Sunday, November 24, 2013

Grandin Christmas Parade

There is nothing like small town parades. We lack the sophisticated floats and balloons but one of your kids is almost always in the parade and tons of your friends are there. Perfect way to kick off the holiday season.

Friday, November 22, 2013

From the Morrigan Files

MEM had to write a poem for her English class. I liked it, but I am biased.

Angels and Demons

For when angels fall
Do we cry?
Do we call
Out for them?
Did the angels deserve to die?
Thorns catch on the hems
Of dresses of starlight
But what we find
Is the worst of all
We see them fight
For the right
Of a soul, half black, half white
We see a broken wall
Between heaven and hell
While the fighting demons from the depths of hell
Set the world on fire
But the war will never end
And only the stakes grow higher
Once there was grey, no white, no black
But now the two halves can never look back.

Imagine Lunacy

The local art museum is running Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace exhibit. Finding ourselves downtown with 15 minutes to kill before the Indian restaurant opened, Tim and I decided we needed to check it out.

Now, I'm pretty neutral on Yoko. While I don't fall into the camp that loves her as an artist, I assume this camp exists somewhere, I don't hate her as some sort of Beatles destroying monster either. Mostly, I just find her a bit odd but I appreciate that she is able to keep herself relevant for all these years considering her major accomplishment seems to be hooking up with John Lennon.

We were able to blow through the majority of the exhibit rather quickly as it was pretty much gear like this:

I don't want to be the one to break it to her, but war seems 
to be thriving with bi-partisan support these days.

[Apologies for the poor picture quality. They wouldn't let me take any photos so I had to rip these off the internet.]

And several bowls with complimentary souvenirs like "imagine peace" buttons and the chance to stamp  a piece of paper!

What's next, one of those labelers that you turned 
the dial and imprinted letters on sticky strips?

Personally, I passed on both of these. I'm no hawk, but when I see those "War is not the answer" bumper stickers, my first response is that it really depends on the question. Busting around with imagine peace on my lapel just didn't seem like authentic Katie.

While the galleries were underwhelming, this was filling the allotted time frame nicely. We had just about finished when we noticed the last room, which seemed to be running a movie. We figured f*ck it, we have five more minutes and went in. 

As we entered, there was another bowl containing mini flashlight key chains. Now those are something with which I can get on board! Much like nail clippers, flashlights should be found in every drawer in my house. I grabbed one for each family member. 

Note to self, do dust the counter before taking pictures you plan to make public.

We were the only people in the gallery, unless you count the guard, who checked on us no fewer than five times. Perhaps he was concerned we were going to take more than our fair share of Onochords. Our solitude was a good thing, seeing as I was compelled to snark and laugh throughout. The film was about Yoko's plan and execution of the "Imagine Peace Tower," a large beam of light located somewhere in Iceland. [See exhibit A.]

Quick, someone calculate the carbon footprint of that baby!

There are times that I really do wish I could watch something like this and think how great it is, spreading the message of peace and hope - how inspiring! But then I quickly come to my senses and recognize this for the vanity project it is. Not to mention a colossal waste of resources. But as long as they are her resources, meh. 

More important to our story, however, is the Onochord. The film had Yoko at a series of press conferences, presumably about the aforementioned vanity project, encouraging people to use flashlights to send a coded message to everyone around you, "I love you." Now, I'm sure you are thinking she was using Morse code to relay said message. Ah but you have forgotten that the 60's were good to Ms. Ono and she has spent the years since in a bubble, sheltered by a sizable trust fund. Morse code would be too pedestrian.

Instead, she demonstrated, over and over, to crowds seemingly amused by her suggestion, that this is how you Onochord "I love you:"

flash flash
flash flash flash

Then the various audiences were prompted to join in. There were a lot of people looking at each other with a she-can't-be-serious look.

She was.

I think my favorite part of the movie, apart from the still of Lennon in one hell of a shirt, was the opening of the Imagine Peace Tower when Ringo Starr openly mocked the whole flashy-I love you presentation. 

Me and Ringo, we have an inside joke.

