LEGO Labs

(A guest post by CJ)

Several years ago, the Kalamazoo Public Library started a LEGO contest – what could you imagine and build with LEGOs inside a 12”x12” space?

The question stuck with me, and for the last couple years – whenever I was playing LEGOs with the girls – I’d also think about what I’d like to build. I imagined a sort of LEGO lab headquarters. It would be a place where mini-fig mad-scientists would work to create exciting new forms of mayhem, er, technology.

And for my birthday this year, I decided to take the time to build it.

I started the weekend before my birthday. I knew it was going to take me a full week to get it done since I was making it up as I went along. There was a fair amount of building, demolishing, and then re-building as I realized that I needed to add this or that brick in the middle of an already built wall or desk.

And I couldn’t have gotten it done without Mark and Lucy. Lucy was enthralled with the process – she helped make several of the desks and the more elaborate scientific consoles. She also handled the ‘casting’ – she made almost all of the mini-figures that occupy the lab. Mark offered himself up as my chief minion – I’d ask for this or that piece and he’d go find it for me while I kept building. And then he went above and beyond to create… well… you’ll see.

We had so much fun that we decided to take photos and share with all of you. So without further ado…

Welcome to my vision of LEGO labs!

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The first floor has a receptionist, waiting area, and café for both visitors and employees. When you first walk in the main entrance, you can see the LEGO mural by the café.

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The receptionist is a hardworking and friendly student from a local college.

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She oversees the waiting area, which is stocked with the local newspapers and pretty flowers.

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The café is small but serves a variety of hot and cold items.

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Here are a couple of hard-working lab assistants taking a lunch break together. Anyone can pull up a stool and chat!

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And yes, that is a restroom door behind them.

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You can’t see the sink, but it our staff clearly know the importance of washing their hands! (We’re especially proud of the grey hand-dryer over the counter and the toilet paper by the toilet!)

If you go up the stairs to the second floor, you’ll encounter the mechanical lab area first. They have a fully stocked tool bench (including a vise) and are working on creating a small robot that can help people during a natural disaster.

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Meanwhile, another scientist seems to be working on our more powerful computer. We’re don’t remember what he’s working on, but it seems to involve birds and the physics of flight perhaps?

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Over in the corner, it looks like our chemist is analyzing some compounds under the microscope. She’s a little short, so we built a step-stool for her.

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A short walk up the stairs, and then you’ll arrive at the third floor. (Uh-oh… it looks like this lab tech is busy looking at her tablet while she’s walking on the stairs! I hope she doesn’t get hurt!)

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Initially… I only had plans for half of the third floor. And Mark decided to take his minion-skills up a notch and build something to serve as his application for Chief Assistant Minion.

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WOW! Well, I couldn’t turn this down, so we immediately added it to the top floor. Rumor has that it may have initially been called a ‘death ray’ but since our LEGO Lab is one of scientific exploration (not bent on world domination), we adapted it into an especially powerful telescope. Right now I think they’re working on seeing Pluto.

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Lucy really outdid herself in building the consoles for the telescope and our next area. So many levers and lights!

And finally, the last area of our lab is where we are engaged in some exciting new research on humans, er, mini-figs:

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As you can see, this is some pretty complicated machinery with a very advanced control panel. We insist that all visitors stay behind the red line for both their safety and that of our test subject.

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As you can see, we have a special secure containment unit where we bombard the mini-fig subject with blue-purple lightning to see if we can stimulate the development of super-mini-fig powers. (Mark wants me to call it a transmogrification chamber, but really… we’re trying to sound scientific here)

Thank you for enjoying our tour of LEGO labs!

CJ & Katherine go to Shuto-Con 2017 (Part 1)

[A guest blog by CJ]

This past fall, Katherine discovered that one of her favorite online artists, Crayon Queen (a.k.a. Loverofpiggies), would be coming to Lansing’s Shuto-Con in March 2017. Shuto-Con is a convention celebrating anime, gaming and cosplay. When I asked her what she’d like for Christmas, Katherine answered that she’d REALLY like to be able to go to Shuto-Con and hear Crayon Queen (CQ) speak. Kat’s been a huge fan of all CQ’s online comics for years, and she’s learned a lot about the process of (and persistence needed for) online comics from CQ’s Tumblr/blog.

