Butterflies – 2017

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 5 years since we last tried to grow butterflies, but here we go again.  So far, this batch is doing better than the first.  The first time, one of the five caterpillars let all of his siblings go into chrysalis first, then he went around the top knocking them all down to the ground before going in himself.  Big bully.

For the 2017 batch, we got them in the mail last week, and they spent the first half in their cup, eating the food at the bottom and more than doubling in size.  About mid-week, they tucked themselves into their chrysalises – peacefully.  We had to give them 3 good days to let them harden, and then we could transfer them to the butterfly cage.  Yesterday was “Transfer Day”.

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Lucy took her responsibility VERY seriously.  Once she got them on the table, she assembled the box that would hold them upright at the bottom of the cage.  CJ carefully opened the cup – the chrysalises were on the underside of the cap:

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Gently pulled away the extra silk, and then set the cap into the box.

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CJ then set it gently down in the cage.

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Anywhere from 3-7 days from now, we should have winged insects, in my house.  Mostly-voluntarily, at that.

What is this world coming to?

Mummifying an Apple

As part of the spring book fair, Lucy got a book called “Monster Science”, and we’ve started working our way through it beginning with mummifying an apple.

“Today – produce.  Tomorrow, THE WORLD!  Muhahahahahaha!!”

Ahem.

We started by cutting the apply into two groups:

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One that would be mummified over the period of a week:

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And one that would be our control, and just sit out:

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Next, Lucy prepared a mixture of salt, baking powder, and the “mummifying powder” from our kit:

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Which she then poured over the chunks of apple in the beaker:

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Next, we boxed up both containers of apples, taped it shut, and found the darkest part of our basement to keep them in for the week:

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That was last week Sunday.  Today, we unboxed them:

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As you can see in this shot, the control apples are quite recognizable.  The peel is still red, and the meat is still crunchy.  The mummified apples, though, turned a dark brown, and the meat felt more like a sponge than an apple:

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CJ commented that we should have cut both sets of apples up into the same size pieces, and then we could have compared the relative sizes.  That was a great idea, and we could have answered the question of “did the mummified apples shrink, get bigger, or stay the same?”  Oh well.  Next time, Igor.

Muhahaha.

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.

Where Mark gets schooled in Math

Yesterday, Lucy and I were playing war.  We had already gone a few rounds when I announced that I’d like to play more, and then quit.  Lucy pushed back saying she wanted to play until one of us had all of the cards.  I reminded her that war could go on a very long time, and so I wanted to stop after one round.

Lucy: 3 more rounds, then.

Mark: Ok, 2.

Lucy: No, 3.

Mark: 2

Lucy: 3

Mark: Lucy, that’s not negotiating.

Lucy: Yes it is.  You wanted to play 1 round.  I wanted to play INFINITY rounds.  So, 3 is a compromise.

Mark: I-  umm…  Dang.  I really can’t argue with that.

 

We played 3.

Linguistic Spaghetti

CJ (to Lucy): You’re the birthday girl, so you wanted the head of Caterpie, right?

 

Lucy: Pretty much if you see me going for weapons, it’s not a good sign  (on obtaining LEGO accoutrements).

 

CJ: Lucy has homework tonight.
Mark: Is it diabolical homework?
Lucy: Sadly, no.

 

Corey (friend of Katherine): I want to watch a shrimp documentary.

 

Lucy: I just un-huge-ified the video.

 

(Lucy avoids stepping on a slug.)
CJ: Lucy shows mercy to slugs.
Katherine: Yeah, ‘cuz we’re total pacifists.
Lucy: Except for spiders.  Then it’s genocide.

 

Lucy: My hair is a fat booger-butt.

 

CJ (started by a creeper while playing Minecraft): Ahh!  Screeper!
Mark: “Screeper”?
CJ: Keeper!  No wait.  Craper!  (descending into laughter)  It go boom!

Swingset

Spoiler Alert – We finished the swingset last Saturday!

What started out as a large Christmas gift turned into an all-summer project.  You may recall that in "Kitchen Faucet", I included an in-progress picture of "the pit" as a teaser.  Here is the full story.

In the spring, CJ downloaded the instructions for the swingset, and found that the manufacturer recommended a 25’x36′ box, filled with at least 9 inches of mulch or pea-gravel for safety.  We didn’t relish having a 9" or 12" step up to get to the swingset, so we made the decision to dig down, and sink the box into the ground.

Let’s see – 25′ x 36′ x 9" = 25 cubic yards. 