Then it was off to lunch without a second thought about the whole gig. Until, that is, we presented the kids with their Onochords and Tim taught them the code. Soon, I was being ambushed by all members of the family, declaring their love in a very luminescent way. And once one person started, it was like a chain effect until the whole family was at it.

flash flash
flash flash flash

Well played Ono, well played.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Christmas Cards Should Not Be An Odyssey

You know what else shouldn't be an odyssey? Spelling that damnable word. I swear on all that is holy that I will never learn it. My first attempt today, for example, was so far off that spell check couldn't fix it. But that is off point. Where were we? Right, the Christmas cards.

My normal tendency towards organization has been put on steroids this year by two things. One: Morrigan wanted a bunch of anime and manga gear that I was sure I would have to mail order from Japan or China, meaning I needed to get rolling early. Two: while things are getting better (see the recent hikes,) I'm not off the injured/reserve list yet and have lots of time on my hands. Thus when our friends at Portrait Innovations sent me an early bird coupon, it was go time.

Then it all went downhill....

Nov. 2nd: I made an appointment, the easy part. Then I realized the kids would need some sort of gear. E was covered. We have some hand-me-down green cords with Rudolph heads embroidered on them. Perfect. On to the girls. But speaking of odysseys, I remembered last year, and was loath to go through that process again. Seeing as we never got around to getting pictures done last year, why couldn't we could just use those dresses! Practical and economical. Genius I tell you.

Other than the fact that they had grown. Rats.

But, in the surprise of the century, we quickly found a dress, of which both girls approved, at Gap Kids.

We placed an online order directly. They were on sale (yeah!) but in order to ensure their timely delivery, I did have to cough up $7 for shipping (the horror.) Seriously, I NEVER pay for shipping. But we needed them before the 10th so I violated my own unwritten rule.

Nov. 7th: The dresses arrive and Morrigan's is far too short. I used the size guides online which assured me that a xl would fit a child up to 60 inches tall. Which was, by the letter of the law, true. What they didn't add was that her ass would also be hanging out. 

After a somewhat harassing phone call to our friends at the Gap, a new dress, size xxl, was on its way via two day delivery. We missed the cutoff for that day but no worries, it would leave Friday and arrive Saturday, a full day early.

Nov. 8th: Except it won't. When the shipping confirmation arrived, I was given a delivery date of Monday, one day too late. Gap apparently does not pay for Saturday delivery, that puppy was coming Monday. A fact that no number of calls to either FedEx or the Gap could remedy. 


Nov. 9th: I reschedule my appointment in defeat for the following Sunday. 

Nov. 11th: The larger dress is delivered and all asses are now covered.

Nov. 17th: Who knew the mall started being completely insane two weeks before Thanksgiving? My purpose in going early was to avoid all these mutton heads. Instead, it was me, the kids, and the mutton heads parking 20 rows away from our destination. 

Not that our on time arrival was very important. The place was crawling with people and appeared to be at least a half hour behind. But we made the best of it, mocking other patrons in the spirit of the holidays. (It couldn't be helped.)

When at last it was our turn, things went fairly smoothly. The kids all behaved and smiled. When they were done, I shipped them off to the bookstore while I selected the picture that would be in The Card.

Nov. 17th, only later: I picked up the cards. When I took a closer look at home, I saw this:

What is up with the carpet??!?

[If you don't see it or think it doesn't matter, you are wrong.] My harried calls to the manager were met with offers like, "Why don't you come in for a re-shoot? Maybe tomorrow at 7:40am?" This woman clearly never had to get three kids ready for such an endeavor. Not to mention we had school. Much crankiness on my part got assurances that she would look at it and get back with me.

I was all prepared to return the whole order in a huff but luckily, we were saved through the miracle of Photoshop, which enabled additional cheap carpet to be added seamlessly. 

Nov. 18th: We acquired the new, Photoshopped cards. Which I promptly addressed yesterday. Now I just need to find something else to do.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I Had Lunch With Laura Bush

Well, if you're going to get all technical, it was me, the former First Lady and about 900 other people. Details....

A few months back, I read that Mrs. Bush was coming to a Ladies' Luncheon to benefit the local art museum. I considered going and then promptly forgot about it until the tickets were sold out. Fast forward to last week when my friend Liz said she had a pair of tickets and couldn't go - did I want them? Heck yeah.

