I am king nerd!

There's an excellent graphic novel called Americus, which you should read. I followed the story while it was being serialized online and the print version was published this year by First Second Books. But the most important thing to know is that the creators ran a contest and I won!

All I had to do was create a Skyrim character based on Americus heroine Apathea Ravenchilde. I already play Skyrim every night, so that was no problem. And after re-reading the book I had a clear idea for how Apathea would look and act in the game.

Here's my contest entry. I fully expected that someone with more time on his hands would put together a better effort, but artist Jonathan Hill quickly wrote back and enthusiastically proclaimed me the winner. He's sending me books and a bunch of original art, and I am thrilled to wear the crown of High Arch-nerd.

Jay Oh Bee

I designed a book to celebrate our company's unique culture. It includes submissions from all employees, a bunch of photos, and some infographics I created. We just got the physical copies last week and I'm proud with how they turned out.

Promoting a positive work environment is a passion of mine. It's especially crucial because we are growing so fast: from a five-person start-up in 2007 to a company employing more than 40 people around the world.

We've gotten so big that we had to move our holiday party from Lord Fletcher's to the Van Dusen Mansion. 2011 was an especially good year for our company and so, Oprah-style, everybody got an iPad. I was thrilled. Jenna was crushed.

Turns out she'd been saving and secretly planning all year to give me one for Christmas. Total buzz-kill for her. (It's so amazing, though; have you seen Sword & Sworcery?!)



Stolen thunder notwithstanding, it was great to escape the house together and spend time socializing with adults. Several people had read the Culture Book and wanted to talk about it. Our CEO even called me out for special recognition during the iPad-awarding ceremony. I was honored and humbled that what started as my little pet project has been received so well and is starting to develop a life of its own.

Let's get sick and injured

Poor Paisley has a red lump on her right eyelid. It's been there for a few weeks and doesn't seem to bother her. We finally got to see an Optometrist and it turns out to be something called a "hemangioma" (picture not related).

The doctor said it will most likely go away on its own. Natalie was completely unfazed by her tooth trauma but was struck with a bout of nighttime vomiting after a visit to grandma's house. Fortunately that seems to be a one-time thing also, and nobody's feeling sick. I don't fancy another attack of stomach flu.

Oh, and that trip to grandma's I mentioned was special because my brother was in town. Sadly, he's here to support his fiance who is at Mayo for major surgery. The good news is that Paisley got to meet her uncle Jim for the first time, and Natalie got a reminder that he exists!

I'm still here

MIX was amazing. I had a great time moderating the panels and meeting all the artists who came out for the show. Really a fantastic event, no thanks to me! Strange encounters: last year my friend Becky from Alaska just happened to show up at MIX and this year I was recognized by the little sister of my best friend from elementary school!

Natalie crashed into another little girl when all the kids were scurrying around at the end of music class, fell face-first on the floor, and knocked one of her front teeth clean out. She screamed bloody murder while it was gushing blood but then she was a real trooper. On the other hand, Paisley is smiling now, so it all evens out.

I bought an Xbox exclusively for the purpose of playing Skyrim. Let me just say: money well spent.

MIX 2011


Hey everyone! This weekend is the Minneapolis Indie Xpo comic book festival. It is the second one and also the last one we are ever going to do, probably. If you snooze you lose! Come experience the majesty of MIX.

It's a two-day, three-party show, but seeing as I have other obligations I will only be attending on Saturday. You can watch me moderate two panel discussions in the afternoon (It Came From the Internets and Rural Life in Comics). I am very excited to talk with these artists. Hopefully I can draw on my recent experience as a panelist to be a good moderator.

We are getting all the press this year so we are primed to go out with a bang. Join us and help make this year's MIX the best ever, of all time.

Trick or Treat!


We put the baby we made into the pumpkin we grew.

Monster Dash 1/2 Marathon

I almost didn't show up for the Monster Dash. My knees were injured earlier in the week during an ill-advised cram session of exercise, I knew for sure I couldn't run the whole distance, and I didn't fancy a 13-mile walk. But Jenna convinced me to go for it.

