Union Pacific's Great Excursion Adventure

The Birds and the Bees

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The Birds and the Bees

Monday – 19 November 2012
Yeah, it’s been a while. But, I’m back. And this is a post.

The girls are growing in leaps and bounds.  They surprised me the other day, while watching a Baby Einstein video, by (more or less) repeating some of the words used in the video. Just to be sure that I wasn’t hallucinating it, I replayed the video for Sara! and the girls did it again. They are also getting very good at using a few more signs, particularly “water,” “more,” and “please.”

Diana (l) and Vanessa

We kept this storage unit under Diana’s crib as a corral for the girls’ stuffed animals. Well, the animals have wound up just about everywhere but the bin. And, the girls discovered the joy of crawling into it. We have since taken the bin from under the crib and filled it with pillows… and the girls love playing in the improvised pillow pit. Although, I’m still toying with the idea of buying some ball pit balls and using them to replace the pillows, for a mini version of this:

I went to a train show this past weekend. It wasn’t awesome – no major manufacturer presence at all – and only handful of vendors wit items I was interested in, but it was a train show. I did see one of the vendors from whom I bought something at the train show last month, though. He even remembered me and we chatted for a few minutes.

For me, the most memorable thing from the show was meeting and talking with Blanche Keller. My friend, Dave, showed me this article last week, detailing Blanche and her husband, Norman’s, ordeal after having their merchandise and trailer stolen while on their way to a train show in Denver. I asked Blanche about what happened and she talked very candidly about the whole experience. The article gave a good 10,000 foot view, but listening to her recount their last couple of weeks was pretty heartbreaking. Not only did they lose their merchandise (for a while), but they had to close bank and merchant accounts, none of which can be reopened or replaced until they get back home.

Before we finished talking, Blanche mentioned that they had a number of invitations from friends for Thanksgiving when they get back home. She smiled and said that she appreciated the outpouring of support, but that she’s not sure that she even wants to leave the house when she gets back, aside from picking up her dogs from boarding.

I wish Blanche and Norman all the best.

Instant Replay: Football
Last night was the only game that I was really concerned with this week:

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
13 – 10
The Ravens headed up to Steel Town to take on the Steelers in their house.

The Ravens were in white jersey and black pants, while the Steelers were in black-and-yellow striped jerseys (and socks) with beige pants. They seriously looked like bumblebees. So, I kept referring to it as “The Birds and the Bees Game.”

This always a good – and somewhat bitter – match up. There was some question as to how it would go, as both teams were missing key players.

The Steelers scored – in the first 43 seconds – thanks to a defensive pass interference call and some quick plays. The Ravens came back, thanks to WR Jacoby Jones, who ran back (another!) punt for a TD.

Jacoby Jones on his way to the house…
(c) NFL.com

The rest of the Ravens’ scoring came from K Justin Tucker.

I haven’t been CB Corey Graham’s biggest advocate this season, but he had an AMAZING night last night. He was All. Over. The. Field. Blocking passes. Intercepting passes. He definitely stepped up his game last night. I look forward to seeing what he does in the rest of the season.

On the down side, Ed Reed was suspended for one game – the Chargers – thanks to a helmet-to-helmet hit, but he’ll be back for Week 13, when the Ravens host the Steelers. That’s right: two games in three weeks against the Steelers.

Sorry, Bonne, Bret and Uncle Ronnie.


New Orleans Saints at Oakland Raiders
38 – 17
Since Sara! forbade me from talking about last week’s game, I’ll talk about this week’s game, instead!The Raiders hosted the Saints……and the Saints came away with a win.

Sorry, Sara! and Rob.


Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs
28 – 6
The Bengals went to Arrowhead and beat the Chiefs.Congrats, Janie and Becky.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers
27 – 21
The Bucs took down the Cats.Congrats, Dana and Sean.

Stray Toasters

  • There’s a not-too-small part of me that hopes that either or both of the Team DiVa girls are this creative when they grow up: Kindergartener Confesses to Plans of World Domination
  • Since I finished Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, I’ve been listening to Stone of Tears, by Terry Goodkind. I read/listened to Wizard’s First Rule, the first book in the series a few years ago. I am enjoying revisiting some familiar characters.
  • I haven’t picked up either COD: Black Ops 2 or HALO 4 yet. If nothing else, I’ll ask Santa for one or the other for Christmas.
  • Up, up and away…!
  • I’ve never been a fan of the crack of dawn Black Friday shopping sales. I’m even less enthused about the new “Black Thursday” concept. Besides every Friday is Black Friday as far as I’m concerned. (And, during football season, it does double duty as Purple Friday, too.)
  • Märklin! *shakes fist*
I should have been in bed almost an hour ago!

