Sunday, August 14, 2011
The Convention started on Thursday, August 11 and ended today (Sunday). My son Ryan and I got 4-day passes so we could take our time and see everything. We even got my wife Christi to come with us on Saturday (I threw in a one-night stay at the Hyatt next door as a bonus). This is her first Comic Con (I got her to go with me to the Las Vegas Star Trek Con last summer -- another 'first' for her).
The Con this year seemed a little smaller in some respects than last year. I think that is partly because last year, there was a large Star Trek (and to some extent Star Wars) presence here and that really brought out the crowds. But don't get me wrong, there were still thousands of people there, especially on Saturday. Plenty of people dressed up in costumes, plenty of collectors looking for great deals on merchandise, and plenty of people looking for their favorite celebrities at booths and panels.
This year the big draws were Bruce Campbell, Felicia Day, Patrick Stewart, Christopher Lloyd, and most of the cast from Buffy (James Marsters, Charisma Carpenter, Julie Benz, Nicholas Brendon). Other celebs that I saw were Vivica Fox (Independence Day), Tia Carrera (Relic Hunter), Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), Louis Gossett Jr (Officer and a Gentleman/Iron Eagle), Mimi Rogers (Austin Powers), Gil Gerard & Erin Gray (Buck Rogers), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Ray Park (Darth Maul), and Pam Grier (Foxy Brown/Smallville).
The floor was pretty filled with vendors and displays, and I think the Artist Alley was the largest I have seen over the past three years. Comics were the majority of vendor booths present, but there were a lot of action figures (mostly Marvel and DC stuff) and weaponry and the like. There was a tattoo artist this year (I met his girlfriend while waiting for photo op tickets). I thought that was interesting.
Star Trek Represented
This year, there are only a few notable Trek celebs in attendance: Patrick Stewart (who had to back out of last year's Con at the last minute), LeVar Burton, and Daniel Stewart. On Friday, Ryan and I stood in line to get a photograph with LeVar Burton who played our favorite engineer Geordi LaForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Then on Saturday, I had the opportunity to get LeVar to sign that photograph and to speak with him for a few minutes.
Then about an hour later, I attended his Q&A Panel and live-tweeted the event. You can check out all those tweets at @rpeete on twitter.com. He was very genuine and funny. Did you know that the VISOR was screwed onto his head? Yep! Two screws on either side! He said after about 45 minutes, he always ended up with a headache, and seeing out of that thing was difficult.
There was also a running joke throughout his panel with people asking him to dance, because of a comment made an hour earlier during Patrick Stewart's panel when Sir Patrick said LeVar had some killer dance moves and that everyone should ask him about it. Well LeVar elected not to demonstrate any "moves" and pretty much said that he had his ways of reeking vengeance on Patrick and I quote "Patrick's bald head will be MINE"
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend Patrick Stewart panel. The main ballroom for his panel filled up before the line got to the doors. They would not let me in. What!!? Don't they know WHO I AM? Guess not! Hmmph!
Another highlight for me this year was meeting Alaina Huffman, who played Lt. Tamara Johansen the medic on the show. She was the only person from Stargate at the Con this year. Ryan and I took a photograph with her on Friday afternoon and then spent quite a while talking with her at her booth later that day. She was very personable, spoke equally to both me and Ryan, and shared her good news: she is pregnant with her fourth child! She is expecting a son (I thought she looked pregnant at the photo-op but knew better than to say anything). Her youngest is a boy and he is very excited to be getting a baby brother as his two other siblings are older girls.
Among other things, Alaina and I talked about the cancellation of SGU and she was candid about feeling "bummed" by the initial negativity by Stargate fans regarding the show. And even though there were many who liked it, she thought that perhaps that negative minority was a lot more vocal than those who quietly enjoyed watching the show. We agreed that SciFi shows with a balance of tech/SFX, action, and character development/story are the best. It was a shame that SGU did not get the chance to realize its full potential.
When I asked her what she is working on nowadays, she mentioned that she is the main baddie in the upcoming Alphas TV show this Monday on SyFy. She said it was a lot of fun to do, so I encourage everyone who reads this before Monday evening, August 15th, to check it out.
