27 May 2009

The Return of the Robins


Two springs ago, a pair of American Robins built a nest in a holly bush on our front terrace. Since it is somewhat below grade we could see the nest quite well from our front steps. We could even watch it from inside our front door. It was wonderful keeping an eye on the nest waiting to see what would happen next. Unfortunately, what happened next were condo association improvements that directly threatened the viability of the beautiful nest and its jewel-like blue eggs. Despite our protestations, the nest got moved by human hands to a nearby bush. Just as the online information about the nesting habits of Robins had predicted, the parents abandoned the nest and the eggs never hatched. When the nest was first moved, one of the Robins stood looking at me from the original site of the nest as I entered our apartment. Over time the Robins had gotten used to our coming and going and trusted us enough not to fly away every time we came through. The bereft Robin parent, now eggless and nestless, seemed to be glaring at me as if the removal of the nest was my fault. I couldn't help but feel that, as a member of the human race, it was my fault.

Although lately I had heard some Robin birdsong that reminded me of that spring two years ago, I wasn't prepared for what I saw yesterday when I got home from work. As I approached our steps a Robin flew by me and perched on a nearby branch while another landed on the railing with building supplies in his beak. I looked over at the holly bush and sure enough they had started building another nest in almost the same spot they had two years earlier. Part of the holly bush is dead and slated for removal so I chatted with the condo management this morning to ensure that the Robin family could lay, hatch, and raise their kids without fear of another fatal eviction.

Having two small terrace gardens (front and back) consisting solely of things in pots and other containers, we are enthralled by anything that reminds us of the brilliance of nature and the life of a planet still not fatally impacted by human stupidity. John has taken a great deal of care choosing plants to encourage bee visits to our terrace gardens. We are doing our bit to encourage pollinators of all shapes and kinds, especially native ones. Even that is gratifying, to see the bees and butterflies continuing a cycle of life older than all of us. But having these Robins come back and share their family drama with us is nothing short of miraculous.

17 May 2009

The Stupid Things People Do

It drives me crazy when people do boneheaded things. Here is a signed, limited edition copy of Chuck Palahniuk's book Rant for sale at the Watertower Place Border's in Chicago. The book is priced at $150. Now I don't really have any interest in Mr. Palahniuk's books (he also wrote Fight Club), but other readers would no doubt be willing to pay that price for this edition. (The slip cover is very cool I must admit.) But the folks at Border's seem to be doing their best to ensure that no one will ever want to pay $150 for this particular copy. First, they don't keep it somewhere special to keep customers from banging it up (notice the dents in the upper left corner). Second, they slapped the price tag on the slip cover itself gumming it up and leaving scratch marks where customers have tried to peel it off. And third, and most stupidly, they wrapped a security device around the book leaving a big crease in the edges of the slip cover along the book's spine.

As a booklover it annoys me that a special edition would be treated with such carelessness. But what about Border's corporate overlords? Surely they wouldn't be happy knowing that their valuable stock is being ruined, or at least dimished in value by employee stupidity.

Finding Small Treasures

As any regular reader of MyPorch will know, I have a particular penchant for the past. I will be the first to admit that my fascination for the "olden days" is highly romanticized and pretty darn selective. When I imagine walking the streets of pre-war London I edit out the car exhaust and cigarette smoke. When I fantasize about living in the LP days of the superstar classical conductor and packed concert halls I filter out the pre-Stonewall reality of gay oppression. And when I write myself into an Edith Wharton or E.M. Forster novel, I rarely think of the hot, scratchy clothes I would have to wear, or the fact that my socio-economic class wouldn't really permit me a very satisfactory role in these Edwardian dramas.

One of the the manifestations of my fascination with the past is that I love finding old pieces of paper in used books. Tram tickets, photos, letters, shopping lists, business cards, prayer cards, you name it. Not only is it fun to ponder who left the item in the book but it can also give some clues as to where the book has been. Recently when I was reading The Ice Age I came across a receipt. Big deal right? What makes this receipt special is that unlike so many others I have found in used books, it is clear that the receipt is actually the original receipt for the book when it was newly purchased in 1978. Often times the receipts I find will be for something else like lunch or maybe one from the secondhand sale of the book. In this case the price and date match the price and date on the book itself. This in itself is very interesting to me. That the receipt has stayed tucked in the book since the day it was first purchased 30 years ago. But even more interesting is the fact that the book was purchased at Kramerbooks here in Washington, DC. So not only is the receipt 30 years old, the independent bookstore that sold it is still in business and is within walking distance of where I live.

