Around the Farm

Orchid Lights Azalea in bloom. The cherry blossoms have already fallen--that early harbinger of spring--but everything else is now budding and flowering. The mystery (crabapple?) trees in the front yard are in full color. The branch tips on our evergreens are speckled with tiny cones. The Earth is fertile and vibrant.

Wild Columbine transplanted into our garden. We have discovered several of these around the yard: by the chicken coop, around the outskirts of the forest. Jenna is making some major landscaping efforts but most of the plants come from her mother's extensive gardens. This one came with the house.

Wild Iris by the barn. Our neighbors (who owned our house a few decades ago) used to have a garden back here before it got covered in weeds and fallen trees. I was surprised to see these beauties poking up amongst the dandelions!

We hauled some yard garbage down to the curb for our annual Carver Pickup Day. It barely made a dent in the giant piles of junk at the top of the hill. Baby steps! This area actually looks much better already.

I built these raised boxes (from a kit) for transplanting our berries and flowers. We are going to clear out the current vegetable garden area and move the playground over there to open up more space. Our yard is starting to look like people actually care about it again!

SpringCon 2011

I manned a booth at SpringCon this weekend and got to play professional comic artist for a day. I was sandwiched between two creators whom I respect and admire, and worried that I would stand out as a fraud, but everyone was awesome and quite a lot of artists actually knew me already from organizing MIX. I even sold a few books (total weekend earnings: $23)! Overall fun times and check another line off my bucket list.

It was educational to experience a show from the other side of the table and get the artist perspective. Much more relaxing. A few people described it as "boring," by comparison. I think it will make me a better organizer. Ironically, I picked this time to tell Sarah that I am quitting MIX. With a baby on the way, etc., I don't want to commit unless I can follow through.

Conversely, trawling my Bob the Golfer back catalog and compiling strips into books and drawing fresh cover art has reignited my nascent interest in making comics. I made an issue of little funny last year and I'm considering doing more submissions in the future. Maybe I'll become a real artist after all!

Fear of Failure

One thing in common with the job I have now and the one I was hired for is that I wasn't sure if I could do either one. Each position I'd held before that was a pretty safe bet. These were scary.

As it turns out, though, jobs I don't know how to do are my specialty. It's satisfying to start a project I feel absolutely unqualified for and then become an expert. That's what I've done with the Craftstravaganza and MIX--read that link; it's an interview, and I wish I could find an online copy of our feature article where I talk about this exact thing w/r/t crafts (i.e. learning is exciting, mastery is boring)--and my absolute favorite part was figuring things out from scratch. Once that's done I get a bit bored and start to think of other projects that want doing.

Milton Glaser – on the fear of failure. from Berghs' Exhibition '11 on Vimeo.

I love my job because I'm too busy failing to get complacent. Here is a great video about pushing yourself to experiment and learning from failure. This quote resonates with me: "whenever Picasso learned how to do something, he abandoned it." Good advice for creativity and careers.

For the birds

Brown-Headed Cowbird, originally uploaded by renejo1951

I really am so happy that the birds are back; they make it so much more enjoyable to be outside, or even just to look out the window. When I go running in the morning I can often hear wild turkeys gobbling somewhere in the mist, or the lonely hoo-hoo of a barred owl. On my way home the belted kingfishers are sitting on the telephone wires, diving in the stream for their breakfast. I scare a great blue heron up out of the water and its giant wings beat heavy as it flies away.

We have a colorful bunch of new visitors at the feeders this year. In addition to the usual suspects--robins, mourning doves, blue jays and cardinals, house finches and house sparrows and chickadees--we now have goldfinches, indigo buntings, brown-headed cowbirds, and red-winged blackbirds.

As I was hanging one feeder this evening, a female downy woodpecker landed on the arch above my head to say hello. The other day I thought I saw a female oriole. I can't always identify everything but I'm getting better at recognizing colors and calls (I got two new used field guides and this is the best free online resource). Natalie is learning too. She saw a bald eagle riding the thermals high above our house: "look daddy," she said, "it's a airplane!"

Collaborations: My Little Pony (part 2)

(Part one is here)

Natalie decided to work with a more limited color palette on this round of pony coloring. I tried to convince her to do more, but she was satisfied with the results, and who am I to argue with an artist's judgment? So I give you the final three images in the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series.

Rainbow Dash


Twilight Sparkle

Blue Jays 9, Twins 3

Spread Your Wings, originally uploaded by palofmine2

After this morning's 10K, Jenna and I left Natalie at home with grandma and drove to Minneapolis for our first Twins game of the year. The weather had taken a turn for the wet but the rain temporarily let up when we arrived. Alas, it was not to last.

The first inning was merely cold but then the rain started and we were both wet and chilly. I had a good time anyway while we were there; our seat neighbor shared his cover for our legs, and I tracked down a cup of coffee. There was some exciting baseball in the first couple of innings. Both teams scored points and the Blue Jays immediately started trying--and sometimes succeeding--to steal bases, as I had learned to expect. After six innings, Jenna had enough, and we left with the Twins leading 3-2 (a lead that would crumble catastrophically in the 11th inning).