Other Celebrity Panels
Bruce Campbell, Felicia Day, Patrick Stewart, and Christopher Lloyd were the big draws for the Q&A panels and were assigned the Large Ballroom A. Bruce was hilarious albeit most of his humor is definitely for adult ears, which was a little distracting since I was sitting next to a bunch of kids ages 8-13. He was definitely different. He was actually giving out dollar bills to people who had gotten tattoos of Evil Dead and other shows he was connected with via a little fashion show he held up on stage. Towards the end of his panel, he had a woman come up and talk with him and then asked her boyfriend to come up and join them. Then the boyfriend proposed to her on stage. It was pretty coo that Bruce and the guy had set this up.
I only got to hear the last 15 minutes of Felicia Day's panel but she was awesome! Very engaging with the audience and answered questions very openly. She was quick to point out that she is NOT going to be in the next Avengers movie (evidently Josh had made some passing comment about it).
SEXY NERD GIRL
You may not have heard of Valerie Lapomme and her video blog (VLog) called the "Sexy Nerd Girl" but I do subscribe to her YouTube channel and find her pretty entertaining and funny. She is a self-avowed sci-fi, fantasy, and gaming fangirl who loves Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Nintendo games, and pretty much anything geeky. Her vlog posts are usually 2-3 minutes and altogether wacky (and sometimes a bit on the adult humor side).
I noticed Valerie's booth on Friday and tried to set up a time to interview her for Treks in SciFi (a weekly podcast and web online community that I love). But that girt was busy! She was all over the Con doing her own interviews! In fact, I saw her interviewing the guys at the Extreme FX booth and got off a quick photo. Her booth was giving out small posters, business cards, and other free stuff. And they were holding a raffle for a Sexy Nerd Girl T-shirt (which you can buy from her web site).
So, I met her staffers at the booth as I visited it probably 6 times between Friday and Saturday and each time, Valerie wasn't there. I told them all about Treks in SciFi and they were pretty excited to know that we all love her Vlog! They told me that Val was entered into the Comic Con Costume Contest on Saturday night but Steph said she didn't win. So we decided to give it one more try on Sunday morning.
Success! I finally got to see Valerie on Sunday morning! The first thing I noticed is that she is taller than me. Looks like she might be 6'1" compared to my 5'10" stature. But the smile gave her away. She is pretty friendly and wanted to know a bit more about the Treks in SciFi crew. So I explained that we were going on our 6-year anniversary, and since many of us are followers of her vlog, I wanted to know if she would record a little greeting for the podcast. She readily agreed!
So we discussed it a bit more and her camera crew rolled the tape! We made a short little clip for the podcast which they promised to send to me for inclusion in the Treks in SciFi Anniversary special this fall. Awesomeness!
One cool thing was that as we talked, they asked how I watch her Vlog. I told her that I used my iPad most of the time to view it. Well, Valerie had never seen her show from an iPad. So I brought my iPad 2 out and we watched her latest post on it right on the convention floor. That was pretty sweet and she was pretty pleased with how it looked.
So I will keep you in the loop when the video is finally available (I wonder if she will use any of the footage on her channel). And if you are a SciFi fan and you aren't listening to the Treks in SciFi podcast, then you should go over to iTunes right now and subscribe. It is awesome! And the online community is a great place to hang out. Look for me there!
Well, I have to admit that this year I did not buy as many collectible items as I have in the past. I did, however, pick up three large prints from Lightspeed. Two were Babylon 5 prints -- one of all the ships in the show autographed by all the Captains and the other was a nice print that included all the primary cast members in the series. These were for Ryan, who I have turned into a major B5 fan.
For myself, I found a very nice print of Kirk, Spock, and Kahn that is autographed by both Shatner and Nimoy. Unfortunately, Ricardo Montalban passed away about a week before this was created so it does not have his signature. But even still, it is an awesome print that depicts one of my favorite Trek movies -- The Wrath of Kahn.
I saw an awesome Captain America shield for sale at $500. I was sorely tempted but in the end, decided to walk away from it. But that shield might be in my collectible future if I see it again next year!
Well, I guess that is about it for my Comic Con report. Ryan and I had an amazing time there this year, and staying overnight at the Hyatt was a nice little getaway bonus for the family.
