Sunday, September 26, 2010

It's that time of the year again

Each year as Fall approaches I begin to change some of my birdfeeding habits as Summer gradually turns in to Fall. I swap the safflower seed to sunflower seed when I know the Grackles have left the area (Grackles are bullies and will scare away most of the birds and have been known to kill the young bird not fast enough to hop out of their way. Grackles are unable to open Safflower seed with their bills and will give up on a feeder filled with the white seed) and put out suet for the Woodpeckers.

When the symphony of birdsong is reduced to the chips of sparrows and the tapping of woodpeckers as they search for food under tree bark, I listen for the return of the Blue Jays in my neighborhood. As soon as I hear their raucous calls, I place the peanut feeder out. It takes them a few days to find it, but when they do, they visit the feeder several times a day, carrying off a peanut or hammering away at a shell within the confines of the feeder to reach a tasty peanut.

I don't know what it is about Fall that makes me introspective and melancholy. I waver between enjoying Fall and hating its arrival. I miss the chorus of frogs, crickets, katydids and cicadas, the lazy blink of fireflies and the competing melodies of the birds. I long for the vibrant reds, blues, yellows and purples of the wildflowers and the long hours of light. I enjoy working outside and finding unexpected treasures such as a prairie kingsnake resting under a rock, a praying mantis sitting quietly on a leaf or watching a spotted fawn bound across the prairie with his mother.

But yet I enjoy the stillness of Fall, the chips of the returning winter sparrows, the crisp air and the rusted reds, oranges and yellows of the turning leaves. Fall is also the time I return to my habit of walking on the park trail that sits alongside the river. It is relaxing, peaceful to watch the river flow and the landscape reflect the colors of a beautiful sunset.

I am sad to see the flycatchers, warblers and hummingbirds leave with the summer, but I am delighted with the return of the mockingbirds, crows, sparrows and jays. Of course these birds are here year round, but in my neck of the woods, I only see the aforementioned birds during the fall and winter.

Well, whatever the reason for my ambivalence towards Fall, the antics of the Blue Jays at my peanut feeder make the season bearable.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

M&Ms you disappoint me

Danno and I were talking about candy the other day when I said "Man, I still miss M&Ms after over a year of boycotting."

I decided to boycott M&Ms after learning their suppliers use child labor. The other bad seed in this is Hershey, who also has some serious issues in buying from chocolate suppliers that employ the use of child labor. While some of the child labor stems from poverty (their families are so poor they need all the help they can get. So the children pitch in to help on the farm) there is quite a bit of child trafficking. Those who have known me a long time know that I LOVE my M&Ms but this was a small sacrifice to make on behalf of some child halfway across the globe slaving away to harvest something I don't need to be eating.

To quote verbatim from Ethical Consumer :

A study conducted in 2002 estimated that of about 284,000 children working in the West African cocoa industry, 200,000 were in the Côte d’Ivoire and a “substantial minority” of these children were found to have been trafficked from Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo.(2) The same study found that some 10,000 children in the Côte d’Ivoire were victims of human trafficking or enslavement, whilst 109,000 worked under the “worst forms of child labour”. Since these figures were reported, however, it seems that absolute numbers are hard to come by. An Ivoirian government survey conducted in 2007 claimed that “fewer than 2% of children who work in cocoa production are not members of the household.”(3) From this data, which is perhaps questionable, it is difficult to assess how much progress has been made, despite the claims made by the Ivoirian government and the chocolate industry. The US Department of State reported people trafficking, forced labour, forced child labour, and hazardous child labour to have occurred in the country in 2007.(4) In August 2009, an INTERPOL operation resulted in the rescue of 54 children of seven different nationalities that were victims of organised slave labour in cocoa and palm plantations in the Côte d’Ivoire. INTERPOL described the trend in child trafficking and exploitation in the area as ‘increasing’.(5)

After a bit more digging I discovered that Mars, Inc and Hershey have not changed their ways, although Hershey has since claimed to commit to "responsible"cocoa growing, though they still cannot or will not trace the source of their cocoa through their suppliers.

Since my M&Ms boycott in January 2009, I've added Kit Kats and most Nestle products to the list. Although I still eat mainstream chocolate on occasion, I have switched to eating Endangered Species, Green and Black's, and Newman's Own chocolates. These chocolates are more expensive, but they taste so much better and I eat less of it.