So April and I headed over to the Hotel Roanoke with little idea what to expect. We soon found out that the main dining room had sold out, the afore mentioned 900 people. Which meant a meet and greet, or better yet, a picture, was likely out of the question. But as a small comfort, it was an open wine bar.

We were seated in the back row, just about as far as you could get from the action, but they had projection screens so we could see the speakers quite well regardless. We were seated with some lovely seasoned citizens who nicely offered to take a picture of us, with varied results.

Attempt 1: Extreme close up aka Katie's huge head.

Attempt 2: vast improvement or good enough, I thought anyway.

Attempt 3: Getting all artistic on us.

Actually, I appreciate the last one as it gives you a shot of the centerpiece, which I later won and got to take home. Much more exciting as I never ever win those kind of things. 

In the end, not sure of how all these pictures were going to work out, we opted for a selfie.

That lady behind us had an outfit on that was 10 layers of crazy.

Lunch was delicious, which is astonishing considering the size of the crowd and, to a lesser extent, the general abilities of the kitchen staff. Just in case you want to see it:

Though it was sad to see the number of pieces of fish that went uneaten, including the one belonging to our photographer. But on to the main event.

Mrs. Bush gave a lovely talk about what her family has been up to the past five years and some interesting stories about her time in the White House. One of my favorites was about W throwing out the first pitch of the World Series in New York City just after 9/11. She described how vulnerable she felt as he was the only one on the infield but lightened the mood by adding that Derek Jeter told the President not to blow it. She was sweet, kind and funny. I'm glad I had the chance to hear her in person.

And that last row seat? We were right next to the platform containing all the TV cameras. Turns out we were heavily used for crowd shots for the evening news.

In person, we looked much happier. Makes me feel for all those celebrities where they grab one photo and use it to create a story. They'd be all, there was Katie McK, not looking at the speaker in near tears. What does she have against the former First Lady? But damning screen shots aside, it was a stellar afternoon.

Screw Gender Definitions

As part of my ongoing efforts to have my children's after school activities be something other than copious amounts of time on the xBox, I asked Eion the other day if he wanted to try wrestling. He had already dissed basketball, indoor soccer (apparently, while soccer is "his" sport, it is only "his" sport one season a year,) and lacrosse, making this somewhat of a last ditch effort. In a flabbergasting move, after hearing what the sport entailed, he said yes, he was in. The only thing more surprising was when Maggie chimed in, "I want to do it too!"

Uh, yeah.

A few calls and I was able to determine that girls were not only allowed, but encouraged. Game on.

Last night was the first practice. Both kids were excited. (And it helped that their friends John Paul and Ryan were also going to be there.) Now, I know next to nothing about wrestling. In fact, my entire base of knowledge may come from Emilio Estevez's character in The Breakfast Club. Last night, I learned much.

The first bit of info gleaned was that wrestling practice rooms are hot, humid and quite fragrant. As one parent, a school nurse, noted, "I can just smell the staph infection." As the kids entered, I though there was no way in hell they would spend an hour+ in there and want to go back. No way.

As we peeked in the glass door, never wanting to re-enter as just being in there made you want to shower, the kids happily ran drills, scooted around on the floor (you know everyone was going to bathe,) and start some basic sparring. Maggie, as the only girl, was paired with a boy her size. There was no need for worry, she told me in advance, "I am going to work twice as hard as all the boys." The Dad of her partner laughed and said he thought his son was afraid to hit a girl. To which I told him he'd better get over it fast because Maggie had no qualms about hitting him!

After practice, they were dripping with sweat and red-faced. The first words out of Maggie's mouth were, "Are we going back tomorrow?"

Yes indeed my sweetie. You'll just need to clean up first.

[Post script: This whole thing is very exciting as well for me as I will get to practice my indoor sports photography! Not that it is all about me...]

Sunday, November 10, 2013

More Family Hiking

After last week's success, I was feeling quite giddy about the new found love of hiking. Determined to use momentum in our favor, we planned a hike to McAfee's Knob, one of the most photographed points on the Appalachian Trail. As luck would have it, our friends King and Fiona were also planning to hike there this weekend. So we coordinated and all went together.

The children who opted to hike with us.

Much like last week, Morrigan immediately took off on her own, determined to be the first up the mountain. The rest of us took a bit longer. It has been a few years since I hiked here. I remembered it was easier going than Sharp Top but forgot how long it was (about 8 miles round-trip.) With some cajoling, we did all reach the summit.

