Pickin' up chicks

We got five Silver-Laced Wyandotte chicks! Natalie named them Nihao, Tolee, Rintoo, and Hoho. The fifth one is Lacey II. Even at one day old, they do have distinctive markings, but I don't know which one is which.

Jenna and Natalie picked up our new baby hens and supplies from the Belle Plaine Country Store at "Chick Day" yesterday. Natalie was so excited to "surprise" me with the chicks that she couldn't hold still. She bounced up and down and ran to the box and started yelling and babbling with joy.

I moved the box into our claw-foot tub in case Lola rediscovers her primal hunting instinct and decides to grab some chicken nuggets. The chicks were all huddled under the heat lamp with one of those energy efficient bulbs, so I switched it out with a 100 watt bulb and they immediately spread out around the box, chirping happily. They survived the first night, so we are off to a good start!

Deviled Cadbury Creme Eggs

My sister-in-law made me these for Easter. She is my favorite. Crème eggs are cut in half, topped with yellow buttercream frosting, and garnished with red “paprika” sprinkles. Heavenly!


Customer Service WOW

It's been a year since my promotion to Customer Service Manager at my "actual" job. Even though I was already handling most of our front-line support at that point, I wasn't thrilled about the idea of taking on customer service full time. It conjures up images of call centers staffed by people like Peggy at USA Prime Credit. But far from the soul-numbing chore that I feared, it has been a dream job.

Part of the reason is because our company is awesome, and the other part is because I'm the manager, so I do what I want. Our CEO is a WOW evangelist and I drank the Kool-Aid enthusiastically. From the top of our company on down, we have adopted the philosophy of WOW as outlined by Zappos. This approach has transformed my conception of what customer service could be (i.e., actually serving the customer).

When your organization's top priority is to surprise and delight your customers, every interaction is a fun challenge! Not "how can I spend the least amount of money," or "how quickly can I get this person off the phone," but "how do I get a WOW here?" It's a simple but profound idea that makes all the difference in the world.

The Race For Justice 5K

I completed my first 5K today! The Race For Justice route starts and ends on Nicollet Island, looping back over the Stone Arch Bridge, with a final stretch along the cobbled streets of St. Anthony Main. It's a fun area, but we were in for a cold run. When the race started, it was 35 degrees outside with 13 mph winds blowing off the Mississippi River.

I arrived early, picked up my race packet, and walked back to my car to wait for the start. Those gusts were brutally cold! I figured out how to attach the timing chip to my shoe and pinned the bib to my jacket. I returned to the island at about a quarter to 9 and soaked in the pre-race energy. I found a spot near the back of the pack when everyone started lining up.

The horn blew and we surged forward, shuffling across the start line. I got comfortable behind someone setting an easy pace and then mostly passed people as the race went on. I was doing great until about the 2.5 mile mark, when I started getting sharp abdominal pains, like I have been doing toward the ends of my runs during the past week. I had to walk for a minute or two with the finish line in sight. Then I caught my breath and sprinted over the bridge, passing a few of the people who breezed past me while I had been struggling and clutching my gut.

This was my first time pushing to run 3 miles flat out. My longest continuous run until now had been 22 minutes. Still, I figured I could probably do three ten-minute miles. My total time was 31:09, a pace of 10:03, which is a little slower than I expected but about par for what I've been doing in training. I placed 257th out of 393 (that's faster than 35% of the finishers--not too shabby for my premiere event).

I didn't stick around long afterward (I had to get home for the Palm Sunday church service) but I did meet the guy who finished fourth. He asked how I did and I told him, "I finished!" Which really was the most important thing next to having a good time. Mission accomplished!

p.s. I totally forgot to write about my lucky door handle. When I was milling around in the park before the start, I found a metal handle in the grass and carried it in my jacket pocket for the entire race. This will not be a tradition.

Spring in Minnesota

I took all these photos this morning (April 16). It snowed overnight, and this was all gone by 9 AM. Whenever someone complains about winter weather in April, I remember two years ago when we had a blizzard in May during the Craftstravaganza. This is nothing compared to that.

The Murders in the Rue Poule

One more chicken got killed today. Half our flock was decimated last week, and today's fatality cuts the total in half again. From six chickens down to one in eight months! Jenna found the sole survivor cowering in the corner of the coop, which is where she will stay, safely locked up until I can build a more secure run.

Our number one suspect is the big dog that comes into our yard from time to time. Soon after Jenna found the fresh body, this dog walked around the corner and scared the crap out of her. The chicken had been moved. A coincidence, maybe, but just in case we're instituting a zero-tolerance policy for strange dogs on our property.

I was actually thinking about raising chicks this year anyway, so it's not the end of the world. And again, it's kind of a mercy killing since Lacey (a.k.a. the dead one) had the worst time of it over the winter and was looking awfully pecked-over. I'll try to make things comfortable and safe for Prinny, and then bring home some baby peepers.

R.I.P. Lacey

Meet Andy-bot, my online twin

I read this article on io9 about chatbots that you can "teach" to act like you, and my first thought was, "what a great idea!" And so without further ado, I give you Andy-bot. Please chat with him. He wants to be your friend.

I do have access to the transcripts, so please use a pseudonym if you want to do something weird with my chatbot, you pervert. Also if anything humorous or amusing comes out of this little experiment, I'm planning to share it here. Have fun!

Bird is the word

The parade of birds continues. All our familiar friends are back, and then some. Up overhead we have bald eagles, hawks, and geese again. The occasional lonely heron will drift by. On Sunday morning we saw a pair of swans.

