Eclipse / Hamilton Week

The Gilberts were on vacation this week, and what a week it was!

We first drove to St. Louis to see the “Great American Eclipse”.  Michigan got roughly 80% of a full eclipse, but we wanted to be in the path of totality.  The actual eclipse would happen early afternoon on Monday the 21st, but we wanted to try to miss the massive crowds they were predicting would drive into the St. Louis area, so we left early the morning of Saturday the 19th.

We were all in good spirits on the trip down, and had more than one amusing moment.  A couple of our favorites:

  • A sign that measured your speed and played it back to you, for example, “Your Speed: 54”.  If you were going between 1 and 5 MPH over the limit, it would still show you your speed, but would blink to get your attention.  If you were going faster than that, the sign changed to “Your Speed: Slow Down”.
  • Mark: “Pinch and zoom is great except when you’re in a car on a bumpy road.”

As usual, CJ planned the drive down to have a couple of stops – the first was a late breakfast at Sophia’s House of Pancakes (which was fantastic).  The second one was a mystery – CJ refused to tell us (not even me) where we were going or what we were doing.  We drove a little ways off of Route 66 to “Arcadia: America’s Playable Arcade Museum” in McLean, IL – an arcade with a good number of classic video games and pinball machines.  We had a couple of rolls of quarters to burn, and the four of us went to town.  We spent a lot longer than than we had budgeted (not really a surprise), and CJ and I got to introduce the girls to a lot of the classic games we grew up playing.  Lucy ended up getting on the high score board for one of the jet-fighter games, and I even captured the top slot on Galaga!

Once we got into St. Louis, we parked the van, and went to dinner.  After that, we walked to the Arch.  Besides being in the path of totality, this was the other reason we chose St. Louis – Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” series (which all four of us has read and love) has a very memorable scene at the top of the Arch involving a fire-breathing Chihuahua.  To celebrate visiting the scene of said incident, Lucy made sure to wear her Camp Halfblood t-shirt.

The ride up in the “pod” was a little nerve-wracking, but the girls loved the views from the top.  We visited in early evening, and Katherine noticed that the arch cast a very long shadow in the setting sun.

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The park ranger helping to guide the tourists through saw Lucy’s t-shirt, and asked her to keep an eye out for any Chihuahuas.  Lucy smiled, clearly happy that someone got the reference.  I told him we figured the “no pets” signs around the arch were put in place precisely for that incident, and he agreed.  He then admitted that he was the designed “adult” to a Rick Riordan book signing.  When we got back down to ground level, Lucy found two other girls in Camp Halfblood t-shirts, so she got a chance to geek out for a bit.  After a visit to the Arch store, we walked back to the van, drove to our hotel, and collapsed.

The next day, Sunday, was mostly spent at the St. Louis Zoo.  They have a number of animals that we can’t see at our local zoo, like stingrays:

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We actually got to pet the stingrays.  They tell you to put your hard flat in the pool, and the rays that want to be petted will swim up to you where you can stroke the tops of their bodies (the zookeepers warn you to not touch their “wings” or their bellies).  Lucy didn’t have a very good first impression, unfortunately.  One of the first rays that swam up to Lucy bumped into another ray, and a massive splash ensued as the two of them tried to get away.  Unfortunately, Lucy was right over them when they tussled, so she got a mouth full of sea water.  By the end, though, she got the hang of it, and managed to pet several of the rays, including one of the two “baby” rays that are about the size of a dinner plate, and one of the two “granddaddy” rays that were the size of a coffee table.  Katherine and CJ also managed to pet the small shark that was swimming with the rays.

The seal/sea lion aquarium allowed you to walk under the water, and see them swimming by around you and overhead.  One of the seals (at least I think it was a seal) got VERY interested in a sippy bottle that one of the other visitors brought.

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We don’t know what the animal thought it was seeing from the other side of the glass, but he kept pressing his nose up to the glass trying to get at this very colorful thing, and even let out what looked like a yell underwater, probably voicing its displeasure at not being able to get it.

We also paid a visit to the penguin exhibit. 

