Monday, September 13, 2010

When the Yak met the Fox

Last year, I met a true craftsman at the Rennaissance Faire in NY. His name was Steve Vlasich, and he and his wife Cindy are the owners of Clear Creations. Steve is a glass artist, crafting custom-made designs of all shapes and sizes. He had all types of birds and griffins and dragons for sale, all of them handmade and one-of-a-kind. He was so adept at manipulating the molten glass, which wasn't surprising once he told me that he'd been honing the skill since he was a young boy.

As I watched him work, I asked what his favorite thing was to make, and he said, "I love making stuff that I've never done before, but at this point, there's not a lot that fits into that category." It wasn't until later that I thought of something that would probably fit the bill: a Yak, which also happens to be the first three letters of my married surname.

My maiden name is derived from the word "Fox", so I've always had an affinity for foxes. I bought a small fox figurine when I went to Italy four years ago, but good luck trying to find anything with a Yak on it.

Fortunately, I took Steve's business card and emailed him my request. He accepted the challenge, and after sending him about a half a dozen pictures, he set to work. It was the first Yak he ever created, and he said that really enjoyed doing it. He also made me a Fox to go with it. I just picked them up today, and I couldn't be more pleased with how they turned out. Thanks, Steve & Cindy!

Friday, August 20, 2010

High-pitched noise in your Mazda CX-9?

Last year, I purchased a Mazda CX-9, and have been very happy with the vehicle--with one notable exception. There were times when I started the car and immediately noticed a high-pitched sound going off periodically, almost like a dog whistle or hearing test beep. It was intermittent, really annoying, and I couldn't tell where it was coming from.

Finally one day, I figured it out. The car comes with Bluetooth capabilities. I realized that I only heard the sound when I didn't have my cell phone turned on, or when I had the bluetooth feature on the phone disabled. It seems the high-pitched sound is the car searching for a bluetooth connection. Once it finds one (e.g. if my cell phone IS on and has bluetooth engaged) then the sound goes away. If I don't have my phone with me or it's shut off, the sound persists.

One fix that I've found for stopping the sound without having keep the phone on is to turn on the radio and tune it to AUX mode. No more beep.

It never occurred to me to blog about this until today, when I was approached by another CX-9 owner who told me that he'd been back to his Mazda dealership six times trying to figure out this annoying problem. Whoops! If you're having a similar problem with your CX-9, give the "Aux" trick a try and let me know if it works for you.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Saving Baby Birds

Recently, we noticed a cardinal nest in the pine tree right outside our family room window. Last week, the eggs hatched, and there were three teeny babies popping their heads up waiting for mom and dad to feed them. We positioned a ladder inside the house, right near the window, so that we could observe the birds without disturbing them. I made sure our bird feeders nearby were always full so the parents had plenty to eat, and we have a pond right underneath the tree where there is always fresh water available. They picked a great location, sheltered from the elements, and I had high hopes that babies would thrive.

Yesterday afternoon, my daughters called me at work, frantic. One of the baby birds was dead (all that was left on the ground was a wing—a stray cat must have made off with the rest) and another of the babies had jumped out of the nest and was floundering on the ground. I thought at first that it was pushed out, but no, my eldest said she saw the bird jump out of the nest on its own.

My daughters know enough about wildlife not to handle the bird, but they managed to put a deep plastic popcorn bucket next to the baby and it hopped inside. The bird had feathers covering most of its body, but was unable to fly yet. It was chirping away, eyes open and clear, and looked quite healthy. I figured I’d have to find some way to get this little guy back into the nest as soon as possible. But, as it turns out, I was wrong.

I came home and immediately called an Avian Refuge Center, and the woman who answered was very helpful and knowledgeable. She explained that one of the most common reasons a baby bird will bail out of the nest is because the nest is infested with mites. The mites bite the birds and can eventually kill them. The bites are painful, and that’s why the birds jump out. Otherwise, they end up anemic and die. I took a look in the bucket, and sure enough, I could see several tiny specks—the mites—crawling around near the bird.

What she advised me to do was the opposite of what I expected: she didn’t want me to put the bird back into the nest, and instead, she wanted me to get the remaining baby bird OUT of the nest as soon as possible. She explained that there are special medicated powders and sprays available that will kill the mites without harming the birds. She also said that I needed to create a new, clean nest for the birds, and that if I put it back in a spot close to where the original nest was, the parents would probably come back. She said that the mites wouldn’t harm me, and that they would wash off, unlike lice or ticks which burrow or cling. Ugh…fabulous.

So, with my daughters guarding the bird in the bucket and monitoring the one still in the tree, I went to local pet store and got the spray. I also picked up a deep basket made from natural material and some fiber nesting material (the woman from the avian center said to make sure the material is not water-absorbent, and to supplement it with organic materials like soft pine needles and grass).

By the time I got back, my husband was home from work and ready to begin Operation Cardinal Save.