This was the biggest and best-organized race I've seen so far. The start was bananas. I completely failed to meet up with my coworkers due to the huge crowd of costumed runners. With over 4,000 participants it took me over 8 minutes just to reach the starting line after the gun went off! It was below freezing at the start, but I warmed up and stopped shivering after the first mile.

I started off jogging slow and easy. Hundreds of people passed me but I figured I was doing okay... until I saw a pacer with the sign reading, "3 hour goal." Time to commit! I picked up my pace and determined not to let that guy out of my sight. And I didn't, until around mile 7 when I passed him for good.

I chomped down on some Advil to help manage the pain in my knees. It was never unbearable. Whenever they started throbbing I would walk for a little bit, and by alternating running and walking I got through to the end. In fact, by around mile 10 I was feeling better than I had at that point in the Trail Loppet. I finished in well under three hours, a new personal record!

The race was a major production. There were several live bands along the route that helped me keep going. My favorite had to be the guys singing a cover of "the Doug Song" from The Hangover. And my pick for most interesting costume had to be the dude in the gold Speedo with the box on his head (don't watch this video, mom).



Even though I wasn't where I wanted to be physically and I could barely walk the next day, I accomplished my goals and had a great time. My parents even showed up to cheer me on. I would love to do it again next year!

Running out of time

It won't surprise anyone with kids that I didn't exercise much in the week after Paisley was born. Or the week after that. But I am registered for a half-marathon at the end of the month, so I'm trying to get back into the groove.

Last week I tried out the elliptical machine a few times, which got me sweating at least, but it didn't scratch that itch (or work the right muscles). On Sunday I was excited to hit the trails. It was so much fun that I think I overexerted myself. I ran 70 minutes and now everything hurts!

Looking back at my log now the numbers seem insane. I was running four hours a week and over 10 miles every Friday. That's followed by four weeks with totals of zero hours, zero hours, 20 minutes, and finally 72 minutes split into three elliptical sessions. Yeah, 70 minutes of running all at once might have been pushing it.

Shorn

I grew a beard to celebrate the birth of my second daughter. It was a fine beard. But Jenna's greatest birthday wish was for me to cut it off after three glorious weeks (I also got her one of these). Now it is gone. Goodbye, beard.

Daddy-Daughter Time

I was at home all week after Paisley was born, and I tried to spend as much of that time as possible playing with Natalie so that she would not feel neglected or jealous of her new baby sister. We read hundreds of books. I spent hours in conversation with stuffed animals. She helped me bake cookies and prepare ice cream (the classic Apple Pie and a new "Pretzels 'n' Twix" flavor).

Natalie is currently enrolled in her third Kindermusik class at the Community Center. We arranged it so I can take her to this session of "music school" on Wednesday nights. I really enjoy it and so does she. Plus, she is enamored with the tweenage girls taking dance lessons in the auditorium at the same time. We always stick around to watch them awhile after class is over.

On Saturday we capped off the week with a visit to Deardorff Orchards. The fall weather has been gorgeous. This Sunday I sat Natalie down and explained that I had to go back to work again so Jenna would be the only one at home with her and Paisley. Natalie told me earnestly, "mama will have her work, takin' care of those two girls."

Introducing Paisley

Paisley Autumn Claire Krueger (not a pseudonym) was born at 4:15 AM on Sunday, September 25. She shares a birthday with her uncle Jim! Here is Jenna's birth story. Everything went very well. Labor was quick and we were out of the hospital the same day.

This baby was a little shrimp! Six pounds and six ounces was her recorded birth weight, but the next day it had supposedly dropped over 10%, although she didn't look any skinnier. Anyway, she's still a tiny peanut, light as a feather and only 18 1/2 inches long.

Baby's first facepalm. Paisley was very alert and grabby right out of the chute. I forgot to take photos until one of the nurses reminded me! And I almost didn't have the camera at all, because I had left it in the car when we first arrived, thinking we had plenty of time.