I'll never be the perfect consumer of FairTrade chocolate but more than half of my chocolate purchases have the Fair Trade label. I know my boycott and careful chocolate purchases are small beans compared to the rest of the world, but it's better than doing nothing.

But dang it, I still miss my M&Ms.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Keys (part 2)

Apparently I didn't learn my lesson with the car rental key incident in April. I've since had 2 more occurrences of key misplacement with the most recent event on Tuesday.

My mom went out of town for a few days, placing me in charge of feeding her cat for one day. (She has returned from her trip, allowing me to post this entry without worrying that someone who knows her will read this and break into her house) Tuesday morning I went over to her house to feed the cat. I only have 3 keys on my keyring; my car key, the house key and my mom's house key...or so I thought.

The first hint of trouble began when I inserted the key into the deadbolt and it wouldn't budge. The door is a bit older and I haven't unlocked it in a while, so thinking there was a trick to unlocking the door, I pulled the door, pushed the door and jiggled the doorknob while trying to turn the key in the lock.

I was deep in denial my friends. I wasn't mentally prepared for the fact that I had the wrong key. I shoved the key in the doorknob. I even went to the backdoor to try that lock (But the locked screen door thwarted my attempts.) After exhausting my attempts, I stared at the door, willing it to open while desperately trying to push the fact that I had the wrong key out of my mind. But there was no other alternative to veer me from the inevitable truth. To confirm I had the wrong key, I placed my house key into the lock and met the same results.

I had the wrong key.

I looked over to my left and found my mom's neighbor talking to the people who lived in the house next door to him. I was embarrassed that I didn't have mom's key and wasn't quite ready to ask him for help yet. So instead, I called my mother-in-law.

"You're never going to guess what has happened to me." I said as soon as she answered the phone.

"Uh oh." She replied.

"Do you have a key to my mom's house? I thought I had her key, but I don't. I'm standing at her front door."

"No, I don't. Is there a neighbor who may have a key?"

At this point I'm behind the bushes next to the door looking under a few large rocks in the hopes I would find a spare key.

"I don't think any of her neighbors has a key, but I know the next door neighbor. I could ask him for help." I replied.

"What about a window? Do you think she has an unlocked window?"

I hadn't thought of the possibility of an unlocked window. The chances of my mom leaving a window unlocked was pretty unlikely, but my choices were limited and I was getting desperate.

"I doubt it. She's got those new windows." I said. I pressed against the window next to the front door and it moved. "Hey! She does have an unlocked window!"

At this point Mom's neighbor was crossing the lawn with a perplexed look on his face. After explaining my predicament, he brought a step ladder that would give me an easier time climbing through the window.

I fed the cat without incident and climbed out the way I entered and closed the window.

Here's house key incident #2.

This occurred in May. I was supposed to meet 2 friends from work for an afternoon movie. I woke up in a lousy mood. I just wasn't feeling it, so to speak. I should have known the day was going to take a nosedive when I checked my car oil to find the dipstick bone dry and I couldn't open the oil lid. I tried opening it with a towel and then a wrench. The towel slipped around and the wrench was laughably small. At this point I was nearly in tears because I was already sad and not up to even the smallest challenge a day could sometimes throw your way.

I called one of the girls and told her I probably wouldn't make it because my car was out of oil and I couldn't open the oil lid. I told her I would continue to try the lid, but not to wait for me. After hanging up I went back into the house to get a different towel. A different plan was forming in my mind. I grabbed a towel that wasn't of terry cloth material and used my body for additional leverage.

"Come on you M&*F!!!" I said, pulling my body back along with the lid.

The plan worked and the lid came off. Elated, I poured the needed oil into the car and called my friend back. I was indeed going to meet them at the movies. I hung up and realized that I left my keys in the house. I went to the door adjoining the garage and found it locked. The damn door was locked. Cursing my luck, I called that poor girl back to say that I wasn't coming after all. I think this time I may have cried.

Like my mother-in-law, my friend suggested trying a window and again, I was skeptical, but was willing to try anything. The front windows were locked, but the side window was unlocked. Now here was the tricky part. The window was next to an elevated flower bed. If the window was directly under the flower bed, I would have been able to open the window and climb in.