“…and then the morning comes.”

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"...and then the morning comes."

Saturday – 27 October 2012
First off, I’d like to thank everyone for the well-wishes on my birthday. It was nice to have so many people take a little time out of their day to say “Hi” and “We’re glad you survived another year.”

The day was very good. Sara! took the day off, so I was able to sleep in while she watched Team DiVa for a while. Later in the day, I made a trip to Dr. Volt’s to indulge my four-color print and ‘Clix habits. We went out for an early dinner at Outback Steakhouse (It’s tradition!); the girls were great the whole time we were there and Diana made friends with a little girl at the next table. Next, it was back home for cake and ice cream with a few friends:

Another fine homemade cake by Sara!

The day’s birthday gifts included:

…as well as a couple of very thoughtful gift certificates.

The evening wound down with us watching Fringe and me playing a little MW3 and reading the day’s four-color haul before bed.

I couldn’t have asked for a better day.

This morning, Team DiVa slept in a little… which means that Sara! and I got to sleep in a bit. After breakfast, we headed to the State Fair Park to check out the Wasatch Rails Train Show. There seem to be fewer vendors this year, but the girls had a good time watching the trains on the various layouts. I may just have to head back tomorrow and see if there’s anything that I just can’t live without…


“Life, the Universe and Everything”

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"Life, the Universe and Everything"

Friday – 26 October 2012
Not only is it Friday…

…nor is it just…

…but, as of 7:00 AM Eastern, I turn(ed) 42.

I’m not panicking and I know where my towel is. And I’d like to think that I’m a (at least somewhat) hoopy frood. Now, if I could just figure out what the Ultimate Question to which 42 is the answer is, I’d be set.

It’s been a good year. To paraphrase last year’s comment: I have a great family and friends, as well as met some new great people.

Sidenote: In case I haven’t said it recently – or enough – I’m grateful for the people in my life. Yes, this means you.

I’ve been fortunate enough to do some fun things. So, I’m ready for forty-two to bring it on.

Stray Toasters

So long and thanks for all the fish!

Leg godt!

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Leg godt!

Friday – 19 October 2012
“Leg godt” is Danish for “play well.” It is also the root for the LEGO brand name.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been letting Team DiVa play with LEGO magnets that we have on our front door. Always with supervision and, thankfully, when someone decides to investigate how a LEGO brick tastes, I just have to tell them “Not for eating…” or “Put it back on the door,” and they will put it back. I don’t think that the ladies are quite ready for unsupervised LEGO play, but I think they’re pretty close to being ready for LEGO Duplo. Just saying.

Meanwhile, on another facet…

City of Heroes is shutting down at the end of next month. I’ve been trying to sort out how I feel about this for a while. Long-time readers know that I was a CoH fiend when I first started playing. So much so that my characters even had little sections of the blog dedicated to them. Yeah. It was like that.

After playing Everquest, I had worked the fantasy MMO bug out of my system. (Yes, I’ve played Diablo III, but I’ve never played – nor really had an interest in – WoW.) But, City of Heroes… that was something different. It was a game that was right up my alley: You get to create a hero – or villain, once City of Villains came out – and  set out to save (or take over) the world. Brilliant!

I created my first character, Indigo Bolt…

…and hit the ground running. Literally. Because you didn’t get “travel powers” until Level 6. That made getting across zones a bit of a pain, especially when it was big zone and full of NPCs that were many levels above you. When I hit Level 6, I got “Hover,” the flying equivalent of crawling. But, it got me out of harm’s way more than once… despite me calling it “the second-most stupid superpower ever.” Needless to say, when Level 14 came and I could select “Flight,” I did it with the quickness. And kept flying all the way up to Level 50, the game’s cap.

And through it all, I had a blast playing.

Then I started other characters. And I had fun playing them, too.

Over time…
…and as I started playing HALO and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 more…
…and as other games – like LEGO Universe and DC Universe Online came out for the PC…
…and as we had kids…

…I started playing City less. But it retained a warm, fuzzy spot in my gaming heart. Still does.