I missed not having my "Treks in SciFi" buddy Rico Dostie there with us this year (but hey, maybe he can come out here in the Fall for the Trek Con). By the way, this will be the last Convention for Leonard Nimoy (I heard that from his agent who also manages LightSpeed. Nimoy was at the Vegas TrekCon this weekend and it was his last Creation Entertainment Con)
Until next time, "Live Long and Prosper"!
Saturday, August 13, 2011
And I was correct! I lost 2.8lbs this week, bringing my total weight loss (since May 2010) to 102.2 pounds!! I cannot tell you how excited I was as I sat through the meeting! At the very end of the meeting, the leader turned to me asn asked me to tell everyone how much I had lost. Everyone was very supportive and happy for me. And then the leader gave me a signed certificate! (I didn't know they did that!)
This has been a long journey, one that I am still walking (literally and figuratively). WHile I still have 58 more pounds to lose, I can take a moment to enjoy how far I have come. I think I need to do some kind of celebratory thing but I haven't come up with any good ideas yet. So if you have thoughts, post them here or email me. :)
And I will say this: you can achieve anything if you want it bad enough. I really want this! I want to be lighter and healthier and to feel better about myself. It took me years to get to the point where I 'wanted it bad enough' to do something. But I encourage everyone to take the plunge and live a little healthier. You will not regret it!
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Lose another 75 pounds
Since the beginning of 2011, I have lost a total of 47.5 pounds, and if I continue with this pace, I will be on track to reach the goal of 75 by the end of the year. In fact, as of this posting I have lost over 102 pounds since May 2010 (when I first started my weight loss journey).
I am very pleased and excited about this achievement! It feels great to be so much lighter! Just this year I have gone from a size 3XL to XL in my shirt size and have donated a ton of clothes because they are TOO BIG for me now!
Make exercise part of the regular routine
This goal has truly been accomplished! I have been working out at LifeTime Fitness since the beginning of January and at this point, exercise is now a major part of my weekly life. I work out a minimum of three days each week for at least an hour each time. I do both strength training and cardio workouts each week.
In March, I added running to my exercise regimen. I have run in four 5K races thus far and each time, my finishing time has improved significantly. I have a 10K race scheduled in 10 days, and I have five more races scheduled for the remainder of the calendar year, including one 15K race in November. In January 2012, I will be running my first Half Marathon at Disney World!! It is safe to say that running has become a new and enduring part of my life and I really love it!
Post a blog entry each week
By the 'letter' of the goal, I have met this goal. But that is not to say I have been lax in my blogging for 2011. I am happy to say that I have posted more entries this year (21) than I did in 2009 (and I posted nothing back in 2010). And I have been doing some podcasting this year as well which has been fun.
I created a new blog this year around Easter to chronicle my health and fitness (and running) journey and have posted 31 entries there already! You can follow it online here.
So for total posting activity, I feel good about being much more intentional about my online communications.
Improve my spiritual discipline
The major focus of this year has been more intentional prayer. Feeling the need to be closer to God has been more prevalent this year for some reason. So talking to God while on my runs, or commuting, or while preparing for my monthly adult study gathering has been awesome. I really felt connected during the last Happening retreat weekend and the recent Mission Trip to Mississippi.
I still need to do some more 'study' and reading of The Word. As I continue to prepare for my high school Christian Formation class (I am teaching it this fall), I look forward to being more immersed in Scripture as I work to bring His Word to the youth in my church.
There you have it. I feel very good about this year and the accomplishments I have made thus far. There is still a lot of work ahead of me, but with perseverance, God's help, and the support of all my friends and family, I am confident that I can keep this momentum going and continue moving forward.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Since coming home, I have taken time to rest, to run, see two movies with my family, and post photos on my FaceBook page. I have also spent some time thinking about the trip and how it has affected me personally.
Our last Friday in Mississippi started with clean-up. Let's just say that when 64 people are occupying a facility for 7 days, lots of trash is generated, not to mention the state of bathrooms! So everyone spent time cleaning all the sleeping and bathroom areas, leaving them cleaner than they were when we first arrived. I was very proud of the youth who really stepped up to the task. Then we walked the property, picking up any trash that they could find. Lakeshore Baptist showed us such hospitality; it is only fitting that we demonstrate our appreciation by leaving them with a clean facility for the next crew who comes.