So for Christmas, Mark and I made Katherine a ‘gift certificate’ to attend the conference, and Lucy decided that she wanted to help Katherine create a cosplay for the conference. (For those who don’t know, cosplay is essentially dressing in costume as a character from a movie, book, game, or comic.)

Lucy hams it up as Kat opens her Harold Gloom cosplay gift and looks appropriately gloomy.

Katherine immediately recognized that we had given her the first few pieces of clothing needed to make her very own cosplay based on one of her favorite CQ characters: Harold Gloom, a hobo candy magician from CrayonQueen’s comic Gloomverse.

Here’s a fan-art picture that Katherine drew of Harold:

Kat's fan art of Harold Gloom of Gloomverse

Harold has the magical ability to make a seemingly infinite amount of candy, and he also has little talking pieces of candy (called Lemon Kids) that occasionally pop out from under his hat. So while Kat worked on the actual clothes for her cosplay, I worked on making a Lemon Kid purse that she could fill with candy canes to pass out at the convention. If she’s going as a gloomy hobo candy magician, she should be able to make candy appear on demand, right?

Plus, we made a Lemon Kid that could sit on her shoulder.

Katie looks down at the Lemon Kid on her shoulder

In the days leading up to the con, Katherine was filled with the kind of nervous excitement that typically accompanies weddings, spaceship launches, and fan-girls getting to meet their heroes. The morning of the con, we were on the road by 7 a.m. The Shuto-Con Facebook page warned us that they might sell out of Saturday passes, so we wanted to get there when they opened at 9 a.m.

We had a little adventure on the way to the con (which may be shared in a separate blog), but we finally arrived there just before 9:30 and soon had our day-passes in hand! We immediately went to a nearby bathroom so that Katie could get into her costume. (It was a busy place, as several women had the same idea. I actually helped a female Deadpool zip up the back of her hood so her hair wouldn’t get caught in the zipper.)

Eventually though… Harold Gloom was ready to enter Shuto-Con 2017!

Katherine stands by the Shuto-Con Photoshoot sign

[Full-disclosure – this pic is from later in the con, but it fits the story best here!]

The convention hall with the artists wasn’t scheduled to open until 11 a.m., so for the first hour we just walked around and enjoyed admiring everyone else’s cosplays.

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Lucy loves Pokémon, so I had to get a photo with Pikachu!

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Look – it’s Jack Frost and the Tooth Fairy (from Rise of the Guardians)!

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Say hi to Hiro and Baymax from Big Hero 6!

We had only been walking around for about 10 minutes when suddenly another teenage girl squealed and literally ran over to Katherine.

“Ohmigosh! I’ve never seen anyone dress up as Harold before! You look so awesome! Can I please get your photo?!?!”

Katherine briefly mimicked a deer in headlights, and then she said “Sure” and struck an appropriate gloomy-Harold-like pose. The girl briefly chatted with Katherine about how much she liked Gloomverse and asked if Katherine knew that Crayon Queen was at Shuto-Con. Yep – that’s why we’re here!

As we continued through the lobby, we saw several people dressed up as characters from RWBY (an American anime that we love), and we discovered that there would be a RWBY-themed photo-shoot at 11 a.m. We decided to wander down that way and found a LOT of people doing some pretty awesome RWBY cosplays.

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And that’s only about a quarter of the RWBY cosplayers! I’ll post more photos on the next blog post, but Katherine and I were both amused at this shot with several people dressed up as Qrow. He’s something of a black sheep character who is always drinking so we were amused to see that one of them actually brought a flask to use as a prop.

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By the time we were finished taking RWBY photos, the convention hall was finally open… which meant that Katherine could go meet Crayon Queen in person.

It turned out there was a line at CQ’s table, so Kat initially tried to hide behind me. It didn’t work very well because the other CQ fans in line saw Katherine and immediately began to exclaim and point: “Look, it’s Harold from Gloomverse!”

That, of course, caught Crayon Queen’s attention, and when she caught sight of Katherine, her whole face lit up. As we patiently waited for our turn at the table, Katherine picked out which poster and pins she wanted to buy with her own money, and I agreed to buy her a Gloomverse book as an early birthday present. Once we were at the table, there was some mutual fan-girling going on as Katherine shared how much she liked CQ’s work and CQ admired Katherine’s cosplay. Katie was too shy to ask, so I popped the question – could we get a picture?

