12 January 2008

A Spy Like Me

About three weeks ago I stumbled upon one of the coolest things I've ever discovered since being introduced to the Internet over 12 years ago. I felt a bit discouraged by the lack of comments and poll votes I'd gotten in response to a lot of my posts, and I wondered if there was a way for me to find out if anyone other than my wife, mom, and sisters was reading my stuff. So I poked around Blogger.com and did a Google search and found a site called Statcounter.com . A lot of what it advertised was over my head, but it promised to be able to track the number of hits my page was getting, and that was really all I was interested in. So I added the element to the bottom of the blog that reads "Number of visits since 12/22/07" and let 'er rip. At first it was counting a visit every time I opened the page, so I had to dis-count the first week's numbers, but when I found the feature that allowed me to disclude my own IP address the numbers started to mean something. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was reaching a lot more people than I suspected. But somehow it was still enigmatic to me, because I really want to know who they are! I know my mom and my wife both tell folks about the site and that some of them read it occasionally. And The Born Again Birdwatcher added me to his "Blogs I Read" list, so I get a little traffic from that. But the wheels were constantly turning, wondering who exactly I was reaching.

Then the other day I was poking around on the Statcounter site and found some stuff that truly blew me away. I was looking for a way to try to spy on my readers and I came upon the "Recent Visitor Activity" tool. Eureka! I had found in this tool more information than I thought could possibly be available on an obscure little blog like mine. And I hadn't paid a dime for it (I am, after all, still one of the three cheapest human beings alive). This tool not only tells me what city and country my visitors are coming from, but what page they linked to me from, how long they stayed, how many times they've visited, and what they typed in to Google to find my page. It's unbelievable. The usual suspects were there . . my sister at work, Mandi at work, and John at Born Again Birdwatcher. I expected to see those. But Tokyo, Japan? Brooklyn, NY? Summerville, GA? England? Toronto? Who are you people?

The Google searches were interesting too. Some were obviously searching for my page, as they typed "Mandi, Corey, Lily, and North Carolina" into the search engine. Others found me by searching for "pull-ups" or "recipes for dads". Imagine the horror someone must have experienced if they searched for pull-ups and found the "Poop Is Comical" post. They've probably never been back. I also found out that Avery's teacher has visited the page . . twice. I guess that shows that adding the link to my email signature is producing visits. Although I can't imagine she'll ever visit again after seeing the "Internet Porn" post from a couple days ago.

So I guess what I'm saying is that you may as well go ahead and start leaving comments and saying "Hello" when you visit, because your anonymity has been compromised! I know where you live, when you're online reading my posts, how often you come back, and even what color your underwear is. Wait . . I think my imagination might have started to wander a little bit there. Check out Statcounter.com if you've got a page that you want to get more info about, you'll be amazed by what kind of cool stuff you find there.

11 January 2008

Feedback on Recipes

I'd like to hear how some of you think I should go about re-organizing the recipe page. One change I'm committed to that I'll be making gradually is that I'll change the format of the pages from MS Word over to HTML, so they can be read and printed right in the browser without having to download them and open Word. This has the added benefit of them taking up a lot less space on the server.

This week we added 5 new recipes to the collection, a couple that were absolute home runs and a few others that were good change-ups. For my birthday Mandi made me the Crunchy Shrimp with Toasted Couscous and Ginger-Orange Sauce , which was phenomenal. It was a little prep-intensive, but the flavors exploded and it was a very nice birthday treat. The Sausage and Bean Casserole and Chicken-Ham Lasagna were both better than expected, and the kids even housed the lasagna. Thai-Style Ground Beef came with the promise of being kid-friendly, but we didn't bet the house on that one and it was a smart decision. It was spicier than expected and would have been wholly pushed away by both of our girls. It was, however, a nice change from the norm and an easy one to throw together. Last night's dinner was in the "Superfast" section of Cooking Light (December 2005), and when you do fast often you expect less. Not so in this case, the Chicken with Sherry-Soy Reduction Sauce was really easy and super tasty. We served it with baked sweet potatoes and steamed sugar-snap peas. The combination of flavors was phenomenal, with just the right balance of sweet and tart. One word of caution is that if you choose to cut these recipes down to reduce leftovers, be careful not to cut the sauce ingredients down too small. Had I cut the sherry-soy reduction ingredients there would not have been enough to work with, and dinner may have been disappointing. Instead I just cooked two chicken breasts and the entire amount of sauce, which was perfect drizzled over the sweet potato instead of butter.