Hearing the news that it was shutting down was a little bit of a blow. Not as much as it was to some people, but it was still there: The sense that all too soon, Paragon City and The Rogue Isles were being removed from the map. Permanently.

Since the announcement, I have logged in a few times and played for nostalgia’s sake. And it’s been fun. And a little funny, as the controls for flying are reversed. So… just maybe… I’ve flown full-speed into the ground once or twice. Maybe. But, it made me laugh.

I’ll be sad to see to the sun set over Peregrine Island for the last time, but I’ve enjoyed my time in the game.

Thanks to NCSoft and Paragon Studios for many hours of fun.

And, on yet another facet…

My train room has not been used as a train room for a little over six months at this point. The lack of ability to run my railroad has begun to wear on me. Last night, I gave in and put together a little oval of the Marklin set that I got from Monica and Alessandro. And it was good. It started out as a “I should see if this runs,” as they weren’t 100% sure when they gave it to me, and turned into “I should stop. Now. So I’m not down here all night setting up a layout that has to be torn down when I paint.” And I did.

But then, I wound up looking at Marklin stuff on eBay. Go figure. Far longer – and later – than I should have.

But, I ran a train. Yes, it was a short train. But it was a train, nonetheless.


NBN Thursday Quick Hit

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NBN Thursday Quick Hit

Thursday – 18 October 2012
Here’s some Team DiVa cuteness to start your day:

Vanessa, sporting my House of Blues cap

Diana, in my Ravens cap

Last night was Movie Date Night with Sara!. We started out watching a Danish film called The Substitute, that I’d ordered from Netflix. It was… slow. And, while it wasn’t a necessarily “bad” movie, neither of us thought that it was a “good” movie, either. At least, not in the 20 or so minutes of the movie that we made it through. And I can’t figure out “why” I chose that movie… unless it was recommended, based on something else I’d seen.

So, I called an audible.

We watched 28 Weeks Later. (And, yes, we made it all the way through that.)

  • Bonus: It fulfilled Sara!’s wish to watch horror/horroresque films in October.
  • Bonus: I had completely forgotten that Idris Elba and Jeremy Renner were in the film.
  • Geek Bonus: Rose Byrne, who played ‘Scarlett’ in the film, was also Moira McTaggart in X-Men: First Class… meaning that three of the leads have been in Marvel films:
    1. Idris Elba was Heimdall in Thor
    2. Jeremy Renner was Hawkeye in Thor and Marvel’s The Avengers

I also had a crossover revelation during the film: If someone had borrowed the “Stay in the house, Carl” line from The Walking Dead TV series and told it to Andy in 28WL, there would have been two big points:

  1. It would have been a VERY short movie, because…
  2. No one would have died because of Don (Robert Carlyle’s character)…
    …because the kids would have never gone to the house to get that picture…
    …which means that they would have never found their mom…
    …who wouldn’t have kissed Don, turning him into a rage-infected monster…
    …who, in turn, infected most of the civilians (and soldiers) in the newly-reopened London.


All-in-all, it was a good flick for a date night.

And it was a good day.

Stray Toasters

  • As of Tuesday afternoon, the train room has primer on the walls. Now, I just need to figure what color I want to paint them.
  • I even managed to get some sushi – for the first time in months – yesterday.
  • Revolution – Map of North America, 15 Years After the Blackout
  • I need to remember to turn off the sprinklers this weekend.


Three years and one day.

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Three years and one day.

Thursday – 04 October 2012
First off, let me wish my Godsister, Tammy, a very happy birthday.

Next, I have to say that Sara! and I had a great third anniversary yesterday. And, we’d like to say “Thank you,” to our well-wishers.

My in-laws came over to watch the girls so that Sara and I could enjoy a day off together. We spent the late morning and early afternoon on the Heber Valley Historic Railroad.

Knowing my love of trains, Sara! thought that I would enjoy a scenic train ride.

She was right.

We rode on the Provo Canyon Limited. The trip is a little over sixteen (16) miles, each way, but takes roughly three hours to complete. The train was even “robbed” at one of the stops. Michael, our tour guide, and Greg, our conductor, also provided historic information about the train and some of the places that we passed through.

And, on the whole: It was a lot of fun. Pictures of the trip can be seen here.

After the train trip, we drove up to The Sundance Resort for lunch at The Foundry Grill. Although I’ve been in Utah for… fourteen years, as of yesterday… it was my first time at Sundance. It was quite nice, especially with the fall foliage. For lunch, I had a steak sandwich with garlic fries; Sara had a Reuben with sweet potato fries. We both thought that our respective meals were good.