Natalie has been a great big sister. She loves to hold her "newborn baby" and even asks to help feed her from the bottle for a minute or two. Overall Natalie is handling the transition very well so far. She only asked once about Paisley going back into mama's belly!

I stayed home from work this week to take care of my girls. Sometimes I kind of forget that Jenna needs me, because she was so strong and amazing during the labor and delivery, it seems like she could handle anything on her own. But I still do what I can to help.

Time to make the donuts!


Cool autumn weather makes me want to fatten up with comfort food and find a cozy den for hibernation. Soups and hot drinks are on the menu. We have baked three batches of mini-donuts so far, and last weekend I made fresh salsa with our bounty of peppers and Waconia-grown tomatoes. Mmmm...spicy!

Our garden is basically done. Jenna ripped out everything except for the pumpkin vines, which are still going strong. We've got one huge orange gourd and one little sphere that may not amount to anything. The chickens are still stubbornly not laying, except for our Old Faithful, Prinny who keeps cranking out an egg almost every day.

My beekeeping coworker brought his harvest of honey in to the office. I grabbed a jar to stash in my adventuring kit. Natalie and I are planning for a few more food-based excursions before the baby arrives and I want to be prepared!

Resume Updated

Lolamade Monsters

I participated in the "Creating An Event" panel at The Creative Connection conference last weekend, as planned. It seemed to be quite successful! I spoke with several people afterward who thanked me and said that the discussion was valuable.

The format was mostly like this: our moderator asked a question, and then we would go down the line and answer it, if it applied to us. I tried to engage my fellow panelists with my responses, and we did get some good cross-talk going towards the end, especially with Alli. It was a good group! I was the only Minnesotan and the only man, so I represented the minority.

Afterward I walked around the Marketplace to chat with Craftstravaganza artists and sponsors. I promised we'd have applications ready soon, so we ought to get going on that! And look at these adorable monsters I found!

Tom Waits for no man

Have you heard the new Tom Waits single? This is amazing music.

Natalie is 3


Jenna just posted a set of photos she took for Natalie's third birthday. Go look!

Darkness, My Old Friend


Winter seemed so far away. The days have been getting shorter and my morning runs are illuminated by nothing but the light of the moon, but we're only halfway through September! Surely we have plenty of time to enjoy beautiful weather this year, right?

With frost on the ground and temperatures in the high 30's this morning, I had to face the facts. Summer in Minnesota is officially over. I started running in January this year and today's run was a flashback to those frigid late-winter workouts. Not a pleasant sensation.

Let's all take a moment to reflect on the joys of autumn.

Full Term

So Jenna is still carrying a baby inside of her. You may have forgotten since I've written precisely nothing about her pregnancy for the past four months.

That's how we've handled the whole process this time around. We over-prepared for Natalie and her labor had to be induced, so maybe if we ignore this baby she will arrive on her own?

It could be any day now. The due date is October 2. September would be just fine. Any day before October 16 would be an improvement on the last time!

Trail-Loppet Half-Marathon

Photo ©Ericka Bailie-Byrne showing tornado damage

I completed my first half-marathon on Saturday! And a trail run at that, which proved every bit as challenging as I had been warned. But I did manage to finish and complete all my racing goals. The route was kind of nuts due to damage from the tornado that swept through the area earlier this year. Those were hard-earned miles. But the trail was marked well and I never got lost. The aid stations were great too but if I hadn't brought my own bottle of Gatorade I don't know that I would have made it.

I tripped twice but managed to recover both times. Others were not so lucky and got banged up. At one point there was an ambulance on the trail and paramedics were helping a young lady walk back to it. Around mile 10 I gave up on racing for time and focused on just finishing. I was in good company as several others were walking or painfully limping through the final miles. I watched the clock change to three hours just as I entered the finish chute and the announcer called out my name.

After gulping down water I sat in the shade until I felt well enough to drive home. I was so out of sorts that I even passed up free beer! I was okay again--if a little sore--by the end of the day. After this, the Monster Dash next month should be a cinch!

Race recap (nearly 2,000 ft of collective elevation gain!)