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And the answer was yes!

Elated at having successfully spoken with CQ, Katherine decided to try visiting the table of another of her favorite online artists – Alexis Royce, who writes Evil Plan and Sire. We not only got to meet her, but when she found out that Katherine was a fan of Evil Plan, she gave Katie a button of Tal A. Kinesis from Evil Plan to go along side the Harold button we bought at CQ’s table.

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With the two ‘must-see’ artists checked off Katie’s list, we then browsed the rest of the artists’ hall, the gaming hall, and made a few more loops of the general convention center to check out more cosplays, the combat area, etc. etc.

When we got in line to eat lunch, Katherine suddenly grabbed my arm and pointed urgently at someone in the nearby crowd. At first she was so excited, I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but then she slowed down her speech and explained that someone had decided to cosplay as another one of CQ’s characters, UnderFresh Sans. Katherine went over to her and the two girls had some mutual squeals over each other’s costumes and then we got a picture of the two of them:

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Later in the day, Katherine would also confront the great Papyrus from Undertale and they would engage in a brief battle of puns – a skele-TON of puns, as Katie would say

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After lunch, we attended a workshop on creating digital art. The speaker, Yhasmin Wilder of Boymonsta.com, was very informative and also quite hysterical to listen to. For part of the workshop, she showed us how she used digital layers upon layers (so many layers!) to create fan art for the characters Miraculous Ladybug and Cat Noir. Since Lucy is a big fan of Miraculous Ladybug, we stopped by Ms. Wilder’s artist booth afterwards and bought a poster for Lucy – and got it autographed on the back by the artist!

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(Check out our next post for photos of people cosplaying as these characters too!)

We did some more crowd-watching and then had some dinner. The big event for us, though, was CrayonQueen’s Q&A panel. After dinner, we went to sit outside the panel room about 45 minutes ahead of time to make sure we got in. Kat used the time to get in a little drawing.

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Yes, all those people are waiting for CQ’s panel! The crowd all clearly loved CQ – many of them were Patreons of her work – and CQ felt comfortable joking around with all of us. The questions ranged from silly to serious, from probing questions about backstories of characters to hypothetical “what if” questions that made the crowd gasp and/or break out in laughter.

CQ warned everyone that she wouldn’t spoil anything big in the stories to come, but she had lots of fun taunting the fans with hints and half-truths. And then to crown the night off, the crowd got to see the first few pages of her newest and latest comic, Lucidia.

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Katherine actually did ask a question of CQ – and so did I. Being a teacher, mine was fairly predictable – what advice would CQ have for young artists out there and the adults who are trying to support them? She shared a few tips, but the one that surprised me was that she encouraged all artists to learn to draw with good posture and to take care of their bodies (CQ shared that she learned that the hard way!). Katherine proved herself to be a true CQ fan because asked a hypothetical question about how one characters in her new comic, Lucidia, who had also been in one of CQ’s earliest comics, Mortifer would react to meeting some of his old companions from Mortifer while in the world of Lucidia. That made CQ stop and smile, but she wouldn’t reveal any spoilers!

The panel eventually came to an end, but before we could leave the con, another girl (who was cosplaying as Toriel from Undertale) shyly came up to Kat and asked for her photo. I offered to get a picture of the two of them together, and I swear Toriel almost did a happy dance right then. Over the course of the day, Kat had actually been recognized by quite a few people and had her picture taken at least 6 or 7 times.

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After that, we went home with sore feet and happy faces. It was a somewhat stressful drive back (yucky roads, no working shake machines at any McDonalds, and an apparently drunk or distracted semi-truck driver on I-94), but we made it THERE AND BACK AGAIN! (Not exactly a hobbit’s tale, but definitely an adventure nonetheless!)

Stay tuned for another post with just a bunch’o’fun pics.

Floating to Mars

Did you know that we sent a balloon to Mars, and it sent back some beautiful photos?

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Just kidding!  I was messing around with one of our stratoballoon pictures earlier this week, and accidentally reversed the colors.  All of the lovely blues turned to these tans and oranges, making our Terran shots look positively Martian.  Here they are again, side by side with the originals:

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Giddyap!

