What aren’t they telling us?

This almost has the title of a political rant (or, better yet, conspiracy theory) but it’s not. I know—what a relief, right?

Here’s what it’s about: don’t believe everything blogs, news sources, and other “experts” say to you. Especially if they provide you with a rating or some kind of statistic.

People want to naturally trust statistics and “experts” but without all the details, it’s hard to really trust the information. Two examples.

Car reliability
Consumer Reports gives information about vehicle reliability each year, indicating which are most reliable, and which are less reliable. I used to live by these things until I realized something important—they’re not giving us all the information.

Here’s what I’d like to know: just how more reliable are the reliable cars? Is it significant enough to really influence my decision? The answer might be yes, but I’d like all the information so I can make a truly informed decision.

In illustration, car XYZ may be the most reliable. But what does that mean in real terms? Maybe it means that XYZ breaks down 1 out of a 1000 cars. The fifth most reliable car is going to break down more than that, certainly, but just how much more? Is it significant? If it’s breaking down 100 out of a 1000 times, then yes. But maybe it’s only breaking down 3 out of a 1000 times. That is not significant.

See what I mean? Give me all the information so I can make a better decision.

Rooftop carriers
I read an article yesterday that gave ways to stretch your fuel dollars. Good article. But one point stuck with me: take the rooftop carriers off the top of your car. They decrease gas mileage by as much as 15% at 65 mph. That’s pretty significant, and probably a reliable number.

But here’s what I’m wondering—what kind of roof carrier were they using? Was it a boxy type? Was it an aerodynamic type? I reckon that if the rooftop carrier manufacturers gave us a statistic, it would be more favorable than the one in an article about how to improve gas mileage.

Anyway, question everything that you read. Don’t take it at face value, because chances are you’re not being told everything.



Life-changing experience this week

About 10 days ago I went camping with the boy’s scout troop. We had a head lamp for light in the night, and I was disappointed with its performance—especially since it was new last summer. I attributed it to the boy destroying it.

So, on Monday I hit the last day of the REI Anniversary sale and picked up a new headlamp for myself. This one is a nice one. For me. No one else will be using it.

I took great pleasure in shining it in my wife’s and kids’ eyes, and even greater pleasure in comparing and contrasting this fancy new head lamp with the crappy old one.

At some point someone had the idea to swap out the batteries. It was probably my wife. She’s smart like that. So I took out the new Energizer batteries from the new headlamp, and put in the Heavy Duty batteries from the old head lamp. And put the Energizer batteries in the old head lamp.

Much to my dismay, suddenly my fancy schmancy new headlamp is not as bright, and the crappy old headlamp is much brighter.

Yes, this is life-changing.

I always thought the talk of different batteries being better than others was marketing hype. Turns out I was wrong.  It’s okay, i can admit it when I’m wrong.

Like having a baby, this changes everything. I have a feeling I’ll be spending more money on batteries from now on.

So many people . . . all with their own story

I travel a fair amount for my day job, and it never ceases to amaze me that there are so many people around.

No, seriously, they’re everywhere.

I mean, they’re in airports, taxis, cars, and trains. They walk along sidewalks, cross streets, take pictures, and generally take up space and breath air.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m used to people. I interact with them in person on a daily basis. I drive  with them on the same highway, I work with them in the same office, I see them at the gas station and grocery stores. I even talk with strangers on a semi-regular basis, saying things like, “Thank you”, “Excuse me”, and “Good morning.” Sometimes I feel like a complete extrovert!

And I know that in theory there are a lot of people out there. I see them on TV. I read about them on the Internet. I see huge crowds of them at athletic events, rallies, traffic jams, and other various newsworthy happenings. So I know they’re there. At least, in theory.

This morning as I took a taxi, our driver was easing around a turn,  waiting patiently for the pedestrians to get out of the way. Along came a police woman on a Segue, and the taxi driver rolled forward just enough to make the police woman hesitate and look at him, wondering if he was going to plow her over.

She made eye contact with him, and shook her head in rebuke–and must have seen the smile on his face and realized that he’d been teasing her, because she smiled and shook a friendly finger at him. It was just a small thing, but reinforced something I’d been thinking all week.

