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It's time again for the Madeleine Canavese quarterly report.

A recent unexpected development was that she just figured out what our first names are and how to use them.  That day, she walked out to our front door and called, "AAAAAAAANNNNN!" in the general direction of her mommy.  She's occasionally using both of our first names, particularly if the "mama" and "dada" calls aren't working effectively enough.

Madeleine's imaginative play has taken off in the past few months.  She plays a lot with her baby doll: changing its diaper, putting it to sleep, feeding it, having it blow bubbles, etc.  She puts together her interlocking blocks and declares them a boat or a cat or a dog.  She draws "cats" and "dogs", one of which looked almost intelligible recently (which I'll choose to believe was not a mistake).  Ann and I have both had fun taking her to My Play Place, a cool toddler play area just a few blocks from us with all kinds of interesting toys and arts & crafts.

This quarter also included Madeleine's first trip to the zoo, trips with Mommy in a new bike seat, an Easter egg hunt, a couple trips to the ocean, and lots of splashing at the water table (yes, midwesterners, it really has gotten warm enough for that here already).  And, of course, Maddy helped us pick out our new chicks and enjoys watching, feeding, and hanging out with them. 

And, finally, here is the latest Maddyspeak translation guide:
  • "feep" => "sleep"
  • "hawlk" => "help"
  • "fing" => "swing"
  • "fide" => "slide"
  • "bay-bay" => "baby"
  • "pookie" => "peek-a-boo"
  • "shish" => "fish"
  • "Ah-ah" => "Ana," her beloved babysitter
Latest photos are here.

 
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We've had to put down Soufflé, one of our two Rhode Island Red chickens, after a couple weeks of illness.

We don't know what caused her condition, but just noticed her limping around one day. She had one of her feet curled up and was trying (very unsuccessfully) to walk on her knuckles. I initially thought she injured one of her front toes, but I'm not sure that was really the case. We also noticed that the tip of the claw/nail on the back toe (thumb?) was broken off.

I taped her three toes to a piece of cardboard, as recommended on some online posts.  She was then able to stand/balance on it), but she still kept falling over when trying to walk (mostly with the foot sliding one way or the other). The cardboard has also come off twice.  A quick call with a vet relative with chicken knowledge said it was premature to put her down and we should at least give her a week, and we heard from someone else that chicken leg/foot injuries are not uncommon and tend to heal.

We separated her from the rest of the flock, keeping her in another part of our yard for the day and returning her to the coop at night. We hadn't seen the others in the flock going after her yet, but were worried that could become a problem. A couple days later, we borrowed a cage to bring her inside to reduce her stress.  We did a fair amount of research, mostly on backyardchickens.com, and tried some recommended treatments (B vitamin supplement and calcium).  

While we were away on vacation, our neighbor nursed it to some extremes-- letting the chicken sleep on her and making a sling/hammock out of old pantyhose to hold her up in the cage (our neighbor has her own pet birds and gave our chickens massages the last time she chicken-sat).

But Soufflé's health continued to deteriorate.  She could no longer stand up at all, splayed her legs out to the sides when she was on the ground, and kept purposefully flipping herself out of the sling.  I ended up chopping off her head with our neighbor's ax to end her life quickly and then burying her in our yard. A new and not very fun experience for us, but I guess a rite of passage for chicken farmers.  It was sad to do that after spending so much time trying to help her get better, but we think it was best to relieve her pain, and our pain in watching her flounder.

Bees!

4/10/2008

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For two years an Oakland beekeeper kept a beehive in our backyard. After he went missing-in-action when our last colony died off in the fall our neighbor, Dell, and I decided we should go ahead and learn the art and science of beekeeping ourselves. What that has meant practically is that for the last three months I've been learning beekeeping while Dell has been fronting half of the start-up costs for two hives. I read some books about beekeeping, attended the Alameda County Beekeeper's Association meetings, visited other beekeeper's hives in Alameda, and took a local "Introduction to Beekeeping" class. 

It has proven to be an intellectually stimulating and exciting diversion from chasing around a toddler, hanging laundry, and cooking meals. The more I've studied, the more intrigued and excited I've become. The science of honey bees is fascinating, and I've been reminded why I was a science major in college. Every time I get home from a class or a meeting I spend the rest of the evening regaling Paul with random facts about bee behavior. For example, the queen bee leaves the hive once in her lifetime when she mates with several males in mid-air.  Then she returns to the hive to lay approximately 1,000 eggs a day, every day, for the rest of her life until she dies, gets displaced in the hive by a younger queen, or gets eaten by said younger queen.

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Last week, I suited up in a full beesuit for the first time to inspect three colonies at an fellow beekeeper's house a few miles from here. I came home encouraged that I now know enough to begin colonies of my own.

I've been having many nighttime dreams about bees, and have been wringing my hands about where and how I wanted to procure the bees to fill our two hives. Finally, yesterday I got a call from a veteran beekeeper that I could come to catch a swarm with him.  It was an exciting afternoon as we had to capture the swarm that was 25 feet high in a tree. The end result was that my neighbors and I drove home from Berkeley with somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 bees in my trunk. Today as Paul, Madeleine, and I checked on the hive several times, we witnessed hundreds of bees taking their inaugural flights around Dell's backyard as they got their bearings around their new home.

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I hope to capture another swarm before the swarm season ends this month to put in the other hive. We'll probably get a honey harvest this year, although some beekeepers have warned me it will probably be "small" -- just 50-60 pounds per hive this year since we're starting from nothing. That will be just fine with me. When Dell and I decided to do this in January, it was because we wanted all our fruit trees well pollinated, so the thought of honey was like the icing on the cake. Now, of course, I'm pretty excited by the prospect of a honey harvest too.

It's a little tricky to make out, but the first photo shows the swarm of bees clinging to a tree limb 25 feet up in the tree. To capture them we attached a painter's bucket with metal hinges to a long pole, raised the bucket to just beneath the swarm, gave it a sharp jab, and all the bees fell into the bucket. Then we literally poured the thousands of bees into my waiting hive on the ground. At dusk, when all the remaining bees found their way into the hive, we closed it up and popped it in the trunk for the ride home. Dell and his wife Pat decided that to celebrate we should stop for a drink on the way home. Before going into the bar and after coming out, we opened the trunk to let the bees get some fresh air. They survived their trip just fine, no worse for the celebratory stopover.

 
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I left my full-time software engineer position at Digital Chocolate a couple weeks ago to jump into the brave new world of consulting.  I plan to basically be doing the same work (web/server engineering, particularly Ruby on Rails or J2EE), but from home and possibly for fewer hours.  My main reasons for doing so are to greatly reduce/eliminate my commuting and have greater time flexibility (generally: more time with my family, and less in my car and at work).  I expect the ozone layer will breathe a sigh of relief... the gas and emissions added up even while driving a hybrid.  I'm also excited about the chance to work on some interesting new projects.

Since making the change I've been working on some of the minor consulting projects I previously took on, such as a major rework of my brother Peter's film review site, Groucho Reviews (which will be much more nifty once it re-launches).  This site should also get a much-needed revamp.  I've also been taking time off, and trying to give Ann a break.

I am beginning to evaluate new projects to take on in June or later. I'm currently only considering contract work that I can perform primarily at home, but that hasn't stopped a lot of recruiters from trying to change my mind.  If you're interested, feel free to read more about my consulting aspirations or career background.