Now I just wish I could remember where I got this used copy of The Ice Age. I thought I got it on our peregrinations around New England last summer, but I don't remember. The existence of the Kramerbooks reciept inside leads me to think I got it locally...but where I don't know.

(And for those that might not remember, Kramerbooks is the place where Monica Lewinsky bought Nicholson Baker's Vox, a novel about phone sex, the purchase of which was part of Ken Starr's ridiculous investigation. )

14 May 2009

What a Difference 40 Minutes Make

Yesterday I was all crabby and bored and a little depressed. If you read my post about jobs you won't be surprised to hear me say that. The job situation was kind of incidental to my crankiness. My real problem was caused by two things: lack of exercise and bad carbs.

You see for at least the last month or so we have been getting up at 6:00 AM and doing 40 minutes of cardio. We had spent years of trying to do it after work in the evenings, but given our schedules that never ever worked for us on a regular basis. Now we go about 5 times a week and my body has really gotten a bit addicted to it. If I skip a morning I get cranky during the day, pure and simple. And yesterday was one of those days that I skipped. And on top of that my lunch was a little carb-heavy. And not the good kind but the bad kind (can you say Little Debbie?). So I was on a double-whammy downward spiral of self-loathing and cantankerosity.

Today I am back on track and feeling great. I still don't know what I will do about my career, but thanks to 40 minutes of cardio the future doesn't look dismal.

13 May 2009

Consuming our Way to Green

Another voice warning us about the notion that we can consume our way to a greener future. Don't Buy Green

12 May 2009

What to Be or What Not to Be, That is the Question

Lately as I contemplate my next career move I am caught in a familar internal struggle: do I look for meaningful work or do I look for work that provides a meaningful paycheck? I have had both kinds of jobs and the resulting joys and sorrows of each have not helped clarify which I prefer. Of course I could try and find one that does both, but that seems less likely than my time travel fantasies.

It was in this frame of mind that I watched "History Detectives" on PBS while I made dinner last night. I have never really been much interested in the show before, but last night it really piqued my interest. For those that don't know the show, the history detectives on "History Detectives" take some artifact (last night: an abolitionist banner, a WWII LCT "boat", photo cards for a Victorian era marriage introduction service) and do primary source research around the country to find out more about the story behind the object. Kind of like an in-depth Antiques Roadshow without the valuation part of the show.

As I watched the history detectives talk to experts and visit libraries and archives, I kept thinking of my undergraduate degree in History and wondering what it might be like to be a history detective. But then I just go back to the fact that I am never happy in any job--they never really keep my attention long enough to turn into a career. On top of that, I tend to work really fast and usually finish my work in about half the time allotted. You would think that would be a good thing, but in my experience employers are rarely resourceful enough to keep me busy, and the "free time" becomes a burden after a while.

No doubt in these days of high unemployment I am whining way too much. But the economy isn't going to stay bad forever, and I am going to need a career track that will sustain me for the next 20+ years. And as 40 rapidly approaches, I realize employers are going to start seeing me as an unfocused dabbler rather than a hard-working rookie.

I have spent time with a career counselor. I know what I am good at and what I am not good at. I know what types of things I want to do and what types of things I don't want to do. My biggest fear is that I will never be happy with any job. And for me happy in a job doesn't necessarily mean a brilliant career. It just means getting paid to do something that keeps me reasonably occupied for 8 hours a day. Shouldn't be a tall order right?

06 May 2009

Wingnuttery and The Future of the Supreme Court


I love all of the talk of Supreme Court Justice David Souter's replacement. No doubt the wingnuts on the right and the left are going to be upset President's choice. The left will be upset because the President will not choose a candidate who they think is progressive enough. (I will be upset if he doesn't choose a woman. There are plenty of good candidates to choose from. To not do so would be bad news.) And the right will be upset because they will be upset with anyone to the left of the rather conservative Chief Justice Roberts.

This is particularly galling (and fascinating) because even the most liberal member of the current Court, Justice Stevens, is not even close to being as extreme as the conservative justices on the court, and as the wingnuts on the right would have you believe.

This chart from Saturday's New York Times really tells the story. You can see that Stevens, the most liberal member of the current court is slightly further away from the "center" than Roberts and Alito. More importantly, you can see how amazingly far Justice Thomas, and to a lesser extent, Justice Scalia are on the conservative end. The court is currently stacked to the right. Why in the world shouldn't Obama be allowed to add some balance?

And for those of you who haven't noticed, and who appreciate a good chart, check out my new blog Bad Chart!