All of these thousands–millions–of people actually exist and go about their lives completely unaware of me. They have no idea that I’m (I hope) an awesome husband and father. They don’t know that I drive 25-30 minutes to work most days, and that sometimes I work at home. They don’t know that I’m struggling to gain attention to my books, and that I plan to have three more out before long. They don’t know that I agonize over some decisions relating to what kind of hamburger to buy, and how to handle relationships. They don’t know that I want to climb mountains this summer, and can’t wait to get home to my family every time I’m away.

They know none of this. They just go about their lives, unaware of me.

And that’s what’s amazing.

Every one of these people–the taxi driver, the police woman on a Segue, the homeless man sleeping on the park bench under a canvas, the tourist taking a picture of the Capitol, the Congressional staffer, the waitress at Tortilla Coast–everyone of these people has a story that I am completely unaware of.

That’s right. Every single one of them has a story that’s just as important to them as my story is to me. When they burn themselves with a too-hot shower, it hurts them just as much as it hurts me. When they make it across the street without getting hit by a car, they’re just as thrilled as I am when I do the same thing. When they hear about some unrest somewhere in the world, they’re just as disturbed as me. When their hopes fail, they hurt just as much. When stress threatens to overcome them, they need just as much support as me.

It’s crazy. All these people all over the place–all just as human as me, all just as alive as me. Insane.

It’s true: a wife makes life better

Last week I spent Wednesday night digging a hole, Thursday down in the hole, and Friday filling the hole.

By the time it ended, the hole had assumed the title of “The Hole” and phrases like “I’m going in” had become part of the vernacular around our house.

I learned several interesting things while dealing with the leak four feet under ground, where our main water line meets our sprinkler line, but one of them stood out far more than others. Namely, it’s good to have a wife.

No, really. I mean it’s, like, really good.

It’s easy to take her for granted. Married fifteen years in January. She’s always there. I’ve got dinner ready for me every day when I get home from work, and it’s usually tasty. (Just kidding, dear, it’s always tasty.) Not to mention the magic clothes hamper. It’s amazing. You put your dirty clothes in there, and a few days later they magically appear in your closet. Clean, even. I swear, it’s a miracle of modern technology.

Like I said, it’s easy to take her for granted, sometimes. I imagine every man is guilty of it from time to time.

But as I worked in the yard, and made one of six (yes, six) trips to Home Depot in three days (I have yet to master the art of planning ahead for what I not only certainly need, but also what I might need and can later return if I don’t need it), I realized on two separate occasions just how valuable it is to have a companion around.

The first time was one of the trips to Home Depot. As I stared at the myriad options of rocks, wondering what to buy, I distinctly remember thinking, “If only she were here, to help me make this decision. Heck, I’d even go for it if she just told me what to buy.”

You see, it’s good to bounce things off of other people. Rather than making decisions in the sick little world that is my head, it helps to have someone to talk with, get input from. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been working on something and turned to her to find out
what she thought on the matter. More often than not, she raises considerations that I hadn’t thought of and probably wouldn’t have if I worked on the problem for a decade.

The next day, as I filled The Hole, I decided to fix a few other things around the yard. It just so happened that my wife was gone for a little while, and I was left alone, filling in holes, cutting out grass, and laying drainage pipes. You know, really good times.

By about 2:30 in the afternoon, I was hot, exhausted, ready to give up and finish another day. I was moving slow. My back ached. My knee hurt. All very good reasons to throw in the towel.

When my wife came home, I gave her a sad look and said, “It’s lonely out here. Will you come out and work with me?”

You see, somewhere during those six hours of work, I’d realized just how craptastic working in the yard all day, all alone, was. And I figured that if she would join me, not only would it be more pleasant, but I would then have half as much work to do.

She laughed and gave that little smile of hers. If you have a wife you know what smile I mean. It’s THAT SMILE. The one that says you’re ridiculous but she loves you, anyway.

“Of course I’ll help,” she said, and turned to go inside. She said nothing more but  looked over
her shoulder and gave THAT SMILE again. She did not say it. She didn’t have to. I knew it was true.

I was a sissy because I could barely handle three days of yard work, when she does all the yard work, including mowing the lawn. I spend a few days out there and am reduced to a quivering pile of goo. She’s out there day after day while I sit at some cushy desk, punching away on a keyboard.