All around is a constant chorus of birdsong and spring frogs. It's fun to try to find the source of the noises. On a recent hike we identified Buffleheads, Mallards, and I'm not positive but I think also some Northern Shovelers, all swimming in the marshy lake across the road.

Natalie learnt to use the binoculars. She is becoming quite fond of hikes and nature and wild animals, as I'd hoped. This should be an exciting year of discovery for her.

Steal this idea: Alan Turing 5k

I just finished reading Logicomix, a good graphic novel about Bertrand Russell (the man who attempted to prove that 1+1=2). It's a bit over 300 pages long but the most interesting part was a note in the index that Alan Turing was "an accomplished long-distance runner." You don't hear very much about this aspect of Turing, and yet to accomplish his world-class Marathon record, he must have spent a significant part of his life running.

This gives me an idea, which I hope someone will develop into a reality: an Alan Turing-themed 5k. There are already events where you race a bear, escape from zombies, and follow clues Amazing Race-style to find your next checkpoint. So why not a run with challenges based on math, logic, and cryptography? I can see the race shirts now: "I passed the Turing Test!" C'mon, somebody, make this happen!

Collaborations: My Little Pony (part 1)

Everyone who is cool watches My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Natalie caught Pony fever when I exposed her to the show last week (she makes me sing the theme song as a lullaby, for crying out loud). For our latest artistic collaboration, I drew the Ponies with Sharpie and she colored them with markers.

This is Rarity, my favorite pony. I mean, wait, no! Shut up!

I made Pinkie Pie's head too big, but Natalie didn't care. The big splotch of orange on her face is from an abortive first attempt, after which she took a break, and started over with vigor. Her coloring effort on this one was more all-over-ish. Although, she did pay special attention to the tip of her tail.

Natalie made three serious attempts to color Fluttershy's hair blue. She gripped the marker and bent her head down close to the table to concentrate. Most of the marks look random (and more of them truly are) but sometimes she's really thinking about what she's doing.

I've got three more ponies on deck, so part two will be posted after our next coloring session (update: see part two here).

The junkyard, a.k.a. future site of the new barn and goat pasture

So, those photos I posted before we moved into our house were pretty idyllic, eh? I only took you on a tour as far as the dilapidated (but cute) barn. Everything looked pretty nice up to that point! What's beyond there, you ask? Well, a whole lotta garbage, that's what.

There's a decent chunk of land out back there and someday I hope to do something with it. First, though, we have to clear out several dumpsters'-worth of junk. I will be stockpiling these bricks for some future project. There are some plastic buckets and cinder blocks that we might be able to use. Almost everything else is a write-off.

It's hard to fully convey how much of a garbage dump is in our back yard. See that flattish structure to the right? That's a roof. It's big; at least ten feet to a side. The pile in the background to the left is about the same size. Add to that trees all fallen on top of each other and we've got a big mess on our hands. Or, as I like to call it, a big opportunity for improvement!

A murder mystery

Natalie in happier times

A tragedy struck our little acre on Monday, April 4 2011, the date that will go down in infamy as marking our first farm death. I let the hens out in the morning like usual so they could roam around the yard. In the evening, after Natalie was asleep, I went back out to close the ramp to their coop. But instead of all four birds roosting in a line, there were only two.

My first thought, I have to admit, was, "at least they got the freeloaders." The two remaining hens are the ones that actually lay eggs so in a way it was the best case scenario as far as predator attacks go. But Natalie loves playing with them all and so for her sake, I hoped that the other two had merely found alternative accommodations, and would return the next day.

Sure enough, we found Starbuck in the yard on Tuesday... or most of her, at least. All the meat had been ripped from her little body, leaving behind just her feather-covered skin, a sack of organs, two rigid legs, and a barely-attached head. The grass was covered in downy fluff. I buried her remains in the garden.

Other than a few brown feathers we couldn't find Cadbury. All the evidence points to a double homicide. The culprit is unknown but it could have been any of half a dozen of the usual suspects (dog, raccoon, fox, coyote, hawk, eagle). I spent the rest of Tuesday evening re-erecting the deer netting fence that had torn and collapsed over winter. On Wednesday morning I was serenaded with a chorus of Spring Peepers when I stepped outside at 5:00. And so the circle of life continues, etc.

Starbuck: KIA

Cadbury: MIA (presumed dead)

Dad Life

We have a planter with two puppies on it from Jenna’s grandma, so I can relate to the ornamental turtle. I would love to have a JD with a 60” cut and zero turn radius. Or the... big screen TV... aw man! I'm actually jealous of the dads in this video.

Carver's Wild Kingdom

Wasps, originally uploaded by علي الحسين

The parade of nature continues at our new house as we begin our first spring. The geese are returning, along with a bunch of weird migrating birds that I don't recognize. I repaired our bird feeders (birds/squirrels somehow destroyed all three last year) to attract more visitors. One evening a pretty male pheasant stopped by.

All the mud and snow in our yard has been collecting animal tracks, which Natalie enjoys ("follow tracks, follow tracks, what we see?" she sings). Mostly we see the prints of deer, rabbits, dogs, and the unmistakable hand-prints of raccoons (their tiny, creepy hands). A chipmunk is nesting under our porch and digging holes in the front garden. And there's a big fat cat living in our barn.

Speaking of unwelcome guests, our house is full of wasps. At first it was one or two here and there and we figured they were stumbling out of dormancy and then dying; no big deal. We had it admit it was a problem when I killed 42 in a single day. I figured out where they were coming from and bombed a room with pesticide, netting me 45 more corpses. I hope that takes care of them!