We brought the ladder outside and Rich was able to reach the nest and bring the other baby to safety. The fact that he is smiling in this picture is a testament to his love for wildlife: taken only seconds after he’d gotten the nest down, he already had dozens of mites crawling up his arms.

Yes, they did wash off quickly, but neither one of us was expecting there to be quite so many. When I sprayed the first bird—he was quite a bit larger than the one still in the nest—hundreds of mites starting jumping off his feathers. I had to keep moving him onto a clean paper towel, and with every shift, hundreds more mites dropped off. Over and over again, we kept transferring the birds to a clean paper towel, only to have the obnoxious specks rain down every time the bird moved. I had a bowls of water nearby and needed to rinse myself off frequently because the mites were all over my hands every time I transferred the birds from one towel to the next. They didn’t bite me, but still….blech!

Eventually, the mites subsided, and it was time to relocate the birds. I prepped the new nest and spritzed some mite spray around it for good measure. My husband found a perfect spot for them in a tree right next to the original one, less than six feet away from where the first nest was, so that we can still observe them, and the parents can find them easily. The woman at the avian center said that the parents probably had some mites, too, so there was no way to fully eradicate them, but that the new nest would certainly bring them a great deal of relief. All they need is a few more days to get stronger so that they can leave the nest and start flying, and the mites won’t be a danger to them anymore.

It’s the morning after the big rescue, and so far, the two babies are still in the nest. They’re chirping and moving around, but don’t seem to be trying to escape just yet. In the picture below, you can see the new nest in the tree on the left. The tree on the right is where the old nest was located. I filled my bird feeders in the hopes that it will entice the parents to come back, but so far, I haven’t seen them. The woman at the avian center said that if I thought the littlest bird was anemic (the larger bird's mouth was a healthy deep pink inside, so we knew he was fine), I could feed it some crushed up berries with an eye dropper, so if I don’t see the parents by mid-day, that’s what I’ll do. It rained early this morning, so I know they had some water. Now, it’s just a matter of waiting and hoping that the parents will return.

****UPDATE**** Things looked promising earlier this morning: an adult cardinal pair did come to the bird feeders, and the babies were still chirping. We decided to wait just a bit longer to see if Mother Nature would cooperate and the parents would tend to the babies. Unfortunately, when I checked on the birds a bit later, I discovered that they did not pull through. It's a sad ending, and not the one I had hoped for, but at least we know that we did everything we could to give them the best possible shot at survival. If there's a "next time", we'll be well-prepared on what to do.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Push-ups and playthings

Took my daughters shopping this afternoon and passed a sign at Victoria's Secret that made me pause:

FREE mini-dog plush with purchase of our new Push-Up bra!

It seems to me that if you're old enough to wear a push-up bra, you ought to have outgrown the "stuffed animal" phase. No?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Toddlers & Tiaras: Oh, the humanity

Toddlers & Tiaras on TLC. Train wreck television at its finest.

Every show seems to follow the three-mom formula: you've got the fat unattractive mom who lives vicariously through her skinny (for now) little princess, the former pagent contestant mom who doesn't know any other way of life than glitz and flippers, and the control-freak mom who needs to win at all costs because that's the only thing in life that matters.

The girls get spray tanned, coiffed, and painted up with makeup before taking the stage to do a grinding dance routine that would make Beyonce feel self-conscious, then wait anxiously to find out if they've won a glittery crown and a title that makes no sense whatsoever (Mini-Grand Supreme, Ultimate Grand Supreme, Supreme Latte Mocha Frappucino...hard to keep them all straight).

The hardest part to watch is how these working-class families spend tens of thousands of dollars a month on entry fees, facials, false teeth, hair pieces, weaves, fake tans, and glitzy dresses. The dads usually seem like sweet, amiable folk who aren't quite sure how they got to this point but heck, they're just along for the ride. Gotta spend your money on somethin', I guess. Ack.

And yet, I watch.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sweet 16

Exactly 16 years ago today, I became a mom for the first time.


Happy Birthday, Christina!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Charity, done right

In these difficult economic times, non-profit organizations are suffering a sharp decline in donations. Less disposable income means that most people are forced to cut back on their charitable giving, getting more selective about which organizations they can support.

If you find yourself needing to whittle down your list of donation recipients, there are some criteria to keep in mind that may help you decide.

* Where does the money go?
This is the #1 consideration for me when I donate. There are so many deserving charities out there, but not all organizations are run as smoothly and efficiently as they should be. The charity you choose should have a proven track record, up-to-date filings with the IRS, and the infrastructure in place to receive and distribute funds in an equitable way. For example, charities staffed by volunteers will have much lower operating costs as those with salaried employees, ensuring that the maximum amount of your donation goes where it's needed most: the those in need.

* How is the money managed and distributed?
Another priority is to look closely at how the money is dispensed, and by whom. A legitimate charity ought to have an infrastructure in place with checks and balances so that the funds they collect are distributed fairly and equitably. Look for an organization that holds public meetings, has a consistent slate of elected officers, and a Board of Trustees that votes on how money is awarded.