But no such luck.

Before I go on further, I must tell you about the state of our yard, as it will come in to play here in a minute. Our yard is an urban jungle. It is overrun with honeysuckle, rose of sharon, winter creeper and a multitude of thick, shrubby vegetation. I've been working on clearing the backyard a little at a time the last few years, but I've neglected the side yard. And as a result, the side yard was nearly a thicket of young trees and other unidentifiable plants.

I retrieved a ladder and began the arduous task of shoving the ladder over the fence and through the tangle of limbs and leaves to place it under the window. We had had a bout of rain and the ground was very spongy. It seemed no matter where I placed the ladder, it either sank into the wet ground or leaned dangerously to one side. The area to place the ladder was very limited due to the aforementioned trees and thick shrubs. I picked the spot where the ladder wobbled the least and began to climb. I had one more obstacle, or rather 3 obstacles between me and the indoors.

The room I was about to enter was our office and under the window sat 2 computers and a TV. How was I going to get through the window and into the room without knocking the electronics over? And would the table on which the electronics sat be able to support my weight?

After carefully making my way past the wires and monitors, I jumped off the table and into the room, setting off the burglar alarm. (And when did I set the damn alarm?) When the alarm company called and asked if everything was ok, I could only laugh.

I have since locked that window, thus closing any opportunities for breaking and entering into my own home in the event I don't have my keys.

But what is the possibility of me losing my house keys again?

Maybe I shouldn't try my luck.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The fall of the King

This blog has been long overdue for a World of Warcraft entry. This has been somewhat intentional, as I have been waiting until I was part of a group that successfully killed the Lich King. Two weeks ago our 10 man raid killed Lich King, and finally, last night, our 25 man raid killed Lich King.

There will be spoilers in this entry and for the few readers who read my blog, you can skip this one or for the even fewer readers who read this blog and play WoW, you've probably already killed the Lich King, or have read about it on one of the strategy websites.

But for those non-wow players who do decide to read this entry, I will try to make this as entertaining and interesting as possible.

You directly encounter Arthas in the Culling of Stratholme dungeon, where you are transported back in time to protect Arthas from the time keepers who want to destroy the would-be Lich King. However in present time, you can see the effects Arthas left in his wake during his rise as king of the undead in the Plaguelands and Stratholme (Well, Arthas wasn't responsible for the initial downfall of the Plaguelands and the city of Stratholme, but he did charge Kel'Thuzad with the responsibility of keeping the neighborhood chock full of undead things. But Kel'Thuzad appears in Northrend in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion).

Anyways, the continent of Northrend is a cold place filled with beauty, mystery, new allies and foes. The region of Icecrown, however, is a nasty place devoid of life where the Lich King rules over his undead minions. But there are members of the Horde and Alliance races who have set up camp in Icecrown that are dedicated to eradication of the Lich King and his unliving subjects.

Incidentally, the whole Arthas/Lich King thing confused me and still does to a point, but what I've figured out is that the Lich King is comprised of Ner'zhul, a dead shaman but now evil spirit and the physical body of Arthas Menethil. However, I still can't figure out exactly who is speaking and doing all the terrible things...Arthas or Ner'zhul or both?

Silverwolfe, (my druid healer) is in a large group comprised of healers, warriors and magic users intent on killing the Lich King. They storm the Lich King's castle and kill a bone wraith, undead lich, undead orc death knight, 2 flesh beasts, an undead mad scientist experimenting with poisonous gas clouds to eradicate all life in the world, a trio of conceited-even-in-death blood elves, a hungry vampire, an angry undead frost wyrm and rescue a LIVING dragon.


After all that killin', Silverwolfe and her friends are teleported up to the throne room where they see Highlord Tirion facing the Lich King on his icy throne. (Be sure to note and remember the human chained above the Lich King's throne. From the screen shot it looks like a black X. This will be important later)

Look at Lich King, he's so smug. You just want to wipe the smirk right off that cold undead-ish face.

After some smack talk, Arthas the Lich King magically seals Tirion in an icy tomb and the battle begins.

The Lich King is a mighty foe, for while he is fighting one of our fearless warriors, he is inflicting diseases, shadow bolts, shockwaves and raising dead undead things on the rest of the group.