Please leave me comments as to how you think I should re-organize the recipe page to make it easier to read . . should I separate the dishes by type of cuisine, by meat type, or some other way? Also, for those of you counting calories (or perhaps Points ), check the "Properties" of these recipes for calorie, fat, protein, and fiber information. Thanks, and enjoy.

10 January 2008

Genetics, Bird Blogs, and Internet Porn

What a great title, eh? I have some funny snippets to share, none good enough to stand on its own but together they're worthy of sharing. In no particular order . . Lily and I went to Target today after the gym to get a prescription refilled. A major discussion point when we venture into retail establishments is whether she will ride in the cart or be allowed to walk. Today she chose initially to walk, but upon spying her favorite type of grocery cart (she's a connoisseur, I assure you) she changed her mind. 4 minutes later, after we dropped off the prescription and begrudgingly acknowledged our 25 minute wait time she changed it again and decided to walk. Her mission was clear: to walk me through the store and act as my tour guide.

Have you asked yourself yet which of the three parts of the title this story will fall in to? Rest assured, I'm getting there. The in between is quite humorous as well, so I'll narrate. We walked down the main aisle heading toward the back of the store, and as luck would have it someone got to each aisle-intersection just before us. Lily would dramatically stop short as she saw the oncoming shoppers and say "Yikes!", as she does when she sees a car in a parking lot coming toward us. Then she'd politely tell the passerby "You go first", elicit a grin and a "she's so cute" comment, and follow the rules of traffic by waiting her turn. We made the turn on to the back stretch and were heading to where the holiday decorations formerly were when, inexplicably except for a deeply rooted genetic predisposition, she made an abrupt right turn right into the shoe section! These were not Dora shoes . . in fact there may have been only one pair on the shelves that wasn't a plain black pair of adult-sized shoes. Nevertheless she stopped, looked at two or three different pair and said "We should get these Daddy." "Are they Mommy's size Daddy?" I choose to allow the mysteries of genetics to explain why a two-and-a-half year old girl is already a typical shoe-shopping woman, but the evidence does not lie. It's gonna be a long twelve years until she moves out and gets her own place . .

Switching gears a bit, it's been quite a week for me in my pursuit of birds and the life of an avid birder. I love having something to be passionate about, and everyone's been really supportive of me. I got a birthday gift this week of a membership to the Cornell Ornithology Lab, as well as a life journal to keep track of my Life List and a nice field bag to carry with me when I'm out birding. Mandi and I took the girls out to the Mallard Creek Greenway in Charlotte yesterday and I was able to add two more birds to the Big Year list, the Red-breasted Nuthatch and the Downy Woodpecker. As a funny aside, a group of gregarious European Starlings perched on a power line above the path at one point were whistling and making catcalls a construction worker would be proud of as Mandi walked by them. I agree with the birds . . she looks great. Anyway, I've grown fond of reading other blogs that are dedicated in whole or in part to birding. One such, The Born Again Bird Watcher , is a fellow stay-at-home dad who lives in Oregon. It was on his site that I discovered a phenomenon known as I and the Bird , a carnival of blog posts dedicated to birding that is put together every so often by different bloggers. To make a short story kind of long, I submitted my post from Monday about spending my birthday watching birds to be included in today's edition of I and the Bird, and I'm excited that they decided to include it. Take a minute to read through the post he put together for the carnival, it's really well done. I'm inching closer to world-wide fame, I can just tell.

