Sunday, May 27, 2018

Flowers and Clouds

It was a stormy afternoon. Rain poured down in sheets from as the threatening dark clouds passed over the neighborhood. When the rain stopped, the whole place was bathed in a strange yellow light, that drew me outside in an attempt to capture its strange effects. The flowers appeared a hyper pink in this light, and looking up, there was a literal garland of pearls in the skies, beyond beautiful mammatous cloud formations.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Perils of Reconnection

Reconnecting with old classmates from 30+ years ago is always good, or so I thought till recently.

After a long break, an old classmate of mine, who had been in my class all the way from kindergarten through college, contacted me via Whatsapp to mention that the old schoolmates from 10th standard were trying to get in touch with me to add my name to their group. Apparently, I had been out of the loop for over 30 years, while they had managed to keep in touch, willy-nilly, through snail mail, then email, then the social media in recent years.

It was a big thrill to go back and see the enthusiastic Hellos and how are you doing, what happened to you in the intervening years welcome posts. For a while. Then it started to go back to what happened to just about every other Whatsapp group that I am a member of: Birthday posts, accomplishments of kids/photos, vacation photos, etc. etc.

And then it struck me. I am not a sharing person. I don't like to post photos of my kids or activities or vacations. The only people I would do that to are close members of my family. I wouldn't hesitate to share photos one-on-one in person, but over the internet, it is a line that I don't want to cross,which may be odd, because I share a lot about myself in these blog posts. But you won't see any personally identifiable photos of me or my family.

So, in the hubbub of reconnection with old schoolmates, when an 'inspirational' post was put up by some girl (or woman now) that I faintly remembered as ever-smiling J, something about a minister advising a youngster by handing him a rosebud and asking him to make it unfurl into a flower. The young man tries hard to do so delicately with his hands, but gives up on the task as impossible to accomplish without damaging the flower. The older minister pontificates on how God makes these bloom in good time etc. as the Prime Mover of the world, which is the moral of the story.

Except that I had to jump in with a semi-snarky comment "Why didn't the young fellow just place the bud in a vase with water and wait a day or so?" It was meant in good humor.

J must have been a little miffed at my spoiling the 'inspirational moment' that she was trying to share. She jumped back with a snarkier comment about my being able to use the brains that God had given me to good effect. And I, in all innocence, compounded the offense by saying it was just plain common sense and that simple observation of cut flowers that was all that was needed.

'You must have plenty of time to observe that, no such luck here', she zinged back.

Oh dear, back to high school again. I didn't know if  I wanted to revisit those days again. So much for the charms of reconnection; the perils were looming larger now.

It struck me how little I knew of my classmates from that time. I think that I was always a bit of an oddball, with intense friendships with maybe one or two girls who were in my class, and a general disregard for the rest, no more than a cursory friendliness. But they had retained strong bonds over the years, mine were much weaker and at this point of time, practically non-existent. They were a bunch of strangers to me, and I wasn't going to do much more than pay lip-service to staying in touch with them.

Sad to say, but that is exactly the approach that all this flurry of wishing to reconnect generates in me these days. Let bygones be bygones, and onward into a future without reference to a distant past.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Dawn Chorus

'Ranoranilac" or "Ranilac" (Serbo-Croat for 'early riser') was a topic of discussion on Facebook recently, with a friend of mine. She was talking of sightings of the moon in daylight hours, but to my mind, it was a perfect one-word description of the birds of the summer, and myself.

At the first hint of light in the east,the tweets and chirps start up. By the time I step outside for a pre-dawn walk, the chorus of the birds is in full swing. No need for earbuds and music when one has serenading singers all around.

I looked up the phenomenon and found this link, which explains why birds like to sing so early.
 The dawn chorus occurs when birds sing at the start of a new day. In temperate countries this is most noticeable in spring when the birds are either defending a breeding territory, trying to attract a mate, or calling in the flock. In a given location, it is common for different species to do their dawn singing at different times.
There is even an example audio of the dawn chorus at the link, a recording made in the UK. But it pales in loudness and vigor in comparison with the loud suburban cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, robins, mourning doves and other birds in this part of the world.

I had read elsewhere that birds in urban and (presumably, by extension, the suburbs)  are louder than their forest counterparts, maybe because they need to make themselves heard above the usual sounds of motor vehicles, lawn mowers, blowers and such. Or it could also be that the birds were in better physical shape, feeding at the bounteous birdfeeders that dot the area. Or a combination thereof.

Here is an audio sample of the dawn chorus:

And now, for no particular reason, except cuteness galore, a photo of a baby robin from near my office. We engaged in a staring match for a few minutes, till my attempt to move in for a close range photo spooked it and it mustered the requisite skill to fly away.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Butterfly on Concrete

Another cloudy humid day, and a brisk walk to refresh the mind.