After we returned home, we picked up the girls and headed out to The Cheesecake Factory for anniversary dessert. We returned home with four kinds of cheesecake:

  • Chocolate Mousse,
  • Dulce de Leche,
  • Pumpkin, and
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cake Cheesecake.

After dinner and the girls were put to bed, we fired up Stardust (a movie we both enjoy), opened a bottle of champagne and set to work on the cheesecake. We made it through the movie, but only  half of each piece of cheesecake. So rich. But, oh so good, too.

All-in-all, it was a great way to end the day.


“Can’t you hear the whistle blowing…?”

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"Can't you hear the whistle blowing...?"

Sunday – 30 September 2012
It’s been “a while” since I posted. Huh. And with that out of the way, on with the show.

The girls of TeamDiVa are doing well.

Vanessa (l) and Diana

They are walking – with gusto – everywhere. At least, everywhere that we let them go. And, their stair-climbing prowess has increased, as well. We also introduced them to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back last night. It was a brief introduction, about 5 minutes. Granted, it was the first five minutes of the movie – meaning, it was also possibly the slowest five minutes – but they did okay.  I’m not entirely sure that it was enough to engage them fully at this age. We might try again in six or so months.

I’ve also learned that both the #TeamDiva tag and @TeamDiva on Twitter refer to people that aren’t TeamDiVa… especially as Twitter doesn’t differentiate between capital and lower-case letters. With that in mind, Twitter posts referring to the twins will be designated #TeamDiVa2011.

A couple of weeks ago, I Sara!, the girls and I visited the Urban Flea Market:

It was much smaller than most flea markets I’ve been to, fitting into less than half of a business parking lot. At the first stall – The. Very. First. One. – that we passed, I found a few things that I could not leave the market without:  A Bachmann Norfolk & Western Class J 4-8-2 engine and tender, a Tyco B&O 4-6-2 Pacific engine and tender, a pair of B&O diesel engines I can’t completely identify (possibly SD-60s, but I’m not sure) and five B&O passenger cars. The only “problem” was that they are all HO Scale, which is “Half-O,” which makes them half the size that I usually collect.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from bringing them home.

Seriously. Would I have these pictures if I didn’t?


I’m still giving serious thought to making a two-sided door layout, with these trains on one side and Marklin European trains on the other.

And that reminds me: The train room is days away from completion. The last coat of topping compound was applied on Friday. It’s getting sanded tomorrow. After that, it’s down to sweeping and paint.  (And deciding what I want to do for flooring.) But everything else is ready. I’ll post pictures soon. It looks amazing. And I’m pretty excited about being able to set up and run my trains again.

And with that, I’m out.


A pre-summer Monday…

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A pre-summer Monday...

Monday – 04 June 2012
A new week is here.

The weekend was good – and fairly busy – weekend. We started with a pancake breakfast/car show, supporting the local Boy Scout troop. Next, SaraRules! went to quilt club while I stayed home with Team DiVa. After she got back, I headed out to judge a ‘Clix tourney. And, if that wasn’t enough: We also attended a friend’s birthday party.

Saturday night has now unofficially become “Action Movie Saturday Date Night.” We didn’t know what we wanted to watch, so we left it up to the Fickle Finger of Fate method of “Hey, what does Netflix have to offer?” We wound up watching Trollhunter:

It was surprisingly fun. And funny. We went into it with no real expectations or assumptions, but were quite well entertained by the time the credits rolled. I also found that I liked what they did with some of the mythology of the creatures.

Sunday was a little more relaxed… although it did start early: We hit the Wasatch Front Farmers Market. The rest of the day was spent mostly hanging out with SaraRules! and Team DiVa. I wrapped up the evening upgrading my game box from Windows XP to Windows 7. Finally. And by “upgrading,” I mean “I did a clean install on a bigger hard drive.” Now, I just need to reinstall the games. And remember to copy my bookmarks over.

And, speaking of Team DiVa:

Diana (in her custom Batgirl onesie)

Vanessa (in her custom Flash onesie)

Stray Toasters


Tuesday stuff and things

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Tuesday stuff and things

Tuesday – 08 May 2012
It’s Tuesday.