As for the internet porn, I suppose it wasn't really porn we oversaw, but I couldn't help but mention it anyway. Tuesday after school I took the girls up to the local public library. Avery wanted to get some books to read and Lily thinks it's a playground. There are toy phones on a reading table in the kids' room there that she will play out some of the most elaborate and hysterical conversations you've ever heard from a two year-old on. Part of the agreement was that the girls had to quietly come with me back in to the non-fiction section while I looked for a few books I wanted to check out. They obliged, and on the way back to the front we were heading toward the public-use computers. While it was only in view for a second or two, my jaw almost hit the floor when I saw what the guy on the computer directly in our path was watching on the screen. There in plain view of myself and my kids was a YouTube video, with sound, of a girl in what I can barely describe as underwear doing a striptease-like dance for all the world. Did I mention that the guy had made the video full-screen size? I think I managed to mutter the words "Seriously dude?" as I hurried the girls past him and back out to the kids' area. Does anyone else out there think there should be a little more attention paid to what is going on in a public place like that? It's unbelievable the things you see when you just walk down the street in this world sometimes.

08 January 2008

Territorial Budding Magician

While I already recounted the positive parts of my 32nd birthday, the rest of it is really too funny to ignore. After all, what day that starts at 5:40 a.m. with Lily yelling "Open my door Daddy!" isn't destined to be great?

Around 6:30 I took Lily upstairs to get her dressed, as well as to wake Avery up and get her motivated. When the turning on of the lights and pleasant "Good morning" failed to produce the desired result, I resorted to a gentle but convincing squeeze of the rib cage in the general vicinity of a kidney. Surprisingly, this tickle elicited a laugh and not the fuzzy-minded irritation I expected and would not have blamed Avery for. The problem was, Lily keyed on that laughter as an invitation to some play time and attempted to get the next shot at her sitting-duck sister. And that's when the roof caved in. Avery unexpectedly got very angry and shoved Lily out of the way, instantly producing wailing and tears that would curdle your blood. As Mandi and I tried to diffuse the situation by calmly talking to the girls, Avery instead ratcheted up her aggression and started ordering Lily out of her room altogether. This has been an ongoing theme for a while, with multiple confrontations taking place on the subject of Ave's inordinate protectiveness of her "stuff". Well as she blatantly defied everything Mandi said to her, I decided that it was about time I did something about it. Our threats of punishment and consequences in the past had obviously not been effective, so today I was going to take action. I stormed downstairs and out to the garage. I returned to her room less than a minute later with a screwdriver and hammer in hand and went directly for the hinges on the door. The way I see it, if it ain't there you can't slam it. I don't believe a seven year-old has much of an expectation of privacy in the first place, unless she's getting dressed. And she can do that in the bathroom. So the easy solution was to just remove the door. Plus, it's my birthday, and I can do whatever I want.

Nice thought, right? Yeah, not so much. Mandi made me stop before I'd even had a chance to pull one pin out of the hinges. We compromised on a two-day punishment period where Ave's not allowed to close her door unless she's getting dressed. I suppose I can live with that, although I think at this point it's going to take more than that to teach her the lesson. Why do I think that? Later in the afternoon Ave was out in the garage getting some supplies for a cardboard stage she was making for her Hannah Montana doll. She at some point stopped to paint the words "I Love You Lily" on the piece of paper Lil was painting on the day before on their craft table. As Lily wandered out through the door that was left open, Ave's sister radar started going off and she immediately turned around and started doing a maneuver I can only describe as boxing out the craft table. Lily was oblivious, of course, as she was heading for her new bike. But that didn't matter to Ave. Just like it didn't matter that it isn't her craft table and it wasn't even originally her paper she was protecting. Obviously the punishment enacted eight hours ago was really having an impact. I predict we'll revisit this issue in the near future.