Here are some Hexbugs in the wild:

 

Hexbugs are really just a set of rubber bristles hooked up to a small vibration motor (like what is in a cell phone) and a battery.  Because the bristles are angled backward, the motor’s vibrations cause the bugs to move forward.  And left.  And right.  And occasionally flip over when they run into another Hexbug.  They are great fun.

Lucy and I decided to try to tame them, and harness their power for good.  We present – Hexbug Stagecoach!

 

We cobbled the harness together with rubber bands and q-tips:

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And then attached the Hexbugs using more rubber bands.  A loop of string would serve as the reins.

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Lucy quickly pieced together a coach for the bugs to pull:

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Next stop, sunset!  Hi-ya!

LEGO – A Lesson in Persistence

Last weekend, Lucy and I indulged in some LEGO awesome-ness.  At the time, the blades on my Rotorcycle (see what I did there?) swung freely, and as a result, they would frequently smack into each other.  I’ve been letting the problem stew all week, and this weekend I decided to try to fix the problem with some gears.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough of the right kind of gears to make it as simply as I wanted.  So I had to try something else.  In fact, I ended up going through at least 8 iterations before I found an arrangement that worked well enough to satisfy.  I thought about giving up – concluding that we just didn’t own enough of the right pieces to make this work – but I’m pleased to say that I stuck with it, and my persistence paid off.

I present you with the Rotorcycle v2:

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The gears involved don’t mesh well at all, but when you turn the main gear and apply a little pressure to the smaller ones, the blades will turn.

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I needed the blades to be offset from true vertical.  That placed the blades far enough apart to swing without interfering with each other, but kept the small gears close enough together that they could both still make contact with the main gear.  After I had the blades interlinked, I had to redesign how it gets mounted to the cycle itself. 

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That gave me the opportunity to move the weapon hardpoints out away from the bike body, making it slightly more realistic.

I do realize, though, that when it comes to the "realism" spectrum, I’m still off the deep end here.

New LEGO creations

Yesterday, Lucy asked if I would play LEGOs with her.  She started building a lava-falls, something very common in the game Minecraft, and I started tinkering with Catwoman’s motorcycle (part of a DC Comics set we got a while back).  Here is the result:

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Lucy showed me several iterations as she completed each, and I kept challenging her with "that’s cool, but can you do X?"  Lucy didn’t disappoint.

In this one, Kai, the red ninja of fire*, can be seen relaxing at the top:

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The speech bubble was pure-Lucy.  Jay, the blue ninja of lightning, though, isn’t as thrilled at sinking into the lava.

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My super-cycle also went through several iterations.  I started by added the twin blades and a jet engine which turned it into something resembling a gyrocopter:

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Then I decided a cool motorcycle like this really needed weapons.  Big ones.

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For both of us, it was 30 minutes well spent.

 

 

* Lucy is a huge fan of the cartoon series “Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu”.  Kai and Jay are two of the good ninjas featured in the show.

SharkLaser

What can you do with 11 toy sharks and 11 keychain laser pointers?

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The internets know – SHARKLASER!

Allow me to explain.

Several parts of the web application I’ve been working on since last June generates emails to the user.  As a result, testing that application requires lots and lots of email accounts.  To make things simpler, we’ve been using a couple of sites that allow us to create real, but completely public, email addresses – https://Mailinator.com and https://GuerrillaMail.com.  Both are easy to use, but my preferred service is the latter (mostly because I found it first years ago, and have a shortcut to it).

What I love most about GuerrillaMail is the default domain – sharklasers.com.  As we started getting more heavily into testing, the term "sharklaser" started getting thrown around the office as the answer to everything.  "What’s the password?"  Answer: sharklaser.  "What’s the status of that task?" Answer: sharklaser.  "What should we name the production database?"  Answer: sharklaser.

This even spilled over onto a call with the client, who upon hearing this joke remarked "Cue the Austin Powers music!"

This past weekend, CJ and I were joking about this and very quickly came to the conclusion that we could buy toy sharks and small laser pointers, and actually make "sharklasers" for everyone on the team.  The idea was too good to pass up.  CJ did the shopping, and came home with a matching set of 11 sharks and lasers.  Now it was up to me to make them work.

I started by unpackaging everything, and putting the batteries into the lasers.  Out of the 11 we purchased, I found 1 where the laser pointer didn’t work, but the LED flashlight still did.  I decided that would be mine, and I would hand out the good ones to the rest of the team.   I then removed the keychains from the lasers with my pliers:

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Now we could get down to business.  How DO you mount a laser on a shark?