Yesterday was Diana’s 8-month-birthday; today is Vanessa’s:

Vanessa (l) and Diana

Today is also my stepmother and brother’s birthday:

And, it’s also Teacher Appreciation Week.

This past weekend was a busy one. This isn’t to say that it wasn’t also fun, but it was definitely busy. I could have used another day to recuperate. Or something like that.

Friday, I had hoped to get a chance to nap while the girls were having their post-lunch siesta, but that didn’t come to pass… mostly because they didn’t take naps. So, when I went back to work, I was tired. After returning home from work, I was still tired. The evening was rather low-key, spent mostly Fringe and helping SaraRules! make superhero onesies for the twins:

She had already made the GL one, but has asked my help in getting the emblems for Batman, Wonder Woman and The Flash. I thought – briefly – about trying to hand-draw them. Then I had a minor epiphany: I could use my Silhouette to cut the shapes. I downloaded images of each emblem, imported them into Silhouette Studio and did a test cut. They came out better than I had expected. So, we were ready to do the cuts on the masking paper. The picture above shows how they turned out.

Saturday, SaraRules! had brunch with her friend, Sara(NotSaraRules!), so I got to spend a couple of solo hours with Team DiVa. After SaraRules! and Sara(NotSaraRules!) returned, I got ready to head to Dr. Volt’s for Free Comic Book Day. At The Avengers premiere, I made an agreement with Dave (the owner of Dr. Volt’s) that if he came to FCBD as Dr. Who – Matt Smith version, with fez! – that I would come as Green Lantern. So, when I showed up at the store like this:

Dave gave me a bit of flak. Until I turned down the collar of my shirt to reveal the GL costume underneath:

It was the first time that I’d gone to an FCBD event dressed in a costume… let alone two costumes… but it was made even more fun and worth it, because a few kids came up to me and asked if they could have pictures with me.

And remember those superhero onesies I mentioned? Well, the twins wore them to their first Free Comic Book Day:

Sunday, we met up with the Kelly clan for a picnic at Liberty Park.

The reason: Celebrating Logan’s graduation with his Doctorate in Pharmacy.  It was a little brisk if you weren’t in the sun, but it was an otherwise excellent day. And fun.

Monday was… Monday. (As Mondays are wont to be). It included quality time with SaraRules! and Team DiVa, which is never a bad thing. It also included a couple of changes to the status quo which should yield good things.  After the girls were asleep, SaraRules! and I wound down the evening with burgers that I cooked on the grill,  TopGear and Castle.

Stray Toasters


Almost done…

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Almost done...

Friday – 20 April 2012
It’s my “on” Friday. And, it’s also “4/20.” (Insert your own jokes here.)

Last night was my night to fix dinner. After wracking my brain over what to fix, I decided to head up to the local Whole Foods and see what they had in their meat counter. I returned home with four good-sized Parmesan Chicken breasts. While they were in the oven, I prepared some rice in chicken broth (and a little lemon pepper, for flavor). I added a salad for our vegetables and we called it a meal.

We watched Castle while we ate; it was a fun episode, with Nathan Fillion’s Firefly costar, Adam Baldwin, as a guest star. After dinner, I joined a couple of coworkers online and played a little MW3. And had my virtual ass handed to me. Repeatedly. But, it was still fun… despite the ego-bruising.

Stray Toasters


Tick.. tick… tick…

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Tick.. tick... tick...

Thursday – 29 March 2012
It’s another Thursday in the valley. So far, it’s held up to NBN scrutiny.  Hopefully, that will continue.
(UPDATE: It did.)

Last night, SaraRules! and I watched…

…for our Date Night movie; I’ve seen it before (we own the DVD), but she hadn’t. She liked it, despite a couple of uncanny valley issues.

Stray Toasters

Quote of the Day
This nugget of joy comes by way of my sister-in-law, Chelsea, and my nephew, Caden:

Caden: Mom, what’s that?
Me: It’s a water tower.
Caden: Oh. . .Where’s the othere one’s?
Me: What other one’s?
Caden: The milk tower and the juice tower.

The utter brilliance and genius of the three-year-old mind.


End of the week quick hit

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End of the week quick hit

Friday – 23 March 2012
It’s my working Friday. ‘Nuff said.

Last night, after Team DiVa went to bed – and after dinner – I headed to the mall to do a little shopping. I went with four (4) objectives:

  1. Get a screen shield for my iPad
  2. Have the battery in one of my watches replaced
  3. Pick up a new pair of jeans
  4. Get shaving cream, if the new Lush store was open.