When he grows tired of the hand-to-hand combat with our warrior (we've whittled about 30% of his health down at this point), he begins casting Remorseless Winter, a nasty winter storm spell that deals lots of cold damage. He also begins summoning Raging Spirits which are actually aspects of an individual in the group. These suckers throw a mean punch.

Then he shoves his big bad sword Frostmourne (the marshmallow mace has been long replaced) into the ground which creates a huge quake and the edges of the platform fall away. And woe to the hero who is slow in leaving the crumbling edge...

At this point the heroes fall on the King with their swords, daggers, maces, staffs and deadly spells and he gets annoyed. Turns out the Lich King has many a minion up his sleeve. He begins summoning Val'kyr. They look like angels, but don't be fooled by their white visage or those lovely wings. Their soul, oops, sole purpose is to pick heroes up and fling them off the edge into the cold abyss.

The Lich King also casts a nasty spell (Defile) that looks like an oil spill on the ground that spreads when it comes into contact with warm bodies and does a crap load of damage.

So while you're trying to not get picked up by Val'kyr or trying to kill the Val'kyr that is heading toward the edge with a friend you have to try to avoid big nasty puddles of black goo. Thanks Lich King.

But Silverwolfe and her band of hero friend persevered and really pissed the Lich King off. He casts that Remorseless Winter spell again and summons more Enraged Spirits. When the Spirits are forced back into oblivion, we fall again the Lich King, but he's having none of that nonsense. This time his sword gets in on the action. After the Lich King drops a heavy amount of shadow damage on one poor hero, the sword sucks their soul in, where the hero finds the Lich King's father (did I mention that Arthas, the Lich King, killed his own father, Terenas?) and the two battle an evil spirit before the hero is returned outside of the sword.

*Spoiler alert*

Well, the Lich King loses his temper and unleashes the fury of Frostmourne, killing the entire raid. After throwing his hissy fit, he gloats over killing the heroes and relishes the idea of the powerful new members of his undead army (us). He then begins channeling us back to (un)life

Remember poor Tirion, our Highlord entombed in ice? Yeah, we pretty much lost faith and patience with him at this point. But he breaks through the ice and opens a can of whoop ass on the king.

Tirion breaks Frostmourne during the fight, releasing all the spirits held within, including Terenas. The spirit of Terenas resurrects all of the fallen members of the party.

As you can imagine, those spirits that have been contained within the sword Frostmourne have a bit of a grudge against the Lich King. You see all those swirling thingies? Those are the spirits of all the people the Lich King has killed. They are angry. Very angry. They hold Lich King in place, allowing the group to kick that evil king's butt.

After the Lich King is slain, Tirion discovers it is Bolvar Fordragon chained at the top of the throne. Bolvar was believed to be slain during a surprise Scourge attack but he survived and the Lich King took him and tortured him up to the point of the fight. However, he is in sad shape, his body pretty much burned and broken. He tells Tirion that there must be balance between the good and evil forces in the world, and ultimately, there must be a Lich King not only to contain the threat of the Scourge but to keep the Lich King imprisoned. The helm of domination, that ugly hat Arthas was wearing, was by created by demons and bonded to the Ner'zhul the Lich King (this is the simple version of the story. It's a bit complicated) and grants any mortal the powers of the Lich King.

Tirion reluctantly agrees to place the helm on Bolvar, who becomes encased in a tomb of ice to imprison the essence of the Lich King and ensure the helm doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

It's a great victory, but bittersweet in the great sacrifice Bolvar makes for the well being of the world and it's what makes a great epic tale.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A blog entry about nothing.

This blog entry was initially going to be about my eventful but not really exciting week, but somehow it turned out to be an entry about my car that needed a jump.

Monday was the last day of my summer project. I spent the summer studying the birds on 3 different prairies. Each prairie manages their site differently in terms of prescribed burns. One site did not burn their prairie at all, but managed it by mowing every few years. Another site burned their prairie every 3 years and the Ecology Center, for simplicity's sake, burns every other year. My question for my study is whether or not the birds demonstrate a preference for the burn frequency. The methods I used to answer my question involved bird census and mist netting.