Labor Day Weekend

Completing two 500-piece jigsaw puzzles was our primary accomplishment over Labor Day Weekend. We drove up to the lake on Friday night. On Saturday morning I took Natalie to my parents' house and we played some board games with Kevin and Anne too. It was a wonderfully low-key vacation.

Jess and Nadia came over and I entertained the girls. Natalie is holding her shoes because Nadia ran outside barefoot and she didn't have time to put them on. Without her big cousin's example, she would never have set foot in the garden without them!

Training with Natalie. She loves to race. I took her to feed the cattle down the street and we had a talk about where meat comes from (dead animals) and how some people don't eat it and some people do. "I want to eat it," she said. After standing quietly by the fence for a while, she asked, "are we waiting for the cows to turn into food?"

Natalie's first representational drawing. She made this while we weren't paying attention. "I have a surprise for you," she told us. "It's water made out of chalk." Later she helped me build a fire and she was very upset that we had no marshmallows for roasting. "But," she said, "what are we going to make with the fire?"

Sunset on Sunday night. The weekend was much cooler than it has been this summer, but warmed up on Monday for a boat ride before heading home. Natalie wanted to stay forever and so did I. I'm thankful that she gets to enjoy our lake home like I did as a kid. Sadly, we probably won't return until next year, so we tried to make the most of this visit!

Around the Farm

A bee.

We weeded our hill garden.

The pumpkin we grew.

...and you will know us by the trail of feathers

There was another chicken death in the backyard. This time we caught the dog in the act. It's a bad dog, a very bad dog. We called the sheriff's office this time because, well, three strikes and you're out.

Things we learned:
  • Where the dog lives.
  • That we can legally shoot the dog if it's on our property.
  • They will haul it off to the pound if we can grab it.
I reinforced the fence and clipped the hens' wings again so they can't fly out. I don't really want to shoot somebody's dog. It's not the dog's fault. Anyway I don't have a gun. So we'll continue our strategy of crossing fingers and hoping for the best.

September Banner


Here is the piece I made for The Soap Factory $99 Sale. Look familiar? I drew the outlines in Sharpie and then painted with watercolors. The stamp is, of course, my hand-carved hanko from Sumi-e class.

Usually I outline my work first in non-photo blue pencil, then do inks, then scan into the computer for coloring. So it was a challenge to free-hand this one instead. I'm happy with how it turned out! Hopefully someone likes it enough to spend $99 tonight (or $66 tomorrow at the leftovers sale).

UPDATE: NOBODY BOUGHT IT :(

So it's not just me

Natalie gets very concerned when I do this. I'll be reading a story or singing a lullaby, and suddenly start talking gibberish because I am 90% asleep. And sometimes I'm just barely aware that I'm doing it, and I can keep on riffing for several minutes at a time, and that's when it gets weird even for me.

But at those moments I do wish that I had a voice recorder.

Anniversary 2011

Friday
Our 7th wedding anniversary was a weekend-long affair, with plenty of fun for all three of us (next year it will be four, how crazy)! Natalie spent Friday night with Jenna's mom for her very first away-from-home sleepover. We went out to dinner at our local malt shop, played Skirrid, and watched Juno at home. Wild night for us old folks.

Wait, I should mention the gifts. Last year I made a lot of effort and spent a not-insignificant amount of money on jewelry made with the traditional 6th anniversary element of iron. Then I decided to make that a tradition and then I didn't do that. The wool gifts I found on Etsy were too expensive and I wasn't confident she'd like any of them. I made her a mix tape instead.

But look, I also got her a nice bouquet of flowers in our wedding colors and a card with Ariel (the little mermaid) on it. She got me a very thoughtful gift of a mini-donut maker and a Dilbert book about management (p.s. I'm hiring my first employee soon at my day job).

Saturday
Time to make the donuts! I did cinnamon-maple because it was the only kind in the recipe book that we had ingredients on hand for. Then I picked up Natalie from grandma's house, where she had a great time, and didn't want to leave.