I was able to accomplish the first three. The Lush at this location hadn’t opened yet, which I found a little odd as they opened the store at City Creek Center yesterday. I would have figured that they’d do the whole “Two birds, one stone” thing. Apparently not. Feh.

Speaking of Team DiVa, here’s a picture of them from a few days ago:

Vanessa (l) and Diana

Since this picture was taken, they’ve been making a lot of improvement in their sitting. Some assistance is still needed, but they are getting better at sitting up on their own. (Although it doesn’t show in this picture, Vanessa is actually quite adept at sitting up. But sometimes, you just gotta get your lean on, I guess…) Diana, I should note, still sees sitting up as a necessary evil on the way to standing and will make an attempt to stand – usually by just straightening her legs – almost every time you get her into a seated position. It makes for a lot of “make sure you have a good grip on her” moments.

Stray Toasters

Tonight: Possibly coffee… and maybe some MW3 or DCUO.
Tomorrow: The Running of the Leopards 5k!


Halfway There (Part II)

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Halfway There (Part II)

Thursday – 08 March 2012
It’s another NBN Thursday.
It’s also International Women’s Day (1, 2). And…

Vanessa turned 6-months old today!

Last night was fairly low-key around the house. The girls tried – and devoured – a new food: Pears. So, it seems that the only unpopular food (at least so far) is peas — Diana will grudgingly eat them, Vanessa flat-out refuses to. The girls woke up again in the middle of the night. No crying this time, but there was a bit of chatter in their room before they knocked out again.

Today, as usual: Meetings!  YAY!

And tonight, I’m picking up some material for Saturday’s basement framing extravaganza. And maybe (just maybe), I’ll be able to sneak in a little MW3 or DCUO.  We shall see what the evening holds.

Stray Toasters

That’s good for today.


Halfway There (Part I)

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Halfway There (Part I)

Wednesday – 07 March 2012
It’s the middle of the week. And it’s new comics day. And it may or may not be Pasta and Movie Date Night.

But, more importantly: It’s Diana’s 6-month birthday!

Both little ladies are doing well, despite long crying jags in the wee hours of this morning: Diana started around 2:30, Vanessa around 4:00. We’re trying to get the girls to learn to put themselves back to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night, so we didn’t go immediately rushing in to comfort them…
…which made for a long couple of hours.

…which, in turn, led me to sleep on the couch downstairs so I could get my last few hours’ sleep (and not have an encore presentation of Monday).

But, by the time I looked in on them around 7:15, they were all giggles, grins and kicks.

Kids. Go figure.

Stray Toasters


Tilting, but not at windmills…

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Tilting, but not at windmills...

Thursday – 09 February 2012
This NBN Thursday is a bit grey and hazy.  But, I started the morning with SaraRules! and the girls, so it was a good kick-off to the day.

Last night, we watched Killer Elite (not to be confused with the movie with almost the same title from 1975) for Movie Date Night. Robert DeNiro. Clive Owen. Jason Statham. All kicking ass and, in some cases, taking names. The premise was a little different than I expected, but not in a bad way. There were a couple of plot holes, but what movie doesn’t have those these days? In the end, it made for a decent night’s viewing.

Also, I tried out something different with my bike trainer: Disengaging the tension wheel, so that the back wheel spun freely. Works, but without any resistance, I was pedaling as easily in the higher gears (15 and up) as I was in the first three gears. Still, it’s an option.

Chew on This: Food for This – Black History Month
Today, you’re getting a double d0es of Black History Month goodness.

  • The first person of note is James Weldon Johnson, author, politician, poet, songwriter, and educator, and early civil rights activist.James Weldon Johnson (June 17, 1871 – June 26, 1938)  was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the son of Helen Louise Dillet and James Johnson. His brother was the composer J. Rosamond Johnson. Johnson was first educated by his mother (the first female, black teacher in Florida at a grammar school) and then at Edwin M. Stanton School. At the age of 16 he enrolled at Atlanta University, from which he graduated in 1894. In addition to his bachelor’s degree, he also completed some graduate coursework there.

    After graduation he returned to Stanton, a school for African American students in Jacksonville, until 1906, where, at the young age of 23, he became principal. As principal Johnson found himself the head of the largest public school in Jacksonville regardless of race. Johnson improved education by adding the ninth and tenth grades. During his tenure at Stanton, Johnson wrote Lift Every Voice and Sing — often called “The Negro National Hymn”, “The Negro National Anthem”, “The Black National Anthem”, or “The African-American National Anthem” — set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873–1954) in 1900.