We loaded up the minivans and cargo vans (I got the job of loading the cargo vans), and made our first stop: the Super Walmart (and a gas station). Everyone had the chance to pick up a few snacks for the train ride and then head for the New Orleans train station. The van trip was filled with laughter, music, and a certain excitement about heading 'home'.
We boarded the train around 12:30pm and found out that we did not have enough seats in our train car (even though that meant we had more legroom). So four adults had to sit in the adjoining car. The good news was that our train car was right next to the Lounge and Dining car! I think we had youth playing and hanging out in the Lounge Car for the entire 19-hour trip. It was truly the 'party train'.
We arrived at Union Station on time which was nice. And it did not take nearly as long as in years past to get our checked baggage. And with that, the Mission Trip was over (well, after we took Sue Cromer home, that is).
This morning, I was thinking about everything I experienced during the past week and trying to put it into words. So many people have forgotten about the Gulf Coast. FEMA and the government have left. It seems that the average person thinks everything has been rebuilt, or, that those still suffering are somehow to blame for their plight.
After talking with the pastor of Lakeshore, members of St. George Episcopal Church in New Orleans, and the staffers at Habitat for Humanity, several messages come across loud and clear.
- Katrina was huge! It is almost impossible to imagine the severity of its impact
- Churches and support groups can make a major difference in LA and MS
- Volunteers bring a sense of Hope and Connection to the communities they serve
- The Spirit of God is at work in the Gulf Coast, healing and keeping Love and Hope alive in the hearts of those who live there
Jesus calls us to respond to those in need. In Matt 25:31-40, Jesus tells us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, heal the sick, and welcome the stranger. 5 years ago, the youth and adults of the Diocese of Chicago have committed themselves to respond to the statement "What Would Jesus Do" with actions rather than words.
I am thankful that our young people have such passion for fulfilling God's commandment to Love One Another, and to bring their gifts of time and talent to the Gulf Coast. With God's help, we will continue to make a difference.
Friday, August 5, 2011
As I wake up on Thursday morning, I am excited to return to the Habitat work sites for one more productive day. But I am also sad because I know this will be our last day working with Ryan, Chris, Tom, Steve, and Katie from the Habitat crew on the four houses we have been focusing on this week. Habitat for Humanity has such an amazing mission and ministry to communities across the globe (they are actually called Habitat International) and it has been an honor working with them in support of those affected by the Katrina disaster.
I have to admit that it was a bit harder to get out of bed this morning. I am definitely beginning to feel the effects of the extreme heat and humidity. When you have to work and live in it for 10 hours each day, it can just drain your energy level because of how hard the body works to keep itself cool.
Today, we worked with Chris to continue building a porch for the side of one the houses. We completed the foundation for the porch, dug out the footings, laid down the support beams. and poured in the concrete to set. Then we finally put up the permanent railings for the porch. Unfortunately, we did not get the chance to build the stairs leading down from the porch -- that will be the job of another crew.
We also put up all the railings for the large front porch of that same house - they place where were have been eating lunch all week. After three coats of white paint, they look marvelous! We also did touch-up painting on the exterior of the house were a previous crew had missed spots.
We also had teams working on two other houses today. In one house, we put up window frames on almost all the windows of the house. In the second, we did all the work to hang doors in all the rooms of the house.
Let me say right now, that our Van Group was the best! In fact, both Van Groups at Habitat were just awesome and it was a real pleasure getting to know them and working alongside each of them. I especially want to recognize my Van Group: Andrew, Gina, Russ, Ellen, Matt. and Shelley. We were a great team and we really enjoyed one another's company on this trip. I could not have asked for a more awesome team!
Our workday ended at 3pm. And while we were sad that we couldn't come back for one more day, we were all very pleased with what we were able to accomplish in these four days. We were working in the same neighborhood as our mission trip here in 2010, and were so satisfied to see that the three houses we worked on during that trip are complete and occupied by families! How awesome is that!!?
