Sunday, August 20, 2017

Springy G's Great Eclipse Trip (Part the Second)

I’m feeling somewhat grateful that last winter I began to build up some aerobic capacity by skiing and snowshoeing, and continued with short hikes during the warm months.  It came in handy on Saturday afternoon when I walked from the Chicago hostel to the docks where the river cruise boats dock.  I got temporarily lost by taking the wrong staircase to get down to the boats and had to double back, climbing a whole bunch of razzafracking stairs up and down and up and down again.  It’s much warmer here than in Winnipeg, and there’s a distinct old-city smell of oil and creosote.

Did successfully make it onto the boat.  Seated on the lower level, where it was shady and considerably cooler, I took pictures of a lot of the buildings and enjoyed the wind blowing off the water.  My visit coincided with the Chicago Air and Water Show, and we saw a few synchronized jet fly-bys.

After the boat ride I wended my way back to the hostel, pausing to pick up an embroidered Chicago flag patch to add to my knapsack.  Had a light supper, charged up my electronics, and called it a night.

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And now it’s 8:05 a.m. on a Sunday morning in Chicago.  I am now one step closer to my objective:  I’m on board the Amtrak #391 “Saluki” train, destination Carbondale, Illinois.

One of my great worries over the past few weeks was that I would oversleep and miss this train.  I had armed myself with an insanely loud digital alarm clock, and checked it twice last night to make sure the alarm was indeed in the “on” position.  As it happened, I had little to worry about:  Two of the women in my dorm were up before me, 15 minutes before the alarm was scheduled to go off, and I crawled out of bed a few minutes later to get in gear and get over to Union Station.

It just turned 8:15.  With a soft bump, train #391 is on its way.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Springy G's Great Eclipse Trip (Part the First)

It’s a mere two hours since my clock radio cajoled me into consciousness at arse o’clock on a Saturday morning.  I’m now sitting at Gate 3 in the U.S. departures lounge at Richardson International, waiting for a boarding call for a flight to Minneapolis.  I’ve made the traditional stop-off at the Tim Hortons kiosk on the U.S. side of security and scarfed down a coffee and muffin, to supplement the half-glass of milk I guzzled while phoning for a cab.

Once I land at Minneapolis, the plan is to have a leisurely second breakfast -- yes, I do have some hobbit genes -- and then fly on to Chicago.  I could have taken a direct flight, but my check-in time at the HI hostel is 3:00 p.m.  Barring a Random Equipment Malfunction, a completely different alarm clock should rouse me at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, allowing me sufficient time to slouch towards Union Station to board a southbound train.

I am going to Carbondale, Illinois for a glorious 2½ minutes on Monday afternoon at about 1:20 p.m.   I. Am. On. My. Way. To. The. Eclipse.

This has been in planning for about 2 years, and seriously underway since this past April, when I made all the necessary reservations:  Plane, train, and a place to crash the night before the eclipse.  I was fortunate enough to snag a piece of floor space at Southern Illinois University, where upwards of 50,000 people are expected on Monday.  (Personally, I think they’ll be getting off light if less than 100,000 show up.)

Hands are shaking a bit due to excitement (and possibly the coffee kicking in).  Boarding call is imminent (5:38 a.m. now).  To be continued…

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Now I’m in Minneapolis and it’s 8:30 a.m.  I’m not regretting the decision to bring along a fleece jacket, because as I sit here at the departure gate for the hop to Chicago I can feel the air conditioning.

One thing about travelling is that the smells and tastes are ever so slightly different from home.  Although humans tend to be visual, some of us get more impact from the other senses.  As a gardener and cook I’m almost as sensitive to smell as I am to 3D space.  MSP has a scent to it that is very unlike YWG, and when I get to O’Hare I’m sure it will likewise have its own smell.

I’m definitely not alone in making an eclipse trip.  The young man sitting next to me at the Winnipeg departure lounge was also going to Carbondale, and as I was hobbiting on a sausage-and-egg biscuit here in Minneapolis I saw someone walk by with a shirt that said “Come to the Dark Side,” in the Star Wars main title font.  I had already mentally added the traditional response, “We have cookies,” but then I saw the date.

August 21, 2017.