    In 1897, Johnson was the first African American admitted to the Florida Bar Exam since Reconstruction. He was also the first black in Duval County to seek admission to the state bar. In order to receive entry, Johnson underwent a two-hour examination before three attorneys and a judge. He later recalled that one of the examiners, not wanting to see a black man admitted, left the room.

    In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him U.S. consul to Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, and in 1909 he became consul in Corinto, Nicaragua, where he served until 1914. He later taught at Fisk University. Meanwhile, he began writing a novel, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (published anonymously, 1912), which attracted little attention until it was reissued under his own name in 1927.

    In 1920 Johnson was elected to manage the NAACP, the first African American to hold this position. While serving the NAACP from 1914 through 1930 Johnson started as an organizer and eventually became the first black male secretary in the organization’s history. In 1920, he was sent by the NAACP to investigate conditions in Haiti, which had been occupied by U.S. Marines since 1915. Johnson published a series of articles in The Nation, in which he described the American occupation as being brutal and offered suggestions for the economic and social development of Haiti. These articles were reprinted under the title Self-Determining Haiti. Throughout the 1920s he was one of the major inspirations and promoters of the Harlem Renaissance trying to refute condescending white criticism and helping young black authors to get published.

    Johnson died while vacationing in 1939, when the car he was driving was hit by a train.

  • The second person of note is Mat Johnson (no relation), an American writer of literary fiction.Johnson (born August 19, 1970) grew up in “racially stratified” Philadelphia. His mother is African American; his father, Irish American. After his parents’ divorce, he was raised by his social worker mother in a largely black section of the city, Germantown, where he often felt like a standout. “When I was a little kid, I looked reallywhite—I was this little Irish boy in a dashiki.”In his teens, he transferred to a private school, Abingdon Friends, in a more affluent neighborhood. “It was the first time I was around a lot of white people. I suddenly realized I had an ethnic identity, and started to think about race.” He listened to Public Enemy and devoured The Autobiography of Malcolm X and books by W.E.B. DuBois and Toni Morrison. “African-American literature felt like an intellectual home, this place where I fit and belonged,” he says gratefully.

    Like the late playwright August Wilson, Johnson seems to identify almost exclusively with the African roots of his biracial family tree. “African-American is a Creole culture. It embraces the mix,” he asserts.

    Mat Johnson attended West Chester University, University of Wales-Swansea, and ultimately received his BA from Earlham College, and in 1993, he was awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Johnson received his MFA from Columbia University School of the Arts in 1999. Johnson has taught at Rutgers University, Columbia University, Bard College, The Callaloo Journal Writers Retreat, and is now a permanent faculty member at The University of Houston Creative Writing Program.

    Mat Johnson’s first novel, Drop (Bloomsbury USA in 2000), was a coming of age novel about a self-hating Philadelphian who thinks he’s found his escape when he takes a job at a Brixton-based advertising agency in London, UK.  Drop was listed among Progressive Magazine’s “Best Novels of the Year.” In 2003, Johnson published Hunting in Harlem (Bloomsbury USA 2003), a satire about gentrification in Harlem and an exploration of belief versus fanaticism. Hunting in Harlem won the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award for Novel of the Year.

    Johnson made his first move into the comics form with the publication of the five-issue limited series Hellblazer Special: Papa Midnite (Vertigo 2005), where he took an existing character of the Hellblazer franchise and created an origin story that strove to offer depth and dignity to a character that was arguably a racial stereotype of the noble savage. The work was set in 18th Century Manhattan, and was based around the research that Johnson was conducting for his first historical effort, The Great Negro Plot, a creative non-fiction that tells the story of the New York Slave Insurrection of 1741 and the resultant trial and hysteria.

    In February 2008, Vertigo Comics published Johnson’s graphic novel Incognegro, a noir mystery that deals with the issue of passing (racial identity) and the lynching past of the American south.

    He was named a 2007 USA James Baldwin Fellow and awarded a $50,000 grant by United States Artists, a public charity that supports and promotes the work of American artists. On September 21, 2011, Mat Johnson was awarded the Dos Passos Prize for Literature.

Information courtesy of Chronogram.com, DCComics.com, matjohnson.info and Wikipedia

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