eventually do the same.

To christians (intentional lower case c), it became sport to bash a man who was working his heart out to try and right our nation after it was left teetering on the brink of economic collapse at the hands of those who claim the mantle of being fiscally conservative. It seemed they would rather see us fail as a country than to work with the man, fearing that their help may actually contribute to his success. Yet, in spite of them, he was successful.

The Affordable Care Act was far from perfect but it was a step in the right direction. What good, god-fearing person wouldn't want others to have access to decent healthcare? Apparently, the vast majority of christians. They had bought into a mob mentality of despicable thinking influenced by the divisive voices of conservative media and they fought side-by-side together to sabotage it. And they were largely successful. Did they never once stop and ask themselves, WWJD?

We're in the midst of a gun-violence epidemic in the U.S. but you'd be hardpressed to find many christian conservatives who care. They appear to have become so deluded by conservative media that they've put their love of guns ahead of any reasonable attempt to try and address the growing problem, say nothing of the thought about WWJD? The cold blue steel in their pocket is the real-deal while the crosses they wear are relegated to good-luck charms status. I long ago stopped wondering why our flags are flying at half-mast. There's one senseless tragedy after another anymore with little to distinguish one mass shooting from another, except the location. And the response is always the same: It's too early to talk about the politics and possible solutions.

The church has shamefully failed to lead in any sort of discussion with respect to immigrants fleeing the most desperate situations, situations that very few of us can even begin to imagine. In this poll by the respected PEW Research Center, only 25% of white evangelical Protestants feel the U.S. has an obligation to help refugees. What a sad reflection of those who most proudly identify as christians.

WWJD?

And then there's Trump*.