We drove to Panera for their awesome broccoli cheddar soup and a cup of hot chocolate. Just the thing to warm us up again. Then across the street to Surdyk's for free samples and to replenish my beer and gin supply. Then home again, home again, jiggity jig.

Chaska 10K

Bike Ride and Nature Walk 279, originally uploaded by JMelquist

I had a better start for today's race than for my 5K four weeks ago. I slept in till six and fueled up with breakfast: 2 slices of buttered cinnamon toast, cottage cheese, yogurt, and a glass of milk. It was 43 degrees and cloudy at 8:00. After a singing of the national anthem, we gathered on the road and the pack was off, leaving me in literally the last place!

No matter. My goal today was to start slow, pace myself, and not walk. Soon we came to a long downhill section where I flew past a good chunk of people that I never saw again. We turned onto a dirt trail and it wasn't long before we came to a short, steep climb. I wasn't about to wear myself out so early on the race so I power-walked up to the top of this section and took off at the top. I never walked again for the rest of the race.

I had worn a light jacket to keep off the rain, but the sprinkles were holding off, and I was getting hot. I took it off and tied it around my waist. The trails were nice. I'd never been in this area before and might have gotten distracted by the scenery. At mile two I passed a few people, then after mile three I started getting passed again :)

After the mile four marker, I started consistently gaining ground on runners who were out of steam, especially on the uphills. In the final mile I went by a pair of old ladies who were walking and sharing tuna casserole recipes. I was glad to have passed them, but humbled that they had led the way until then! I was feeling great, though, thanking volunteers and high-fiving the kids who were cheering on the side of the course.

I powered up the final hill and was excited to see my wife and daughter watching for me at the finish line! At the end I finished in 1:03:59, which is about what I expected from my 6 mile training run last Saturday. I was impressed by the organization at this race; everything went smoothly, and the event shirts were quite good. Overall, it was another fun run, and I have a new personal record to beat next time!

Upcoming public appearance: SpringCon

DSC_0154, originally uploaded by craftstravaganza

I'm delighted to announce that I will be attending next weekend's SpringCon Comics Convention as a guest artist, with a table and everything. This is a dream come true for me, since I wanted to be a cartoonist from a young age. And now I can sort of pretend like I really am one!

I will be sharing a table with Sarah Morean, which means that our table will become the temporary MIX-planning headquarters for two days. I printed Bob the Golfer comics to sell or trade or give away, depending on how things go. Come visit if you like comics! It's the best Twin Cities comics event besides the Minneapolis Indie Xpo ;)

Potty mouth

WARNING: This post is about matters of toilet. If you're not in the mood for stories about potty training a toddler, go here instead. Actually, do that in any case, you'll thank me. Seriously, this gets a little gross.

It's potty training time with Natalie! The process has not been as traumatic as I feared. In fact the only remarkable thing about it has been how quickly Natalie took to using the toilet and ditching diapers. Fortunately, although it hasn't been difficult, it has been funny.

We started Natalie on the little plastic potty chair, but she was eager to graduate to the big toilet and now that is her preference. She was not even fazed by the time that she fell in. We just dried her off and tried again. The books also say that kids can be traumatized by flushing things that came out of their own bodies, but nope, she loves to pull the trigger. "Bye bye poops!"

Natalie coined some new vocabulary words too. "Butterfly poops" are the little ones that follow the initial payload. And if we use the toilet while she is on the potty chair, that's a "teamwork pee" (thanks Wonder Pets). Feel free to use that next time you have a neighbor at the urinals.

Fitter, happier, more productive

Last week I completed the 13-week training plan in The Beginning Runner's Handbook. Following this plan helped me to avoid injury, boredom, and burnout. Success! The schedule goes like this. I follow this routine three times a week:
  1. 5-10 minutes warmup walk
  2. Run/walk intervals
  3. 5 minutes cool-down walk
  4. Stretching
The plan started with sets of 30 seconds of running and 4 1/2 minutes of walking. This was challenging enough at first! Then the time spent running gradually increased. For my final workout last week I was able to run 10 kilometers (63 minutes) nonstop.

I'm happy about the results and, more importantly, I'm having a lot of fun! I am well on track to complete a half-marathon at the end of the year and excited to keep running harder and faster and longer. After Saturday's 10K I'll begin the advanced training program, and we'll see what new adventures present themselves.


The first blossoms on Natalie's cherry tree

It's a girl!

Jenna had an ultrasound today and confirmed that she is pregnant with a healthy baby girl! That's great news for us because two daughters have been scientifically proven* to be the best possible combination of children. I love having a daughter so two must be twice as great, right? Double the fun? As long as we quit while we're ahead, we have it made.