We ended Thursday with a trip to Sonic for Sonic Blasts, chocolate malts, and similar yummy things. After which, we all went to the Beach in Lakeshore for some well deserved play time! It was kind of different to swim in a lake that felt like bath water (it was really warm water).
Dinner was next on the agenda, followed by a final worship gathering where we got to listen to the pastor of the Lakeshore Baptist Church speak to us about how Katrina affected the lives of those living in Lakeshore (no one's homes survived) and to the church itself (nothing but its steeple survived).
He shared with us how our presence, service, and ministry is a consistent source of comfort and hope for everyone who lives in this area. Even six years after Katrina hit, there is so much yet to do to rebuild communities and lives. And how awesome it is to see God's providence realized in the actions of Christians from all over the world who take the time to come to Mississippi and New Orleans to offer help and support.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
We got a lot accomplished today. We completed the construction of two sheds. finished installing the window frames in one house and had begun doing so one a second, we finished painting the railings for a porch, and started work on building a side porch to allow people to exit the house from the kitchen area.
We also got to do some organizing the the Habitat warehouse not too far from the job site. The place was a good size and filled with cabinetry for about five different homes. We had to get all the cabinetry organized into groups so that it will be easier for them to load and transport the stuff after it has all been 'clear coated'.
Then we loaded a large truck with tons of scrap sheet metal left over from their housing development work. They were going to take all that stuff to a place that recycles metal and get some money for it, which they can then turn around and spend on more materials. Pretty cool!
The other 9 work teams worked on demolition of a house which had been built with substandard sheet rock from China. There is a big lawsuit going on how between the USA and China over these materials which had been sold to large stores like Lowes and 84 Lumber, etc. This poor family has to gut their house to remove all this stuff and then have the house pretty much rebuild with the right kind of materials. Such a shame because the house is really nice. The family, which has a little girl, is so nice. In fact, they came to our Eucharist service this evening to express their gratitude for our help.
I have to say that I am really tired today. After a very busy day at the work site, and the oppressive heat, my van group had kitchen duty for dinner. So after we showered and got a few minutes of rest, we went down to the hot kitchen and prepared dinner for the whole team of 63 people. It was pretty tasty! Chicken Tenders and/or Baked Chicken Breast, with a salad bar, and a fully decked out Baked Potato Bar, plus drinks and Oreo cookies for dessert. We also had selections for vegetarians, diabetics, and those on a low-fat diet. We covered all the bases! By the time we were done, I felt like I needed another shower!
Then at 7:30pm, we had a nice Eucharist celebration, complete with engaging music, an engaging sermon from Deacon Lee, and fun fellowship. At first, we were going to have the service on the beach, but the weather did not cooperate -- it started raining -- so we decided to have it at the worship space here at LakeShore.
I was so tired! I am pleased to be able to go back to the dorm and finally lay down (well, after I post this blog). A little Advil for my aching back and I should be good as new for tomorrow!
Tomorrow will be a full day with some fun at the end. Once we all finish our work, most of us will go to the beach for some swimming time! Others will take a tour of Bay St. Louis and Waveland to show the effects and rebuilding efforts since Katrina struck. Then after dinner, it will be time to start packing and getting ready to head back to Chicagoland on Friday.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Today was just plain HOT! It was 97 degrees with 60% humidity with a heat index of 118!!! Oh. My. Gosh! The only mitigating factor was that there was a good breeze and the really hot part of the day was after our lunch break.
I started the day with a 4 mile run at 5:30am. It was only 78 degrees at that time even though the humidity was about 68%. I ran about half the run with Sue Cromer -- it is always nice to have a friend to run with. Then I got cleaned up, ate breakfast, and got prepped for the van drive to Habitat at 8:30am.
Work started immediately. We broke into the same four groups: two building sheds, one doing interior work on windows, closets, etc., and the fourth group doing painting. We really worked hard today. By lunch time, one shed was about 90% complete, the other was about 60% complete. The painting was done and drying, and the interior windows were all in place.
Work after lunch was more grueling only because it really heated up. We started taking 20 minute breaks with water/Gatorade in the shade to manage it and stay in good shape. After talking with the leader of the Willow Creek team, we agreed that cutting the workday short at 3pm was the best plan to keep the teams safe.