She changed her clothes, came out, and we worked together. And I was right. Not only did my work get cut in half, but immediately the work became bearable, again. The manual labor proved no less difficult. My body had not magically rejuvenated. But having her there with me,
chatting cheerily about whatever it is she chats about (yes dear, of course I’m listening) made the entire experience much more bearable.

In fact, I’d say that it became enjoyable.

And so, here’s to all you wives out there who make life easier on your husbands–in whatever way you do it. Don’t worry. Sometimes it may feel like he takes you for granted. Maybe he forgets to always thank you for everything you do–but trust me, he appreciates it. And he
loves you all the more for it.

And if he doesn’t, you should give him a good swift kick in the pants so that he does.

You’ve heard of Angry Birds and hellhounds. How about hellbirds?

I really had no idea what I was getting into when some Barn Swallows moved on to our porch. At the time, I didn’t know we would be hosting hellbirds, but it has become evident in the last few days that yes, hellbirds have made our porch their home.

When they first set up camp on our porch, I named them Lucy and Desi. I was so innocent back then. I yearn for those days.

Here is a picture of the birds, taken yesterday.

Said birds were fine for the first little while. When we neared our front porch, which happens every now and then, they would just fly away. They laid six eggs, five of which hatched. Here is a picture of the nest and the cute, helpless little baby birds. Blind and actually quite ugly. (Click on the picture for a nice close-up of the featherless wonders.)

First of all, I have to question the parenting skills of any bird that tries to fit seven birds into one nest (5 hatched + the adults). Because as you can tell, the nest is actually pretty small. We wondered from the start how everyone would fit.

Turns out they don’t all have to fit.

Things were pretty good until late last week, when the babies were starting to get bigger. It was getting crowded in that nest. Next thing we know, one of the babies is on the ground, and the parents begin to get more worked up whenever we’re in the front yard.

I put the baby back in the nest, but the next morning there were only four birds, and tufts of feathers spread across the front porch. I could only assume that one of the birds had fallen out and gotten et by one of the neighborhood cats. By the way, I’d taken to keeping a store of small rocks near the front porch, so I could chase cats off when they came near.

The birds, apparently, did not appreciate my efforts to defend them. Late last week, after the one baby “disappeared” mysteriously, the parents really stepped up their aerial defenses. If you came inside the front yard, they would start chirping and getting all worked up, and dive near you to scare you off.

Now, I’m a fan of birds. I like to take pictures of them. I like to try and identify them when I’m driving. Nothing is more fun than watching a few smaller birds chase off a larger predator bird.

It’s not so much fun when I’m the predator getting dive-bombed.  And in the last two days it has gotten quite intense. The birds hang out on the rain gutter above the front door (as in the first picture posted above), watching for hapless victims. They seem to have forgotten that they’re the guests here. Hellbirds. Indeed.

Here’s a little video I took yesterday afternoon. I want you to know that I risked my life for this video. I also cut out the part where I run screaming into the garage.

Anyway, on Monday things got serious in the hellbird nest. One of my girls was watching outside the glass door to the porch, and she screams, “They’re pushing one of them out!”

So we all rush there and what do we see? One of the baby birds clinging on for dear life as one of the others tries to push it out. Seems that baby swallows don’t like crowds, so much. In fact, before long, two of the babies were pushed out. Only two cute little hellbirds remained in the nest.

In fact, I don’t think that he parents are even nesting there, anymore. At night they’re nowhere to be seen. I suspect that these babies are big enough that they have forced the parents to sleep spmowhere else.

And they’re not so cute, anymore. They look more like thugs. Take a gander at how they looked last night.

Yeah, pretty much like they’re waiting for an opportunity to break the kneecaps of anyone that comes near their little pooped-on nest.

It was actually pretty difficult to get that picture. Their eyes have opened, and now they’re smart enough to duck down into the nest when we even stand in the door on the other side of the glass. When we do that, the parents will fly around the porch, even doing a hovering thing a little bit. If you want to exit our front door, you’ve got to make a run for it. No standing there in the doorway before you exit. You’ve got to make a run for it, and hope you don’t get thwacked in the mad dash.

There is an upside to having hellbirds on your porch, though. They’re great for getting rid of salesmen.