Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Freakin' Squirrels...

Yesterday morning before we headed out the door for work, Jeff and I noticed that Mifune and Mingus were glued to the windows that look out on the balcony. We peered out ourselves, only to see a fat squirrel luxuriating in one of the flower boxes, trying to nosh on the plastic berries of the fake greenery we put out as Christmas/winter decorations every year. I didn't want the squirrel to try to eat the plastic and choke or die from toxins or whatever, so I rattled the casement to scare the critter off. This did not set well with the kittehs (they were highly indignant), and it didn't faze the squirrel (who was cooly indifferent), but at least I tried.

Fast forward to this morning, when I opened the front drapes so that Mifune could take advantage of her current favorite lookout spot on the arm of our sofa. There, between the window and the cement balustrade (one of the many that bedeck the windows on our building's facade), lay one of the bunches of fake greenery from the balcony boxes. Alongside it lay a scrap of wire and a couple of small lightbulbs--a portion of the string of icicle lights that made up some of the Christmas decor. (And before I get admonished for keeping the Christmas lights up too long, we haven't turned them on since Epiphany, and it's been too cold to go out there and extricate them from the fake greenery, so there.) Great. So our squirrel friend has destroyed the string of lights and dragged some of the greenery around the entire exterior of the sunroom to the northernmost front window.

Fast forward about ten minutes later, when Jeff and I are leaving the building to scrape the dusting of snow and ice off the car and proceed to work. Beside one of the urns that flank the front steps lay another longer length of masticated icicle lights. We looked up at the balcony boxes, and at least two of the sprigs of faux evergreenery have disappeared from the boxes.

Oh well. I figured this might be the last year for those icicle lights anyway... they were getting long in the tooth. But shoot! I can't imagine the squirrels are so hungry that they are trying to eat fake foliage and electrical wire! Especially when you consider how relatively mild a winter it's been here in Chicago and how zaftig the little rodents are at this point in the year.

Guess I'd better add "take in Christmas decorations" to my list of weekend tasks... Sigh.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Did I Sleep through an Earthquake?

Apparently, this morning at around 4:00 a.m. the earth moved beneath northern Illinois. A temblor of around 3.8 struck in a farm field near Elgin, at a depth of 3 miles or so. Although there is known fault system called the Sandwich Fault Zone near the epicenter, the USGS is saying this event occurred on a "hidden fault." It was felt over a wide area--apparently reports of shaking came in from as far south as Tennessee. People in Iowa and Wisconsin felt it too. And of course there were reports of it from Chicago, but Jeff and I slept through the whole thing. I wonder if that's because our building is built on sand, which doesn't transmit the seismic waves as well as bedrock does. Hmm. (Edited to add--that is, sand and fill doesn't transmit distant waves as well... if the epicenter is close enough and the shaking severe enough, sand and fill will fall prey to liquifaction--a very bad situation indeed!)

I, however, am taking this as proof-positive that my panic reaction to earthquakes has finally dissipated. Let me explain.

The first earthquake I ever felt was in Syracuse, in central New York state. It struck around six a.m. or so one weekday morning, waking me up in wonderment. What the heck? Is this an earthquake? It wasn't until I turned on the bedside radio for confirmation and heard that yes, indeed! It was a 5.2 or so, centered somewhere closer to the Adirondacks, that I became a tad frightened. Within a few minutes, though, I was over it. Throughout the day, everyone was talking about it and how weird it felt--a kind of rocking sensation, gentle but unnerving.

Fast forward a few years, to when I took up residence in a very seismically active place: San Francisco, CA. A few months before I moved there, the Bay Area had experienced 6.2 temblor that did some considerable damage in Morgan Hill, near the epicenter. Within two months of moving to San Francisco, I felt my first west coast earthquake... although it wasn't all that strong. It was a lot like the one I felt in Syracuse, to be honest. Kind of fun to ride out, once you realize the shaking is not going to intensify. For a while, we were getting earthquakes in the high 4s and low 5s every six months or so. Nothing we couldn't handle. Nothing we couldn't joke about the next day.

And then came Loma Prieta.

That one started much the same as the others: the building began to shake a bit, back and forth, the timbers began to whine and squeak... I made my way to my usual spot, which was the bathroom door frame, near the core of the building. We didn't really have a sturdy table to dive under, and our very sturdy desk was in the window bay--too close to glass for comfort. I figured I'd stand there in the doorway, a hand on each jamb, and ride it out as usual. But this time it didn't peter out. This time it DID intensify. And how! And it didn't just shake. It rolled. The building twisted. At the height of the shaking, the entertainment center came into view... it was located on a wall parallel to the wall in which the doorway where I stood was located. Impossible, I thought. But I saw it. And the TV ended up in the middle of the living room floor, so...

From that day forth (until this morning?), I have never been cavalier about earthquakes again. Even the small ones--the 3.8s and such--sent me into near panic. One thing a big earthquake can do is undermine your belief in the phrase "solid ground." Nuh-uh. Ain't no such thing. And even after I moved to a place where the ground is fairly solid--more solid than the ground of California, at least--my panic response held. Once, a few years after I became a Chicagoan, we took the kids to the Museum of Science and Industry where we watched an IMAX film on earthquakes. Loma Prieta was featured, and the security camera clips of things shaking and falling and breaking triggered an anxiety attack of rather massive proportions--something I really thought I was past. It was all I could do to stay in my seat and be quiet while tears streamed down my face.

And so, I'm amazed that I didn't feel this particular earthquake. Maybe I am over this 20+ year old psychological trauma. That would be nice.

Although I must say, it explains why the cats were so darned weird this morning. I mean, weirder than usual.

A coda: Many of the accounts I've read online of people who experienced this morning's little shaker mention the sound of it. Some reports describe a low, deep rumbling. Others mention a sonic boom or loud explosive sound right before the shaking began. I have to say, though, that in all the earthquakes I've experienced, weak or strong, I have never heard anything like that. The only sounds I've ever heard are the floor joists screaming and stuff falling and glass breaking. Although it makes sense that rock grinding against rock would make some kind of sound...

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Friday, February 05, 2010

On Doors that Close and Doors that Open

It's been quite a crazy ride, these last couple of weeks!

One of these days (say, when I've collected all my severance?) I'll tell you a story of how NOT to lay people off, but for now, let's just let that lie.

The good news is that I will start at my new job as a project manager at a development house on the north side of Chicago in the middle of March. It is as laid-back a work environment as a development house can be. It is close to public transit, so I will get some exercise walking to and from the L stations at either end of the route (maybe drop a few pounds?), and I will be able to catch up on the mounds of books I have amassed in the last few years--you can't read while you're driving to work! At least, you should not attempt it. I anticipate working on a number of projects, but I especially look forward to tackling social studies again. I will be working for and with people I have admired and respected since my first forays into educational publishing. I could not have anticipated a better outcome for what I took, at first, to be a devastating and embarrassing setback.

Most of you who read this blog know me personally, and you know that I'm a skeptic (although I admit to watching way too many of those ghost-hunting shows... a trait that puzzles Jeff, although I attribute my interest to a fascination with supernatural tales that goes back to childhood--but I digress). I generally have no use for platitudes such as "When one door closes, another will open." But I have to say, since January 25 it's as if I've been routed through a series of doors--revolving ones! So quick was the turn of fortune that I'm practically spinning. Happily so!

So worry not, my friends. I have landed on my feet once again. And for that, I am very grateful for all your good wishes and positive thoughts!


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