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Because most (but interestingly, not all) of the penguins at the St. Louis Zoo were from much colder climates, they had to keep this building chilly – in the 40s.  When we were inside, two of the penguins decided to get into a bit of a snit, and ended up splashing Lucy and CJ.  That convinced us to move along.

The next day was eclipse day.  Since our hotel was in the path of totality, we decided to hang out in the morning, swim in the indoor/outdoor pool, and generally avoided driving anywhere.

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We were SO glad we did because it meant a very relaxing day, and avoiding the congested highways that went on all afternoon and evening.  The eclipse was slated to start a little before noon local time, and then reach totality a few seconds before 1:17pm.  They were predicting partly cloudy skies, but for the most part we had a beautifully unobstructed view of the sun.  We walked to lunch at the Denny’s across the parking lot, and when we got out a little after noon, we took our first peek at the eclipse (using our official eclipse glasses, of course!):

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I tried to take a picture through the glasses, and managed to snag this beauty:

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We ended up spending the next hour in and out of the pool, and watching the eclipse progress.  We could see a definite change to the quality of the light during the 15 minutes or so leading up to totality.  Then, a couple of minutes before, the cicadas in the surrounding trees started up.  Then totality set in for most of two minutes, and we just admired the eclipse with our naked eyes.  I did manage to see the “diamond ring” effect towards the end, but sadly wasn’t able to capture it.  I did, however, get a very nice progression:

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(click to eclipsify}

The rest of the day was spent in the pool and in our room watching a movie.

The next day, Tuesday, we got up early and left for Chicago.  We thanked God again for the awesome weather we had the day before because it was pouring in St. Louis when we left, and rained most of the drive north.  We arrived and went to the Field Museum for the afternoon, where the girls proceeded to try to feed me to “Sue” the T-Rex.

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The circle of life is complete.  When we were last in Chicago 5 years ago, I fed Lucy to Sue.

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That evening, we went to our favorite dive in Chicago for dinner – the Weber Grill Restaurant.  I introduced Katherine to filet mignon.  She admits she isn’t normally a steak person, but after her first bite she smiled and could only manage to say “wow”.  3 minutes later she announced, “and now my steak is gone”.  After that fabulous meal, we went back to our hotel, and collapsed.

The next day we spent taking in some of the sights in downtown Chicago.  First, the Chicago Cultural Center, former home of the first public library in Chicago:

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Then to “bean”, formally known as “Cloud Gate”:

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The girls had a lot of fund warping reality:

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We then visited a pool where the girls cooled their heels – literally.

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And where Lucy nearly got a shower:

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None of us realized this initially, but the two giant video-walls that bookend this pool would actually shoot water out periodically.

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Apparently, you just wait for the people in the video to smile, and then pucker up.  Lucy had been standing right in the blast zone, and just happened to move a few seconds before it went off.  If she had gotten doused, we would have had to immediately gone back to the hotel room to change because at 1 o’clock it was time for…

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Hamilton!  The girls have been listening to the songs for the last year, almost on a permanent repeat, so seeing it on stage was very exciting.

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The show was awesome.  During the intermission, I found that the family directly behind us also saw the eclipse earlier in the week, so we spent the time between acts geeking out about both that and the show.

After the show, we went to one of Katherine’s favorite places in Chicago (she had come to the Windy City three years in a row for middle school orchestra class trips) – Foodlife, in Water Tower Place. 

After that we spent an hour or so shopping, mostly in the LEGO store.  After we had been there a while, of the attendants asked me if I was thinking about one of the big sets.  “Oh, I’ve been doing a lot of THINKING…”  He just smiled and said, “Ah, I know how that goes.”

One of the best parts of the LEGO store (if you haven’t experienced one) is being able to sort through thousands of mini-fig parts (heads, bodies, legs, hats, etc.) to build your own.  Normally the component parts are in separate bins, and there is a tray that runs around the kiosk to let you work on your custom creations.  I happened to be passing one of the mini-fig stations when one of the attendants was going through the pile of pieces in the tray, sorting them back into their bins.  I asked him if this was a daily thing, or if he had to do it more frequently.  He just smiled and said they all try to keep up on it, but it’s especially nice during the slow periods.  It keeps them active.  If Kalamazoo ever opens a LEGO store, I may have just found my retirement job.