“Moving 25 cubic yards of root-laden, rock-infested dirt shouldn’t be too hard by hand, “ said No One Ever.

I spent one entire Saturday in June trying it, and managed to move less than 1 cubic yard.  We needed a better option.  CJ and I talked about hiring it done, but we were trying to keep costs down.  Then CJ asked, "Could we just rent a Bobcat?"

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Yes.  Yes we could.  Things went a LOT faster after that.

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Of course, being a family project, the entire family had to get in on it.

 

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And we were all geeking out about it.

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Driving the Bobcat never got old.

It took us all Saturday, and part of Sunday, but we got the pit dug.  The following weekend, we started laying out the box that would keep the wood chips in, and the rest of the yard out.  I looked for several weeks for something I could attach to a 2×10 that could be driven into the ground.  My solution was hacky-at-best.  CJ swooped in again to save the day with her find – garden-framing brackets from FrameItAll:

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These brackets mount to the end of a 1×6, and the spikes drive into the ground. 

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The spikes come in two varieties – ground spikes and stacking spikes.  The latter would allow us to stack two boards, one on top of the other.

We started in the back corner, and worked our way around the pit.

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Random math factoid.  Katherine + Power Tools = Fear and Chaos

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We intentionally left out one entire section of the box as a "ramp", thinking ahead to when we would have dozens (if not hundreds) of wheelbarrow-fulls of mulch to drop in.

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Before we could get there, though, we found we needed to put some of the dirt back.  Apparently, we went a little overboard with the Bobcat in taking it out, and there were places that were several inches deeper than we wanted.

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That took us several weekends to complete, mostly because a) it kept raining on the days we were going to work on it, and b) we were really, REALLY getting sick of moving dirt around.  The day we finished it could not come soon enough.

Now it was on to the swingset itself.

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We unboxed it, and found our first step was to pummel the snot out of innocent scraps of wood.

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Ok, the pummeling served to drive the A-frame pieces together so they were snug, but the wood wasn’t fooled for one second.

Then we got to step 2.

Ah yes, step 2.  We need how many bolts?  And we have HOW many bolts?

We found we were missing at least one entire bag of hardware.  So, we assembled what we could, and put in a call to the manufacturer for replacement parts.

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The parts came in a week or so later, and we resumed assembly.

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Only to find that we STILL didn’t have enough parts.  CJ, not wanting to wait another week or more for parts, ran out to Lowe’s and found screws that matched what we were short on.  That allowed us to keep going, and not waste the rest of the day.

CJ and I got the swingset upright, and I tightened everything down.

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The two of us moved the set into position, and discovered to our utter amazement that it was nearly perfectly level right where it was.

Then, of course, we had to try it out.  You know – break it in?

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We added the swings themselves, guestimating how high they would need to be once the mulch was in place.

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Before we could get the mulch in, though, we needed to lay down weed fabric.  It didn’t take very long, but it sucked – literally – because of all of the mosquitos out that night.

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And then came the mulch.

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22 cubic yards of it.

And an army of helpers to move it.

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We put wood down the ramp, and through the middle of the pit to keep the wheelbarrows from tearing up the weed fabric.  Then we raked the mulch into position.  It worked fairly well.

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Once the bulk of the mulch was in, we finished the wall.

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We were storing the extra wood behind the house, where it was shielded from the sun most of the day.  When you put those next to the ones that had been out in the sun for weeks, you can really see the difference.

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We strapped some pool noodles to the cross-beams on the swingset ’cause running into those things with your forehead ends the happy thoughts.

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Ask CJ how she knows.

We filled in the rest of the mulch, and also filled in the outside of the box with dirt to level things out again. 

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The big pieces of this project were now done.

A huge thank you to all the grandparents, John from down the street (not pictured), and my brother for helping bring this massive project to a successful conclusion.

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The girls love it, and every day since we finished have asked "Can I go out and swing?"

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That Sinking Feeling

CJ made it clear yesterday that she wanted the newly cleaned sink to be KEPT clean, for at least 48 hours.  “Let me enjoy it being clean” she said.

The girls and I Cheat Commandos had other ideas.  They decided the sink looked SO nice and inviting, that they’d have a picnic there.  Unfortunately, they weren’t as tidy as they should have been.

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From left to right:

“Ahhhhhhh!!!”

“Oh my G-O-S-H!”

“Mom’s gonna go thermal!”

“Quick!  Hide the evidence!”

 

CJ took the discovery remarkably well.