Natalie was excited to be there until she realized that she wasn't going to see an actual baby, only vague shapes and outlines. At the end she asked when we were going to "take the baby out." I had tried to downplay the ultrasound so she wouldn't be disappointed but Jenna and I were both really into it and Natalie could sense the anticipation. So, I can certainly understand why she decided it would be more fun to repeatedly wash her hands than to stay in the room.

Ultrasound images are pretty weird, after all. I could interpret the images a lot better the second time around and we noticed the girl parts before the tech confirmed them. But when you see them for the first time, if you see anything resembling a human, you see a skull. Which makes you think maybe you will have a terrifying skeleton baby. Which seems kind of awesome, but probably would not be so awesome for the skeleton child as it grew up.

Anyway, a girl, hooray! And the tech said that she does have skin and organs and stuff, so that's comforting.

*by "a study," don't ask questions

Father's Day gift ideas






p.s. For Mother's Day, Natalie and I gave Jenna a nice card from one of our Craftstravaganza vendors, which Natalie decorated. Also a gift card for her favorite restaurant in the whole world (Subway). I cooked her breakfast in bed (homemade Boca sausage McMuffins) and took care of Natalie while she slept all day. Happy Mother's Day, honey!

Business book club

I met with Sarah today and she noticed a book in my car, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. "Is that any good?" she asked. I told her no, it's a long, boring-ass book, and I will probably never finish it (which is the truth). Then we started talking about something else. But when I got home I started thinking that although this particular book is a turd, I have read a lot of excellent business books lately that I can recommend. In fact I've been meaning to for a while. So here's a list of some resources that I have found useful.

How to Win Friends and Influence People
I picked this up with low expectations during a particularly long print job at Kinko's and read it halfway through. When I got back to the office I immediately ordered a new copy from Amazon. Stunningly practical advice written in a concise, and down-to-earth style. Not bad for a book first published in 1937. This is the foundation. Everyone should read this book.

Art of the Start
Guy Kawasaki also writes (and speaks) with an immediate and concrete delivery. I blazed through this book and practically never set it down. I work at a start-up company, and while I was reading I suddenly understood a lot of things that we had done. I wish I would have read this book four years earlier.

Delivering Happiness
Perhaps I was particularly fond of this one because it's focused around customer service, which I do. But really, whatever you do, you should understand customer service if you want to do it well. I actually took notes while reading this book, which is unusual for me, but there were just so many great ideas to capture!

Good to Great
I am just finishing the audio version of this one now, and it's, well... pretty great! What I like about this is that it's not just a bunch of opinions or even personal anecdotes. No, they took a ton of raw data and did science to it. The result is reality-tested case studies on building an enduring organization.

Online Resources

  • I haven't got around to reading any of Seth Godin's books, but his daily blog is a great brain-starter. Read it with your morning coffee.
  • Set Higher Standards: I used to read this for the business parts and skim the running stuff, but now I can use it all!
  • I have Penelope Trunk's book, Brazen Careerist, but I prefer her blog where she is able to be more candid. I love this woman.

Craftstravaganza 2011 after-action report

Put on a bird on it, we're done! The 2011 Craftstravaganza was a success. Despite (or perhaps because of) moderate temperatures and rain throughout most of the day, we welcomed about 3,000 shoppers through the doors. Our vendors had fun and there were very few emergencies.

Media appearances
I appeared on Fox 9 morning news with MA Rosko again. Somehow we have wrangled TV coverage every year so far. You can watch us here.

We had good giveaways this year. There was a line out the door again this year before we opened. All the swag bags were gone by 9.

Youngest attendee: 5 days old
One of our vendors brought her newborn baby for part of the day. This is almost certainly the youngest person who has ever come to the Craftstravaganza. Our little one went home with auntie for most of the day, which was a big help.

This year's success: new vendors
Nearly half our vendors had never participated in a Craftstravaganza before this year. It was exciting to get an infusion of fresh talent and a variety of different crafts. The energy level was very high both during and leading up to the show. Everyone I spoke with afterward told me they had a great time.

This year's disaster: baby in car
Another reason to be glad of the cooler weather: an infant became trapped in a locked car across the street from our building. State Fair Police arrived at the scene quickly, then an ambulance (just to be safe), then a locksmith who opened the door. We've had medical emergencies in the past, but no deaths yet (knock wood).

Trend: wellies
Colorful rain boots were the hot accessory this year. Probably because it was raining until about 3:30.

Celebrity sighting: Christopher Straub
OK, so he has been one of our vendors for most of the years of the show. But it's still cool that he would show up to support his fellow artists after hitting the big time.

I didn't buy as much this year as I usually do. I had trouble shifting over from management to shopping mode. But look, I did add some possessions to my treasure horde: an appropriate piece of shower art (above), a Tank Girl poster from Lonny Unitus, a secret Mother's Day card, and some soaps. Jenna got garden art, jewelry, yarn, and a diaper cover.

The morning after the show, I backed over my nice hand-lettered sign that I spent so much time on two years ago. Oh well! Sorry about the scattered post. I'm still trying to unscramble my brains. More photos of the show are on Flickr.