There is a nice flat sidewalk in along the group of office building that permits me to walk a quick 20 minute mile. The view on one side is that of the Parkway, the other side has boring office buildings, separated by grassy expanses and a railway line from the river Monongahela.
The large grassy stretch that separates the road from the road heading to downtown Pittsburgh is not just green today. It's speckled with yellow deervetch and pink clover. A whiff of clover comes by every now and then, as a mild breeze pushes it towards me. The air is still cool from the heavy rains of the previous night and early morning, but the humidity is starting to verge on unpleasant.

There, right in front, a black butterfly with bright orange red markings. I bend down and take a picture, then attempt to get it to move off the path, as I notice a couple of joggers headed towards me. The butterfly ineffectually flutters its wings and settles down on another part of the concrete. A jogger stops to watch me.

"Are you trying to catch him?" he asks.

"No, just trying to get it off the concrete and into the grass."

He bends down to mimic my action in moving towards the antenna tips of the butterfly to get it to start fluttering away. After a couple of tries, success.The butterfly moves to the grass by the side of the path, where it is less likely to be trodden upon by joggers who might not see it.

"Thanks", I call out to the jogger as he continues on his run.

I reach a turnaround point and start walking back to my office.

The butterfly is back on the concrete again. This time, I continue past it. "It's your choice, buddy. I'm not going to force you into the grass if the concrete is where you want to be."

There is something to be said for the doggedness of the butterfly, no silly flutterby mind, this.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

P.S. More on the habits of the Red admiral, it feeds on bird droppings among other things, and the concrete of the path is often covered with droppings from geese landing and feeding on the lawns near the buildings. Mystery of why the butterfly preferred the concrete to the grass solved!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Art of Fix-it-yourself

It's that time of the year when hubby is gone on another bout of travel and things in the house start to break apart again,. So Yours Truly is now stuck with figuring out how to get things back up and running.

Case in point: a few days ago, the flush lever on the toilet broke. It had already been replaced once, and the replacement was unfortunately a cheap metal finish painted plastic which didn't survive much beyond the one year mark.

"I'll call the handyman to help with this." just as Hubby headed to the airport. "I don't want to be struggling with manually lifting the flap in the tank all the time."

"It's a simple replacement, we may even have the required spare part in the basement."

"Really, what do I have to do then?"

"Just unscrew the part by hand and put in the new one, reconnect to the chain."

Famous last words.

I gamely face the wall of replacement toilet parts in the nearby Home Depot. Should I get the silly plastic one (cost $4.97) or maybe go for the largely metal 'Brushed nickel' finish one ($6.97)? That looks sturdier and should surely last for longer than a year.  That's what I grab and rush out to the checkout counter.

Back home, I am trying to unscrew the old broken part. Boy, this is way harder than anything I have had to unscrew in the kitchen. I need to locate a spanner maybe, to muster enough leverage. I trot down a couple of flights of stairs, fish around in the toolbox, locating about 5 different sizes of spanners, including what looks like a regular heavy duty adjustable spanner.

I spent about 15 minutes with the various spanners before realizing that the plastic part was starting to come apart, not unscrewing. Time to back off.

Next day, same story, when I tried again. In the evening, I went to the old go-to for information : Videos on Youtube, and got my first clue. "Reverse threading" hollered the annoying guy in the video. I had been attempting to unscrew the nut the wrong way, tightening it instead of loosening. "Also, just take the broken part with you to the store when you get the replacement!"
Too late for that, since I already have a replacement, but I am sure it will be interchangeable, and better quality as well!

I gingerly positioned the adjustable spanner and tried the other way. Did it just budge a little? Once again, and it finally started to move. I could now unscrew it by hand and finally remove the old part.

Time to put in the new part. But it didn't fit properly and the chain was too short to make it to the lever. Was I supposed to bend the lever to make it reach? It didn't seem quite right. After a couple of useless tries, I looked again at the broken part. The appearance didn't match the new part.

Next day, it was time to return the replacement and walk the aisles again, this time to find another equally flimsy plastic but correct replacement for the type of  cadet tank and mechanism that we had. I was back in business.

Now it is day 3 and the lever is finally fixed with the new part, which took about 5 minutes to put in once I worked out the correct sequence for insertion and screwing the nut on, for a grand total of two hours of my time over the three days, including driving time to and from the store.

Next time, I will do this in 5 minutes flat once I get the proper part, since I have this blog post as a reference for what not to do.

But next time, it might be something else that breaks, and that may end up taking a few hours to figure out, just like this one.