* Always get a receipt!
This would seem like a no-brainer, but make sure you ask the charity if you can obtain a receipt with a copy of their Federal Tax I.D. number (indicating their 501 c 3 status) for tax purposes. If they balk at the idea of giving you one--run! is a great website where you can do a search on a charity and see how it ranks in terms of efficiency. Check it out so that when you do give, you can give wisely.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A new challenge

This above all: to thine own self be true.

One of my favorite quotes.

I've been taking some time off-line to pursue a new career path, and it has left me very little time for recreational writing. While the work I've been doing has been interesting and rewarding, there's been a component of self-expression missing that I am itching to return to.

I've discovered that even when your plate is full to overflowing, it's still possible for there to be a void. That empty spot is the one where my "writing just for the sake of it" used to be. The time has come to fill it again.

So, I've decided to challenge myself this year. I'm going to write something every day for the next 365 days. It won't be easy--I have a full-time job, kids to raise, and some trips coming up with no internet access--but I'm going to give it a shot and see it where it takes me. I have a friend who is doing a similar challenge with his photography, taking a "Photo a Day" and posting it on Facebook. Some days, the photos are just pleasant, some days, they're absolutely brilliant. I'm sure he finds it a grind sometimes, but there have been those moments when he captures something truly unique and unexpected. Those are the ones that keep you going.

Day 1. So far so good.

cartoon by John Jonick, The New Yorker

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Gores Separate. Oh. My.

News outlets are reporting that former Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper are separating after 40 years of marriage. The official explanation is that they "grew apart."

While the part of me that adores all things Al is not exactly in mourning over this latest development, the rational part of me can't help but wonder: why now?

In my experience, long-time married couples tend to grow apart right around the 20 year mark, when their kids are teens and heading off to college, and they suddenly realize they don't have much to talk about anymore.

Forty years of marriage means going through so much together: births, deaths, health scares, family troubles, weddings, birthday milestones, successes, failures, children, grandchildren, etc.

I'm not exactly complaining that the object of my long-held adoration is suddenly making a new life for himself, but the timing seems really odd.

Yes, I want him to be happy, but if he takes up with some young thang like Kate Hudson or Megan Fox in the months to come, I'm selling my copy of An Inconvenient Truth on eBay.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Maximizing the Life of your Laptop Battery

My laptop battery recently crapped out, after less than a year of usage. In doing some quick research, I discovered that this was my own fault, because I was using the battery in a way that actually shortened its life. (My bad!)

I ended up ordering one online, and the website where I purchased it from has a great Frequently Asked Questions section that is definitely worth sharing: Laptop Battery Depot: Frequent Asked Questions

For example, I didn't realize that using the laptop while it's plugged in is bad for the battery. They advise removing the battery if you're using an electric power source for any extended period of time. I thought I was doing the right thing by keeping it plugged in--giving the battery a rest--but it was actually doing the battery harm. Oops.

I also noticed the new battery wasn't charging to 100%, and the FAQs advised taking the battery out and then putting it back in, then charging it again. It worked!

I used to put my computer into sleep mode when I wasn't using it (by just folding the screen down and closing it), but didn't bother to completely Shut Down that often. That was another mistake that shortened the battery life.

I'm going to follow the guidelines from the Laptop Battery website and see if I can get more mileage out this new one. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Long time, no see

yeah, I know. Poor neglected.

I may go back and add a few posts retroactively (back that cheating?) but I'll probably just end up starting anew from this point and moving forward.

Things have been busy, but a good kind of busy. Took on a new job in local government and love it. I've always had an interest in current affairs and this position keeps me right in the thick of things.

Of course, I still manage to find time for the silly stuff, like pop culture and social networks, but I miss the expressive outlet that is blogging. So hey...I'm back!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wolf Moon - 1/20/2010

Originally uploaded by RichYak
My husband took this photo during last night's "wolf moon". Great shot!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Dying of the Light

I lost a friend today.

He was an artist, writer, photographer, curmudgeon, and advisor.

I knew he was terminally ill, but his passing still seemed sudden and unexpected. The worst part is knowing that his beautiful creativity, and the inspired way that he viewed the world, is gone. His breathtaking photos, like this one, touched me.

Rest in peace, Glenn Osborn.

View more of his work here:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Stand up for Victims' Rights!

Friends, I haven't been blogging much lately, because my offline life has been quite busy--but a good kind of busy.

One of the things I'm involved in is furthering the cause of victims' rights in New Jersey. Last week, the legislature in NJ rushed through a set of bills that, if signed into law by outgoing Governor Jon Corzine, will have a devastating impact on victims and their families.

Please take a moment to read this online petition, and consider adding your name to this very worthwhile cause: PETITION FOR CORZINE TO REJECT BILLS A4201 and A4202

Thank you!