I have a shirt of my own in the knapsack, a homemade design with the same date and an abstract fabric-paint interpretation of what I saw at the total solar eclipse of February 26, 1979.

It says a lot about me and my lifelong love of astronomy that I still have the same piece of #14 welder’s glass that I used to view the partial phases of the 1979 eclipse.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Think Like a God Day 2017: The Laissez-Faire Deity

Welcome to the 2017 edition of Think Like a God Day, celebrated annually on July 13!  As in past years, this is when I present a problem and ask You how to solve it from the perspective of Deity-for-a-Day.

This year's question is a theological classic intertwined with a philosophical classic; in other words, as long as there is sentient life in the universe, someone will be arguing about it.
Assuming for a moment that free will actually exists, should mortals be permitted to have it or should they be forced to conform with My inscrutable Divine Plan™?
 Arguing in favour of letting those pesky mortals do whatever they want:
  • They're mortals.  Any plan they could mess up needs to go back to the drawing board.
  • Surprises.  I like surprises.  Cuts down on the monotony of living forever.
  • Never fancied Myself as a puppet-master.  I don't even like puppets.  Or clowns.  Next time I create a universe I'm going to make one without clowns.  Or paparazzi.  Or -- Squirrel!
Arguing in favour of keeping reality (and mortals) on a short leash:
  • The lot of us are locked into a predetermined course.  They can't help but do what I in My divine omniscience have foreseen.
  • Even a tiny deviation from the Plan could translate into massive problems later.  Can't have that.  I've got enough on My plate dealing with that damn Chaos Butterfly.
  • I like it when they do what I want.  That's a good enough reason for Me.
Which version of divine reality would You prefer, and why?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Happy Canada Day! Step away from the dumpster and keep Your hands in the air.

Long weekends always see Me coming.  Those extra days rarely get used for relaxing; more often I see them as a challenge and use them to make headway on some project around the house.

Today, the 150th anniversary of Canada’s founding, is no exception.  Instead of driving to the beach, or attending one of the many parties around town (and maybe getting a maple leaf painted on My cheek), or standing around at Portage and Main in a red shirt and pretending to be a flag, I decided to make this weekend really memorable.

 I rented a dumpster.

 It’s a rather good-sized bin, too, with a 9-yard capacity and almost as tall as I am.

 And after a Thursday evening (from right after work until too-dark-to-see-dumpster-o’clock), at least 7 hours of a vacation Friday, and 7 more hours today, the bin is half-full.  I’ve been systematically dismantling the old plaster walls on the perimeter of My study, and as of 7:30 this evening all the heavy stuff is done.

 I have one more demolition session slated for Sunday afternoon, wherein I strip off the last layer of wood cladding and remove the old wood chip insulation, stuff it into bags, and toss it into the bin -- and then I can take it easy.

At least till it’s time to put in the new insulation, which definitely has to be done by --

 -- oh, the Thanksgiving long weekend in October or so.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Ticked off

It’s Sunday, May 7, 2017.  I’m currently in a coffee shop on Portage Avenue, waiting for a toasted cinnamon bun to go with my coffee.  I’ve just come from the Living Prairie Museum on Ness Avenue, a small nature preserve within Winnipeg city limits.

I have also just terminated with extreme prejudice a small brown bug that just crawled out of my hair.  It looks suspiciously like a tick, specifically the kind and I intend to wrap its fingernail-mangled, dismembered corpse in a napkin and take it with me for medical forensics in case I discover any mysterious bites on my person suggestive of Borrelia burgdorferi infection.  Hopefully it’s the only…

...Oh, bloody ‘ell, there’s another one of the little blighters.  *mangle*

And a third.  *crunch*

Okay, it’s official:  I am not a happy camper -- or hiker, as the case may be.  That said, I knew this job was dangerous when I took it.  I’m fully aware that May is tick season, and although I’ve never actually sustained a tick bite I harbour a profound dislike for that particular insect genus.  I’m on a far less malevolent footing with mosquitoes and wasps, in fact.

I went out for a walk on the tall grass prairie anyway.

There is a poignant phrase from The Soulforge by Margaret Weis:  “If we stop living because we fear death, then we have already died.”  This is something that I strive to live by, believing as I do that we get one life per customer and that the quality of that life is directly proportional to the amount of responsibility we assume for its disposition.

