Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Few Worthy Diversions, or Where I've Been Lately

Hey folks! I have not written much lately. By "not much" I mean nothing, and by "lately" I mean the past three weeks.

So what has occupied me, you ask? What could be important enough to keep me away from the ol' blog for so long? Gather 'round, and I'll tell you a tale of home improvement, endless manual labor, and wilderness adventure!

We've been sort of remodeling our house. This is an ongoing project that started late last summer and, if everything continues to progress at its current rate, will be finished sometime around 2085. We hired a contractor to do all the major work, so we now have a garage and several rooms that were previously non-existant, plus a new roof. But we wanted to do the interior and finish work ourselves, and to refresh some of the existing rooms.

We decided the main level of the house would get hardwood floors. I bought the material weeks ago--32 big boxes full of birch tongue-and-groove planks. I got my hands on the special staple gun that tacks down the planks. I prepped a few areas of the subfloor that needed some repair work. Installing the wood was all that remained.

Do you have any idea how much work it is to install a hardwood floor? Sure, for a professional, it would only take a day or two. Three days, tops. I am a perfectionist and also an amateur at woodworking projects. Folks, this is a deadly combination. So I spent two weeks measuring, cutting, placing, and stapling birch wood flooring in place. This is pretty much all I did every day, before and after my full time job. Thank goodness my parents came to assist several days. Dad was a huge help, and he's going on sixty-eleven years old! I know how sore I was each night. I can only imagine how he felt.

The birch covers our entire entry way, dining room, kitchen, and family room. About 600 square feet in all. And it looks b-e-a-utiful! We did a downright fantastic job, if I may say so. One more (big) step checked off the home improvement list.

Cooper enjoying the new floor in our family room.

Our entry way. Please disregard the lack of base boards, and
the unpainted walls and door. I'll get to that stuff soon.

Soooo, with the floor done, I was able to take a few guilt-free days off and go on an epic motorcycle adventure with a bunch of friends. We rode about 500 miles in two days, 80% of it on dirt roads. Desolate dirt roads. Roads with no town, village, store, or sign of human presence for many miles in any direction. We rode through some of the most remote territory in the U.S.

Our route started at the Golden Spike National Historic Site, where the first transcontinental railroad was completed. From there, we retraced the path of the railroad across the Great Salt Lake desert, then turned South toward the town of Wendover, U.S.A. (We call it that because it straddles the Utah-Nevada state line.) In Wendover, most of the guys got motel rooms, but I and a few others chose to camp out. I've always felt it's not really an adventure unless you sleep on the ground. On day two, we picked up the Pony Express and Overland Stage route, following it East, back toward civilization.

I've driven some of these roads before, but never the entire loop, and never on my motorcycle. It was a sometimes hot, often tiring, occasionally scary, usually dusty, always dry, and definitely fun, rewarding trip.

We viewed the Great Salt Lake from vantage points most people don't get to see.

We rode through ghost towns, old train stops, and old Pony Express stations.

We visited graveyards, enormous valleys, rugged mountain passes, and earthwork sculpture. We even rode our motorcycles right through some gigantic art.

Since I'm aware of the internet rule that says "Pictures, or it didn't happen," here are a few shots of the weekend's fun:

My 1993 BMW R-100 GSPD, all loaded and ready to go.
It is the perfect machine for a trip like this.
Elephant Rock, just North of the lake.
An old rail bed, probably built in the 1860s, but unused now for many decades.
Scenic vistas abound. Here are millions of acres of nothing but desert.
It's surprising how much of Utah looks like this.
We're not running out of space. Water, on the other hand, is another matter.
Campsite. I slept very well that night.
A cabin at Simpson Springs Station along the Pony Express route.

Properly attired for a long day in the saddle.
Who says too much sun can make a fellow loopy?

Yoda once told Luke Skywalker, "Adventure? Excitement? A jedi craves not these things." If that's true, then a jedi I will never be. But I must admit that it was nice to come home to my wife and kids and our lovely new floor.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Angry Birds is Totally Implausible

We like the Angry Birds game around here. I've wasted wisely invested many, many hours playing it, and now number-one-son Caleb is really into it. But we've learned through firsthand experience that it's quite unrealistic. 

Unless you've been under a rock for the past several years, you probably know this game lets you destroy wood, concrete, and glass structures by launching birds at them with a slingshot. In reality, a bird cannot even penetrate a picture window.

We have a wood burning stove in our family room/home theater/blogging lair. It works really well; last winter we had fires in it every day, and it makes the room quite comfortable on even the coldest days. Lately, we've not had need for many fires because Spring has sprung here. Along with warmer temps, Spring brings a new crop of songbirds... young, inexperienced songbirds that don't know to stay away from wood stove chimneys, and are small enough to fit through the opening at the top of ours.

Here's a little fellow that ended up in the stove last week (it was cool in there at the time):

Based on its size, coloration, and bill shape, I believe
this is a young house finch, a fairly common species.
I shall call him "Sooty." 

Caleb and I heard him slide down the vent, then looked through the glass and saw him flapping around in there, understandably panicked. Seeing no benefit to keeping a wild bird in the house, I opened the front door, then opened the stove, thinking he would fly to freedom.