There was a new team of Americorps volunteers there today. They will be working with Habitat for the next two months. They continued to work after we left the work site. We, on the other hand, left and made a pit stop at the local Sonic for smoothies, malts, and Sonic Blasts. Yummy! I think we deserved that treat with all the hard work and determination we demonstrated today.
We came home just in time to miss the daily rainstorm -- this time at 5PM. We had a tasty pulled pork dinner, and spent time at the Worship Kwanset Hut singing songs and reading Compline together. Then the van drivers and youth leaders met to discuss plans for the next two days. Looks like we might be having Eucharist tomorrow night on the beach! And on Thursday, we might be going swimming! Nice! :)
Tomorrow, my van group is responsible for dinner. We are going to be cooking roasted chickens, baked potatoes, chicken tenders, and serving salad. Sounds good, right?
Monday, August 1, 2011
We all boarded an Amtrak train (we were large enough to get our own complete train car) and left the station around 7:15pm. Our trip will carry us to New Orleans where we will rent 11 minivans and 2 cargo vans and drive to Mississippi, where we will stay at the Lakeshore Baptist Church's facilities. They host groups year-round who wish to volunteer to help the community rebuild.
The train ride was loads of fun! The kids we're totally pumped to be going on this adventure as were the adults!. There were games to be played, songs to be sung, snacks to be consumed! By midnight, I was tired. But I found that sleeping on a train in the seat is not all that comfortable.
So I can't say that I got a good night's sleep but I did get in a few good hours of rest. The morning and afternoon were pretty relaxed as we began to settle the logistics of the van drive to Mississippi, etc.
We arrived in New Orleans at 3:30pm (a nice 20 hour train ride) and rented our vans. Of course, I ended up with the one that had all the cool tech gadgets (I did not even pick the van I wanted, it just worked out that way) so that was a bonus. We divided everyone into their 'van groups' and started the 1 hour drive to Lakeshore. Did you know that NASA has a rocket testing center in Mississippi? We passed right by it! Too bad we don't have the time to check it out...
Once we got settled into the housing at Lakeshore, we went to Los Tres Amigos mexican restaurant for dinner. Very tasty! Then after we got back, a friend and I went on a nice walk to map out a running route for the next morning. We mapped out a 2.5 mile route and then went to bed.
First thing Saturday morning, about 10 youth and adults went for a run before the rest of the group woke up. 2.5 miles is a little short but still a nice run and a nice sunrise!
Then we drove back to New Orleans to attend church services at St. George Episcopal Church. Beautiful parish! They fed us breakfast and lunch, and we were treated to an amazing presentation on the Katrina disaster (a man-made disaster) by one of their parishioners. I will post some video of that up on YouTube when I return home.
Then we took the streetcar to the French Quarter and spent the next six hours walking around the shops and musical entertainment in New Orleans' famous marketplace! It was hot but really fun. We concluded our day with dinner at Bourbon Vieux (yes, it is on Bourbon Street). The food was okay but the time spent together was great! Then we drove back to Lakeshore to prepare for our first full day of our work.
We ate breakfast and arrived at our work site with Habitat for Humanity at 9am. My van group and a second van group were assigned to Habitat -- 14 people. When we arrived, we met another mission trip group there. And guess what? They were from Willow Creek!! So it was a Chicagoland team working today and throughout the week! How cool is that!?
Today we worked on four different houses, building window frames, building out closets, building outdoor sheds, painting, and prepping for the installation of doors. We also prepped the lot for a new house whose foundation was just poured last week. We might get to do some framing for that house this week!
It was 95 degrees and 91% humidity all day today. We worked to keep ourselves hydrated and protected with sunscreen. Three of our team had to go back to Lakeshore due to the heat, but everyone did well and no one had any lingering health issues today. The workday ended at 4pm and we all went back to shower, chill, and have a tasty dinner of taco salad and brownies!
My can group got KP duty tonight ao after cleaning the dining hall and kitchen, we got to join in the evening reflection time, followed by Compline and lots of singing. Then it was free time until lights out at 10L30pm. As I write this, the kids are all singing loudly outside, having a fun time. As for me, I am tired after a long day. So I am going to get some sleep and hopefully go on a 5 mile run early in the morning before Day 2 of our mission adventure!