Tuesday, April 28, 2015

housing up a storm over here

We got a bird feeder and filled it with birdseed, which was thoroughly ignored until we replaced it with sunflower seeds. Now we have a bunch of tiny birds bickering over the feeder: there are 4 perches and usually 2 birds fighting, so it's a lot like me and my brothers when we were kids. There is one bird who ignores the bickering and just sits there and chows down; maybe that would have been my sister, if I'd had one.

This seems to be a genuinely squirrel-proof feeder, where the bird perches are mounted on a spring-loaded sleeve, and too much weight causes the sleeve to come down and close off the feeding holes. I had it hung on a string, which the squirrels didn't want to climb down; now it's on a swivel chain, and they don't like the rotation. We'll count that as a solid victory.

If you're going to buy sunflower seeds for birds, really the only sensible thing is to buy a 40-pound bag and have Amazon ship it to you. The downside is that now you have to put it somewhere, and the squirrels had no trouble figuring out that they were in a plastic bin on the patio. We put it in the garage, but our terrible garage has enough problems and I want squirrels to have no reasons to colonize it. Home Depot still carries metal trashcans, I think for the sole purpose of keeping animals out. The one model they carry is certainly a piece of shit compared to the ones we had when I was a kid, and I doubt it would stand up to being an actual trashcan. Said piece of shit is, however, proudly marked as American-made.

The rejected birdseed went into our compost bin. We have a compost bin! Along with "not having to move in the coming decade" and "I have a pool table," the compost bin must be my favorite thing about owning a house. (A close fourth is probably "paying for all the plumbing repairs myself.")

With the compost bin and the recycling--ignoring the non-trivial question of how much of that actually gets recycled--the waste produced by our household of 3 is about half of a paper shopping bag every week. And the level of the compost bin never seems to change much. Is it this magical if you grew up on a farm? I most surely didn't, and it's magical. Leaves, food waste, grass, eggshells, coffee grounds. Countless whole oranges from our tree, swiftly given completely over to mold in the compost heap, dissolved within weeks by the truly vast ecosystem it feeds. Mostly it's
  • ants, who seem so content to have infinite food that they stay outside the house,
  • fruit flies,
  • tiny slugs (do they become bigger slugs? I never see bigger slugs),
  • earthworms, a relatively recent phenomenon who for some reason are often crawling down the outside of the bin toward the ground,
  • a specific kind of black beetle I've seen around here for years and years, here numbering in the hundreds, and
  • a couple times I saw millipedes!
I haven't noticed the earthworms crawling down the outside recently; we've seen the occasional bird finding a snack on the compost bin, so nature may be selecting for earthworms that only want to dig down through the contents instead of going adventuring.

The single most amazing thing about the compost bin is that it never, ever smells like rotting food. It smells like the most delicious, flavorful dirt you can imagine. Anna extracts it occasionally--there is surprisingly little of it, see the constant-size comment above--and the plants are all big fans.

What kind of wonderful world do we live in where there's a way to make rotting food not smell like rotting food?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


I did the aikido weapons class on Sunday, with no ill effects! It didn't involve any falling, which is the big test of my energy, but I also have an affinity for weapons, so it was a very comfortable way to get back on the mat.

I miss it. The fluidity that aikido drills into me is diminished right now; at various times I feel myself spoiling for a fight, or wanting to argue, rather than step back and take a deep breath and de-escalate. Sitting Zen is important (though I'm not doing that either), but aikido is more so.

The truth is that by and large I don't fight, and I do de-escalate, in ways that people find really striking, if they notice. Last week I was listening in on a meeting and I took over to defuse it before it became a really harmful and misdirected ragefest, antics that got everyone's attention, up and down the chain. I'm less patient, but I think maybe only Anna sees it. (Lucky her!)

So my perceived lack of fluidity is really about my own internal experience: how long it takes me to bring myself to that creative, constructive space of conflict resolution, how hard it is to let go of my idea of how things should go and find the idea that includes everything and better resolves the issue. It's not that it doesn't happen, it's just that I notice how much longer it takes and how much harder it is.

But! Aikido!

Monday, April 20, 2015

on owning things.

Four years after transitioning to full-scale, live-in, half-time parenting, I am still startled by how my life has changed as a result--not too often, only every other day or so--and I think a lot about owning things, because I own more of them now. I already owned enough things that I needed a garage. I don't actually like owning things. I'd much rather be able to pack up and leave on a day's notice, an especially painful wish during any of my several moves as a renter.

The problem is that I like doing things, and the things that I do are most rewarding with the right things to do them. I could get rid of of the possessions, but then when I go to do the thing I like to do, I don't have the equipment. I could buy it again, but that's remarkably expensive compared to just keeping the possessions.

I did archery for a pretty long while, and I started with a basic bow and arrows, but after a year or so, decided I liked it enough that I would enjoy it more with a better bow. Now I own a low-end bow from a good brand, and the difference is astonishing, like going from an old VW Beetle to a Porsche.

(Ironically, and completely unrelated, VW now owns Porsche, Saab, Bentley, Lamborghini, and Bugatti.)

It's common in most forms of archery to have some widgets on the bow: stabilizers that absorb the vibration of release, and a sight to accurately gauge distance. This is the only way to consistently hit a spot the size of a quarter at 70 meters, as Olympic archers do: if you watch someone shoot a LifeSaver out of the air, they're doing it at well under 30 meters, usually more like 15 or 20.

I didn't want to shell out for a new one, though, so I haunted Craigslist for several months, and finally had a full set of stabilizers, and a sight, for 20-25% of what they would have cost new. I bought an archery-specific backpack to store it in, because it was shockingly awkward and uncomfortable to carry all this crap any other way.

I don't do archery at the moment, but I'd like to again someday. I could sell the archery equipment (at a loss), but then if I want to pick it up again, it would be expensive, in both time and money. By contrast, I have a bag the size of a small suitcase that will hold all my gear. I can just keep it somewhere--in my case, in the Terrible Garage. Provided the garage doesn't collapse (a small but distinctly non-zero possibility), I can grab the bag and go whenever I might have the impulse.

I think my little brother, the farmer, has had a similar evolution, as he accumulates several tractors and the piles of wood and metal every farmer needs to fix and build things. Well, I say "similar": I never actually went through a phase of having very little stuff, and I think he did.

And then I own a house, which is sort of the ultimate "no, you cannot pack up and leave" kind of thing. Which was the goal: I was tired of moving every few years. I have so much stuff, it was a lot of work.