We left her with my mom and drove to Minneapolis for a crazy afternoon of shopping at the Lake Street Savers, just like last year. I purchased another obscure old board game called Twixt, and Lottino for playing with Natalie. Someday I might write a series of posts on the weird games I've found at thrift stores. I love these things.

Dinner was at French Meadow. Jenna had a veggie burger and I tried their Tempeh Reuben with an Alaskan IPA. I have to say, I prefer the less-healthy version of the sandwich at Hard Times, slathered with dressing and sauerkraut. The chocolate torte thing I had for dessert was good though.

Sunday
We skipped church to help move a piano and then we didn't move a piano. Instead, we drove to Goodwill and I loaded up with more children's books. After nap time we drove to Como Park for the rest of the day.

We started with a walk around the zoo; Natalie's first real trip since she was a little bitty baby. Then we rode a train together and she sat on a pony cart ride all by herself, another first! Afterward we spent a couple of hours at the Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival. Most of that time was waiting in line for food.

By chance we ran into the good Doctor and Mrs. Vono. We had to run because the veggie egg rolls sold out before Jenna reached the front of the line, and Natalie was exhausted. Back at home I made two batches of ice cream: Mini M&M for the girls, and Grasshopper for me. Happy Anniversary!

Twins 5, Red Sox 2

My boss gave away his personal tickets in the Legends Club level to the person who could come up with the best reason for going, which allowed me to take my dad to his first Twins game at Target Field after all!

We started out with beers and the amazing Vincent Burger at the Town Ball Tavern. Then we found our way to the seats, which were great; there was no one behind us except the waitresses(!) who took orders for drinks delivered to our seats. Fancy!

The game was close until we scored three runs a fantastic eighth inning, and then shut the Sox down in the top of the ninth. It was a beautiful night outside with nearly a full moon rising in the sky and we were treated to fireworks when the Twins won. We had fun, the end.

Matsuri Season

Pic nicked from here

It's late summer and that means time for all our local festivals! We probably won't be attending the State Fair this year but there are plenty of other options. I took Natalie to Chaska's River City Days one morning to kick things off. She got a balloon animal and an armload of used books from the library sale, we snacked on fried foods, and she was spellbound by a Tae Kwon Do demonstration.

This weekend is the Carver County Fair in Waconia. Natalie and I had never been to either of these events, but Jenna used to go to this one with her family when she was a kid. It was pretty impressive as county fairs go! There was a petting zoo of exotic animals, plenty of events, and Natalie's favorite part was riding the carousel.

The highlight for me was the food. And the pièce de résistance, without question, was the poutine. We walked the whole grounds evaluating our options until I saw it: a giant, colorful display, proudly hawking this near-mythical delicacy from Quebec. Natalie loved the fries, and I shoveled the whole mess into my mouth with delight, savoring every bite. Poutine! I miss you already.

Ice Cream Test Kitchen: Baklava Gelato

I couldn't even find a recipe for baklava ice cream online, so here's a truly original creation! The base is a simple honey gelato and I mixed in almonds, walnuts, and pistachios. It's not bad. Not what I had in mind, but it gives me direction for my second attempt.

My mistake was grinding the nuts like I was prepping actual baklava, which leaves a big pile of sugar, cinnamon and allspice. After mixing, those flavors diluted throughout the mixture and the nuts just taste like raw nuts.

What I should have done is candied the nuts first, encrusting them with sugar and spice, and preserving the pure honey flavor of the gelato itself. That would present a more complex flavor profile and approach the savory/sweet balance I'm aiming for. Lessons learned!

Upcoming public appearance: $99 Sale

I will have a piece on display at The Soap Factory $99 Sale in September. It's supposed to be a secret who made what, so I guess I can't show it yet. The art is displayed anonymously with artist information available to patrons after they purchase. I'll throw it up here after the show is done.

I will say that I'm excited at the possibility of selling more original art and thus adding further legitimacy to my claim of being a real artist. Participation is by invitation only. Plus, the sale is a fundraiser and all proceeds benefit the gallery, so that should increase the odds someone will buy it!