Then it was time to head back to hotel for sleep.  Given where we were, and where we had to go.  Walk 12 blocks – or walk 3 blocks, travel by subway, and then walk another 3.  I said we could just walk it.  However, on the way out of the mall, the girls noticed that there were horse-drawn carriages lined up like taxis.  After a bit of back and forth, we decided to take one.  Our driver was Whitney, and our horse was Mr. Festus.

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It was a tremendously cool experience.  Not only did we not have to walk the 12 blocks, but we got a view of Chicago that I don’t think you can get any other way – slow moving so you can enjoy the sights and architecture, in the middle of the street so you can see both sides well, but you don’t have to be the one paying attention to where you’re going.  We asked a lot of questions of Whitney, and she entertained us with stories of horses and her job.

At the end, Whitney explained that while she works for tips, Mr. Festus works for carrots, and she let the girls feed him at the end.  The picture above was taken after the girls fed him a couple, and Mr. Festus nuzzled Lucy looking for more.

The next day, we checked out of the hotel, ate at a two-story McDonald’s (a first for all of us; I never imagined McDonald’s needing an escalator!), and then went to the Museum of Science and Industry.  The girls are far enough apart in age that they aren’t into the same things, so CJ and I to each take one, which turned out to be a massive stress reliever.

Lucy hit the Idea Factory, and had a blast building towers with an electromagnetic crane:

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And playing with the locks (i.e., what you’d find in the Panama Canal or Sault Ste. Marie):

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In fact, she tried to corral ALL of the balls into one lock, and according to CJ, nearly overflowed the thing when the water filled in.  Lucy also took a turn “driving” the John Deere tractor they have:

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The same one, in fact, that she drove 5 years ago when we last visited Chicago ( https://markofquality.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/chicago-vacation-2012/ ):

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The chick hatchery is a recurring favorite of ours, and all of us paid a visit at least once.

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Lucy and CJ actually managed to see one hatch:

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While Katherine and I saw one get flipped over on its back.

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Its wings were so short though, it was having a real hard time righting itself. 

We had lunch at the museum, spent another 90 minutes or so visiting the exhibits, and then left for home.  And it felt SO good to be home.

And so ends a fabulous week of science, art, culture, and fun.

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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.

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.

Kitchen Faucet

For the last month or so, we’ve been working on prepping the backyard for the new swingset.  Unfortunately, three out of the last four Saturdays, the “pit” that will eventually hold the swingset has looked like this:

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(More on that project later.)  Needless to say, we decided to work inside today.  We chose another home improvement project – replacing the kitchen sink faucet.

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The old faucet had been leaking slowly for months.  I’m actually more comfortable working with electrons than water (even though the electrical projects frustrate me sometimes), but CJ and I decided it was time for it to go.

So, even though I approached the project with more than a little trepidation, I threw myself into it.

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Literally.

The first task was to get the old faucet off.  Two out of the three plastic nuts holding the faucet in place came off without too much trouble.  The third one wouldn’t budge.  There wasn’t a whole lot of clearance to get a wrench or a pair of pliers in, and I was working above my head while lying on my back, so it got increasingly frustrating to work on.  After several minutes of swearing praising the solid construction, I decided to take things to the next level, which included options such as hammer, chisel, and my electric drill.

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Victory!

After we cleaned up the sink, CJ ran out to get the new water lines, and Katherine and I got the new faucet mounted.

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Wow – that’s going to look pretty nice.

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Ah, dang.  Seriously?

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Dad, this is why we can’t have nice things.

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There.  That’s better.

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Yes.  Much.

Surprisingly, installing the new faucet seemed to be going very smoothly, but twice when I was coming out from under the sink, I nailed my head on these.

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More loud comments about the solid construction.

CJ soon returned with the water lines, and with lunch.  After we ate, I finished hooking up the water lines, and tentatively tried the new faucet.

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Success!

And no leaks!

And the hot and cold handles even deliver hot and cold water, respectively!

It was nice to have a working sink again.  And even with the shenanigans getting the old faucet off, it only took a few hours on one day.

That definitely qualifies as a win.