If I decline to go for a Sunday stroll in the open air because I fear ticks, then something in me is gasping for breath -- not dead yet, but not fully alive either.  I can choose my battles to some extent, calculating risks and minimizing overt stupidities, but hiding indoors on a sunny spring afternoon is not an option.




And now it’s Sunday, June 11, 2017.  I’m sitting in a different coffee shop, this time one on Academy Road.  I’m on my way home from a stroll at Fort Whyte Centre and seem to have escaped unscathed.  All I did was take reasonable precautions, wandering down the center of the Lakeside Trail and back to the entrance via a floating boardwalk, staying out of heavily overgrown areas.

If I had acquiesced to the fear I wouldn’t have heard the birdsong, a dozen unfamiliar tunes.  I wouldn’t have been able to stop and smell the wild roses, which are everywhere.  I wouldn’t have seen the bright yellow lady’s slippers lurking by the side of the path, lying in wait for unsuspecting bugs.  The main insects I did see were some ground-cruising blue beauties (damselflies, I think), one larger dragonfly in a holding pattern at 1,000 mm, and some gregarious butterflies.  There was a family of Canada geese in one of the lakes, an occasional duck quack from somewhere in the marsh, and bison in the field beside the access road.

I had a good time.  Better yet, the post-excursion check-over did not reveal any ticks or in fact any other bugs hiking across my person.

It’s entirely possible that on some future stroll in the woods, some minuscule wildlife will hitch a ride home with me.  If and when that happens, I’ll just deal with it and keep going.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

One step at a time. Just one step at a time.

One of my major struggles has been the quest to renovate my home.  It’s considerably less of a struggle now, as most of the big-ticket items are done deals:  I have a new 200-amp electrical board, two renovated bathrooms, an upgraded kitchen, new plumbing all the way from the water meter, and a new garage.  Last year I demolished the old front steps and built new ones.  So far this year, I’ve had several problem trees removed, had the parging fixed on three of the exterior walls, and constructed a large planter in the back yard.

Where I fall down on the job is when I have to finish up something that is functional and not really causing me any problems.  For instance, there’s some woodwork in the main hallway that isn’t quite done.  It’s aesthetically lacking, but it isn’t something that I’m crashing into or stubbing my toe on.

One problem spot is the hallway on the second floor.  New light fixtures, new paint, old floor that’s partially replaced.  This is something that one can stub one’s toe on, and it looks less-than-optimal.  I’m moving forward on this, bit by bit -- the next sheet of plywood is purchased and partly cut, with the next piece now upstairs awaiting a few measurements to fine-tune it to the space it needs to occupy.

I’m now closing in on another uncompleted project, applying oak trim inside the kitchen window frame to give it a more finished appearance.  I had been stalling on this for a number of reasons:  Didn’t want to spend money on the trim, wasn’t sure if I would do a good job cutting the trim and would have to purchase replacement pieces, didn’t like leaning over the kitchen sink to cut the cardboard templates necessary to get accurate measurements.

Guess what?  Not long after writing the first draft of this post, I went out to buy the materials.  Then I  made some long strips out of a couple of file folders.  Then I grabbed a step stool and leaned over the sink, lined up the strips with the inside of the window frame, and made a few creases at the inside window corners.  Then I transferred the template markings to the wood I had bought.  Then I took the wood downstairs and sawed, planed and sanded until each piece had the right shape and size.  Then I glued each piece into place, and stood back and admired the work I had done.  In other words, the kitchen window is now almost finished; it just needs a touch of wood filler and then a coat or two of wood stain to complete the job.

I constantly have to remind myself that projects are comprised of thousands -- yes, thousands -- of tiny steps.  I also have to keep reminding myself that it’s not fun to keep looking at the same undone work day after day.  It’s not healthy for self-esteem to be reminded of one’s failings, especially if the fail can be attributed to inaction rather than “Hold my beer and watch this!” derring-do.  Sometimes you just have to give it a go, even if that means cutting a board, swearing under your breath when you realize you cut it two inches too short, and jumping in the car to go buy another one.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small price to pay.