So Monday was the last day for mist netting at the Ecology Center. It threatened to rain but we managed to get 2 hours of net time in before the sky did open up and begin to pour. We were planning on going to lunch after we closed nets, but decided on brunch instead since the rain halted our activities. Of course it stopped raining by the time we closed the nets, but by then, the nets were soaked. A wet net tends to bunch in spots, making it easy for the birds to see and avoid.

After packing up we go to our cars and figure out carpooling and the like. I hop into my car and it wouldn't start. Dead as a doornail, would not start. But I did leave the hatchback open for over an hour this morning. There was some issue over whether or not anyone had jumper cables so I suggested we just go to brunch and I could call AA towing before we left the restaurant.

It turns out Stream Girl had jumper cables in her car at the Ecology Center. Thus began the jumper cable adventure. When we returned from brunch I opened the hood of my car while Stream Girl pulled her car up. The terminals on my battery were heavily corroded. After scraping off as much as I could with my key I turned to find Stream Girl reading the directions.

"I haven't done this very many times." I confessed.

"Neither have I." Stream Girl replied, "But the directions are simple enough."

Farm Girl was there for moral support and it turns out I leaned pretty heavily on her emotionally. In the past, I was the spectator and filled the role of support during a jumping event, but this time around I was the active participant and the thought of placing cables with a current running through it (from the other car) on to my end of the car scared the bejeesus out of me. What frightened me the most was placing the negative end of the cable on a metal object on my car. What if the directions were wrong and I got a nasty shock? Farm Girl offered to place the negative end of the cable on some random metal object, but I didn't want HER to get shocked. What kind of friend would I be if I allowed her to take a freak-of-nature shock that was meant for me?

"Where should I put this?" I asked Farm Girl, looking at all the machinery under the hood.

"How about there?" She asked, pointing to one area of the frame of my car.

I peered at it and shook my head. "It's awfully close to that skinny tube." I replied, pointing to what was probably the windshield wiper fluid tube. Maybe?

"Hmm. What about here?" She asked, pointed further up the frame.

The radiator hose closely paralleled the frame, but every where I looked, there was a tube or bolt or some plastic piece that was close to metal.

"Ok." I said, staring at the metal.

I looked at Farm Girl and Stream Girl and said, "I love you girls!" before placing the negative end of the cable on the metal.

The laughter that followed my overly dramatic statement took the edge off my jitters. Intellectually, I knew I wasn't going to get shocked, but what if by some weird chance I DID get shocked? Luckily nothing happened.

I went to start my car and again, nothing happened. Stream Girl commented the directions said that if the car receiving the jump did not start to give it 5 minutes before trying again. So we gave it 5 minutes.

Nothing happened.

Stream Girl suggested we wait another 5 minutes and try again. This time she revved her engine several times. Guess what happened?


Stream Girl suggested I get the car towed to Auto Zone and have the guys there test my battery. If it was really dead, I could buy one and have them install it. I agreed and said I'd call Danno first to see what he thought. Much to my surprise, he said he wanted to come out and try to jump it.

"But we just tried jumping it." I said, "It's as dead as a door nail."

"Just let me look at it." He replied.

I will admit I was a little offended. He didn't trust me to jump start my car? I did tell him there were 3 of us present to provide a form of checks and balances in case one of us misunderstood the directions.

'Fine' I thought sullenly, 'Come on out then. You'll see.'

He came out and looked at my battery terminals and really started cleaning them. He cleaned them until they shone. Hmm, what if he did get the car started? He did go through the same set up as we did in terms of hooking the cables to his car and then to mine although he picked a different spot for the negative cable.

I will confess I experienced a certain amount of satisfaction when the car wouldn't start but I refrained from saying "I told you so".

He tried a different spot on the car, but met with the same results. Nothing.

Then he did the unthinkable. He placed the negative cable on the battery. Great. Now someone was going to get hurt.

"You're not supposed to do that!" I gasped, "That's dangerous!"

"I know, but it may be the only way we get your car started." Danno replied.

The car almost started when I turned the ignition over. On the second try, the car finally started. I don't think I've ever seen a car so unwilling to start. Danno was afraid the alternator would be involved in the problem, but time and many miles driven this week proved it was just the battery.

That proved to be the highlight of my week and well, this blog entry too.