I was wrong. He went straight for the largest apparent portal to the great outdoors, our big picture window. By "went for it," I mean he flew toward it as fast as a young house finch can fly. When he's hopped up on adrenaline and has 40 feet of space to get a run at it, this is about Mach 3.

Upon hitting a windowpane headfirst at Mach 3, a house finch suffers severe brain damage and is killed instantly. Seriously. Dead as a door nail. This made us kind of sad, so we took another picture, with Caleb holding the little guy's still-warm body, and then we buried him in the garden. (The bird, not Caleb!)

He's only smiling because I let him hold the bird. Inwardly, he felt bad.
I made him wash his hands right after this... don't judge me!

I swear we did not plan the above picture to make some kind of clever, ironic statement. It happened by pure coincidence that Caleb was wearing his Angry Birds watch that morning, which I didn't even notice until after I took the pic.

This bird's early demise could have been prevented, perhaps, if I'd hung a blanket or something in front of the window. I'll try to remember that next time. Although this is the first time (to my knowledge, at least) a bird killed itself trying to escape from our house, it's not the first time one was killed by that window.

Last year, a pretty yellow bird crashed into the same window from the outside. We heard a thump. I went out and found Tweety lying on the ground, dead as a dodo:

I think this was a goldfinch, but it might have been some kind of
flycatcher or warbler. Whatever it was, it didn't understand windows.

I can see why the one hit it from the inside; he was just trying to get to freedom. So what was this yellow one's excuse? It's not like the glass is invisible from our yard. Check out the glare:

Maybe birds just don't understand reflections? Perhaps Tweety saw this and thought there was an endless expanse of houses, cars, trees, and sky inside our living room. If so, maybe it's good that she removed herself from the gene pool. "I'll fly right through this open window frame and into the huge world within this house. That will be a perfect place to hatch and raise my brood!" Darwin would say such a bird deserves to be snuffed out, and its species is the better for it.

There's another possibility: maybe the reflection was not visible from her vantage point, or her eyes were not attuned to perceive it. In that case, she must have thought she was about to fly right inside an actual people house... like some kind of fearless Jackie Chan stunt bird. I wonder if she'd planned on making a few loops through the dining room, dive bombing the fruit salad on the kitchen countertop, and leaving the same way she entered, or if she wanted to fly in the front window, straight through the house, and out the back, like an avian barnstormer.

Too bad she didn't make it. She could have become the Evel Knievel of the bird world. Come to think of it, didn't Evel break every bone in his body at Ceasar's Palace in the mid-seventies? It seems Tweety is the Evel Knievel of the bird world. If she'd not been so fragile, perhaps she could have knocked the whole house down, thereby killing all us pigs inside.

Friday, April 5, 2013

An Alternating Mood Current

As I explained shortly after starting this blog a few years ago, I took its name from a line in Homer and Langley, the latest novel by E.L. Doctorow. I sometimes think about other things in that book, themes and ideas, short passages, and some longer excerpts. Here is a dialog between the novel's two title characters, eccentric but very intelligent brothers. They are discussing popular music: 

There is art to the lyrics too, Langley said. The lyrics are almost more interesting than the music. They boil down human emotions to their essence. And they touch on profound things.

Like what?

Well take that song where he says sometimes he's happy sometimes he's blue.

"...my disposition depends on you."

Yes, well what if she's saying the same thing at the same time?


The girl, I mean if her disposition depends on him at the same time his disposition depends on her? In that case one of two circumstances would prevail: either they would lock together in an unchanging state of sadness or happiness, in which case life would be unendurable--

That's not good. And what's the other circumstance?

The other circumstance is that if they began disynchronously, and each was dependent on the other's disposition, there would be this constantly alternating mood current running between them, from misery to happiness and back again, so that they would each be driven mad by the emotional instability of the other.

I see.

For your entertainment, here is the song to which he refers:

I find this idea of Langley's interesting and have often pondered the concept of intertwined emotions in a close human relationship. It's like the couple that can't decide how to proceed because one says, "I want to do whatever you want to do," and the other says, "Well I want to do whatever you want to do!" and so they get nowhere; they're stuck.

Mrs. Christensen and I experience emotional ebb and flow. Maybe we're both overly sensitive (I'm pretty sure I am). It seems we can trigger some pretty dramatic mood swings in one another with just a few ill-chosen words. Is this unhealthy? I don't think so. Difficult to deal with, yes. But I think it is evidence of how much we love and care for each other. That, and proof that we're both very human.

I sometimes wish I could settle into a stable, independent emotional state, unalterable by others' words and actions. But I think that would cause me to become cold, uncaring. It is right for us to influence and be influenced by others, especially those we're closest to. And it doesn't necessarily drive us mad, provided we work at being happy and helping others to do the same. I'm unintimidated by many things, but the mood of my woman is not one of them. My disposition depends on her.

Leave a comment if you liked this post. If you did not like it, definitely leave a comment. If you are indifferent toward it, but you have a good chowder recipe to share, go ahead and... okay, you know where I'm going with this. I heart comments.