In an unrelated story, one of the first things Avery does when she comes home from school is show me her latest library book. Friday she came home with a book about the Wright brothers, which she enjoyed. Monday she scampered across the living room with a big grin on her face and another new book in hand, this one a thirty year-old collection of "magic tricks". I chuckled as she told me how she now wanted to be a magician when she grew up. As it stands she's the worst liar ever put on this planet . . you can see untruths on her face from a mile away. I don't know if that will translate well into a career in sleight of hand, but I wasn't going to dash her hopes at this early stage. Later, as I put Lily into the bathtub Ave came into the bathroom showing off her first attempt at a trick. She had a spoon sticking out of her fist and a dime poking out from where thumb and index finger meet. She was convinced that it looked like she'd bent the spoon (which incidentally has a blue handle) and fully expected me to be amazed. I tried, but my failure was apparent in the sheepish look on her face. She then explained the "trick" and wandered back to her book. Then as Mandi and I sat down to my birthday dinner, Ave came in with a plastic cup filled to the rim with water and asked for help with the "Make the water stay in the upside down cup" trick. Of course, she'd spilled half of it on the floor in the process of bringing it from the sink to the table, so the prospect of a good result was really slim. She grudgingly agreed to wait until another day to try that trick, and we were left to finish our dinner in relative peace. As they go, yesterday would have been a day worthy of turning into an episode of that sitcom we always say our life would make. The way I look at it, at least there were a lot of positives to balance out the insanity.

07 January 2008

Birthdays and Birds

I'm short on time tonight, as I'm currently supposed to be peeling the shrimp for the special birthday dinner Mandi's making me . . what a treat. Anyway, I wanted to share a few new bird sightings from this weekend as I promised that would be a Monday affair. Avery, Lily and I went down to the Moss Creek Nature Trail yesterday to check out the winter residents and we were surprised by two new birds. The first, unfortunately, was too quick for my trigger finger and I could not get a pic of it. It stayed in view of my binoculars long enough for me to guess that it was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, but I won't add it to the list until I can confirm it. My view of adding birds to my list is much like the NFL's stance on overturning the ruling on the field . . I've got to have undisputable visual evidence. In this case, I do not. We didn't leave empty handed, though. I was able to capture a few great shots of a Yellow-rumped Warbler flitting about in a tree near the creek. He was very quick and didn't hang around for long, but his markings are unmistakable and I confidently added him to the list. I also added the White-throated Sparrow, which I'd seen there numerous times but not this year. In that same vane, I'm removing the Belted Kingfisher from the list temporarily until I actually lay eyes on one again. I'm accustomed to seeing the same one perched on the wires above the reservoir on our way to the gym every morning, which is why I put him on the initial list. But he's been absent for the first week of the year and I want to keep the list honest.

Today, while Lily and I were whiling away an hour that Mandi had to spend at work, we went to the Edgehill Neighborhood Park down in Charlotte. Lily enjoyed playing on the toys and I took the opportunity to scope the area's old-growth trees for new species. After getting some great photos of two Red-tailed Hawks that were lurking in the nearby trees, we wandered over toward the small stream and heard a pecking from a limb above us. I looked up to find what looked like a Downy Woodpecker, but upon closer inspection turned out to be a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. This particular male stayed put as I got up close and snapped some really good shots of him pecking away at his lunch. His bright red chin and distinct tapping pattern made him an easy one to identify.

The rest of the day has been laid back and quiet, just like I like it. Mandi and I had birthday beers and wings at Mac's while Lily played with her cousin Taylor at Grandma's house. The girls and I went to the store to rent a movie for Mandi and I to watch later after the girls go to bed. I was asked today why we weren't spending this birthday in St. John, as we have the last two years, and my only answer was that we just decided not to. I certainly will miss that trip this year, not only for the sun and relaxation but for the unique birds I'd surely be able to add to my Big Year. But a Happy Birthday it was no less, and I'm glad to have had the time to go birding with Lily.