I first tried a black rubber band, thinking it might look like a harness:

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It looked all right, but it flopped around a bit, and generally looked a little cheap, so I moved on to superglue.

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That looked a lot better, and after letting it dry for a few minutes seemed to be holding fairly well.  I glued the other 10 together, and propped them up to dry overnight.

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The next evening I checked on them, and all of the lasers were solid. 

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And they looked awesome.

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CJ loved how they turned out, but then remarked, "They still need something."

"What do you want me to do, wrap them in bacon?!"

Though glib, I did recognize that just dropping these magnificent pieces of functional art off on everyone’s desk actually may not be enough.  Some people would probably get the joke, but it might just confuse others.  I decided to add a label to the side which read "Official Mascot of _____" (filling in the name of our project), just to give them some context of why they were getting these.  I even had one left over, so we decided that we’ll present it to the client at the end of the project.

They went over very well; smiles all around.

‘Cause who doesn’t want their very own sharklaser, honestly?

Bunny Summer Camp

Lucy recently had a sleepover at Grandpa’s and Grandma’s house – the very first one where she was the only grandchild sleeping over – so this was a big deal.  She had a great time, and came home about as tired as we expected her to be following the overnight.

Shortly before bedtime that night, we got a call from the grandparents.  Among the many toys that joined her for the sleepover was her beloved Bunny.

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Bunny, Grandma informed us, didn’t make the return trip.  She was still at their house.

Uh-oh.

In a valiant effort to avoid a meltdown, CJ pulled out one of Lucy’s other favorite stuffed animals – Mouse, from the “If you give a mouse a cookie” book.  Lucy hadn’t played with Mouse for a while, so we were hoping the novelty would avoid her asking the difficult question – “Where is Bunny?”

It worked for about 5 minutes.

Lucy: “Where is Bunny?”

CJ: “Sweetheart, Bunny is unfortunately at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  If the weather is good, we can get Bunny back in a few days.”

Lucy did not take that well.  She spent the next 45 minutes sobbing, and wasn’t able to calm down, let alone go to sleep.  At the 45 minute mark, I relieved CJ.

“Lucy, Let’s imagine Bunny is a scientist, and she’s in the field studying the unusual traits of Specius Grandma-icus.”

Lucy stopped sobbing.  “That didn’t cheer me up, but at least I stopped crying.”

Well, it was progress.  “Or we imagine Bunny is a spy…”

Lucy replied, “That didn’t cheer me up either.”

“Ok, what if we imagine Bunny was at Bunny Summer Camp?  What kinds of activities would she be doing?”

“Canoeing?”  Lucy asked.

Trying to be funny, I replied, “Would she use her ears to paddle?”  Now, please understand that I pictured Bunny leaning over the side of the canoe, with her ears in the water.  My intentions were pure.  Lucy’s mind, however, went somewhere else entirely.

“Yeah, she would rip her ears off, and use them as paddles.”

“What?!”

Lucy breaks into mad giggles.

“Um, ok, what else would Bunny do?”

Lucy responded, “To roast marshmallows, she would rip her arm off, and hold it in the other arm, put the marshmallow in it, and stick it over the fire.”

“WHAT?!”

Even more mad giggles.  This summer camp had suddenly turned nightmarish, but at least Lucy was laughing about it.

“Lucy, I don’t think I EVER want to go to that summer camp.”

Lucy responded, “You have to, ’cause I signed you up for it!”

“W-H-A-T?!?!”

More giggles.

Sigh.  It was morbid, but it got the job done.  Lucy was able to calm down enough after that to go to sleep.  The weather didn’t cooperate for several days, however, so Bunny ended up hitching a ride with the postman to get home.

Moving All® the Things

Lucy had a problem.

She needed the stepstool, but at the moment it was supporting a box containing nearly 40 pounds of All® laundry detergent. 

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There was only one thing to do: move the box.  So she did.

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How did she move a box that weighed nearly 40 points – approximately 70% of her own body weight – without spilling a drop?  Let’s let Lucy explain:

She said she intended to move the box back to the stepstool once she was done with it, but CJ found her before she had a chance, and asked her – rather incredulously – how she managed to move such a heavy box. 

"Mom, it was easy…"