Race planning

This January I resolved to run a half-marathon before the end of the year. In exactly one month I will attempt my first half-marathon race. I have three primary racing goals:
  1. Have fun
  2. Don't get hurt
  3. Finish the race
I'm not even sure about the order. I'd get a little bit hurt in order to finish, as long as I'm still having fun, I guess? Don't get seriously injured, maybe that's a better goal.

Training is going well. There's a lot of road work going on around our neighborhood which turned the city into a big hilly gravel playground; perfect for trail training! This Friday I will try to run a half-marathon distance of 13.1 for the first time. At this rate the actual race will be a snap.

Ice Cream Test Kitchen: Hugsberry Lime

The story goes that T-Rex (of Dinosaur Comics fame) mentioned an imaginary flavor of ice cream in a comic strip and then I decided to make it for real. Sound familiar? Oh yeah, that's where the idea for MIX came from! This is what I do now I guess. I started a comics convention because of a fanciful travelogue and now ice cream because of a talking dinosaur.

Anyway, it was fun to start with a name and then create an ice cream to match! A challenge of the imagination. I decided to use a base of lime ice cream and swirl (or "hug") that with a berry sauce. After strenuous research I settled on this custard key lime recipe and strawberry swirl. Here is how to make the hugsberry sauce:
  • 2 cups fresh hugsberries (or frozen hugsberries, thawed)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Combine ingredients and wait until sugar dissolves and juices form, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) After churning the ice cream, layer it with the sauce before freezing.

VERDICT: tasty times!

Daddy Drinks: Ginger

Your three step plan for weekend success:
  1. Make ginger syrup.
  2. Make ginger candy. Optional but stupidly easy, so why not?
  3. Use the syrup in everything! You are a winner!

Nymph

This morning after feeding the chickens I saw what looked like a white grasshopper on the ground. Was it an albino? Is there even such a thing as an albino insect? (conclusion: maybe?) Then I saw a second one and decided that they were nymph grasshoppers.

They are white because of a recent molt and "may remain white in color until adulthood," according to BugGuide.net. Neat! I don't usually kill insects unless I'm commanded to, but I wish I would have tried to nab one. Our chickens would have loved it as a crunchy snack!

UPDATE: I did and they did!

Around the Farm

Hosta are blooming. It was actually these flowers that put me in mind of Hanafuda last weekend. Very simple but very pretty.

We have eggs again! I got out of the habit of checking the nesting box but I peeked in on Sunday and found four pretty brown eggs just waiting to be harvested. What a fun surprise!

I tried to get a non-blurry photo of our pullets but that wasn't happening. They are always on the go! Also they like to travel in a pack.

Peppers are destined for salsa. All eight plants survived and are fruiting; four bell and four chili pepper varieties. The real trick to country gardening is growing things that the wild animals won't eat. They seem to be leaving these well enough alone.

Cucumbers are coming in strong. We are going to pickle them. In the meantime we're putting cukes in everything, or just eating them raw, or infusing vodka with them!

Green tomatoes. One of our three bushes tried to immediately produce fruits and then gave up the ghost. The two remaining bushes are incredibly lush.

Pumpkins are spreading! I think we have had more hits than misses with the garden this year. Still figuring out what works and improving the system. See you next time!

Ice Cream Test Kitchen: Blacknilla Swirl

This recipe is based on one of my favorite boxed ice creams that we bought one time. It's a blackberry/vanilla swirl with big chocolate chunks. It would be hard to mess up and it turned out pretty delicious.

First I made a blackberry reduction with an entire package of frozen berries. The chunks I strained out and just kept the rich syrup. Then I made a full batch of vanilla ice cream and added the blackberry juice to one half of it. I churned them separately, added two roughly chopped Hershey bars, and folded everything together before freezing.

The big disappointment was my thrift store Gelato maker. I used it once before and while it technically "works" (turns on, spins mixer) it doesn't exactly churn the ice cream. Hoping that was a fluke, I tried again this time with the same results. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, you're going in the $1 box at our next garage sale.