One of our many rests.

Morrigan makes it all so much more exciting too. Seeing as she darted off at the trail head, you have the entire 2 1/2 hour hike up the mountain wondering, "Did my child get hopelessly lost in the woods?" or "Could she have met with a real life Jason?" Fortunately, she was, quite impatiently, waiting for us at top. And she was ready to go back down long before we arrived. "Great. A bunch of rocks and a view." Talk about missing the big picture.

Look at all that family happiness. 
(And that very Pat Benatar-esque headband.)

As was the case last weekend, we weren't the only ones with this bright idea. Hence the above photo without the beautiful view in the background. The place was packed! I did manage to get one of our friends with said view though.

They were tall enough to black all the coeds behind them.

Before we went, we looked at some pictures online. Eion was terrified of the drop off and concerned about the lack of fencing. To the point of tears really. But by the time we were up there, that anxiety was no more.

He happily went right up to the edge. When I suggested he be careful, I was informed I was not being very free-range. Touche.

After about 4 1/2 hours hiking, we all slept well last night.

Friday, November 8, 2013

My Latest Circle Article

Here's my article from the South Roanoke Circle this month! (Or you can read it in the paper here.)

Holiday Movie Reviews, Based Solely on Title and Release Date

No matter how well you’ve planned, let’s face it, the last two months of the year are stressful. Shopping, big family gatherings, end of the year parties, decorating – the list of activities vying for your time is voluminous.

I can’t help you with any of those things. Best of luck. BUT, I can help you navigate the myriad of new movie releases between now and the end of the year. As Hollywood has not yet recognized the importance of my gig with the Circle, we’re at a bit of a disadvantage. No screening DVDs for me. But let’s not allow ignorance to stand in the way of journalism! Because really, the title and release date are all we need to form an opinion. So take it all with a grain of salt, the reviews are worth every penny you paid for them.

Ender’s Game (November 1st)
Ooh ooh! I read this book! The space bugs are after us and one little boy is all that stands in the way of humanity and extinction. I’m going to watch this on Netflix for sure! (And possibly in the theaters if the weekends in November are super rainy.)
4 stars

Free Birds (November 1st)
Hmm, this is PG. I’m going to guess it is a cartoon, probably with some celebrity voices. The title leads be to believe some birds are going to free their enslaved brethren. Along the way, they will face adversity, only to overcome it while spewing thinly veiled 80’s pop references in an effort to keep parents entertained. Think of it as Chicken Run 2. Should you go? Depends on how much you want a nap.
2 stars

Las Vegas (November 1st)
Thank goodness, another buddy film about Las Vegas. It is only PG-13 so it can’t be as funny as The Hangover. The we’re-off-to-Vegas-look-how-crazy-things-get genre is really wearing thin.
2 stars

Man of Tai Chi (November 1st)
May or may not star Jackie Chan or Jet Li. If it doesn’t, you’ll wish it did. You’ve seen this movie before and if you’re in the mood for kung fu, go for it.
1 star

The Book Thief (November 8th)
People keep telling me to read this book but I can’t remember for the life of me what it is about. Anyway, I’m sure the film adaptation will pale in comparison to the book but enough people have said to read it that I’m giving it a thumbs up anyway.
3 stars

Thor: The Dark World (November 8th)
It has that same tasty guy from the last Thor movie and The Avengers, right? Is there anything else to discuss?
4 stars

Best Man Down (November 8th)
A buddy comedy about mishaps before the wedding. One can only hope it takes place in Vegas.
1 star

The Starving Games (November 8th)
aka Scary Movie or Not Another Teen Movie. This genre isn’t tired, it is exhausted.
1 star

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (November 22nd)
I do love post-apocalyptic teen dramas. You might want to Netflix the first installment, The Hunger Games, if you haven’t seen it yet, but this should make the short list. Go.
5 stars

The Christmas Candle (November 22nd)
PG rated, released for Thanksgiving and with a Christmas theme? Sure to be jam-packed with high fructose corn syrup kind of sweet, if you’re into that. I’m not.
1 star

Homefront (November 27th)
Described as “action” with no rating listed. Bet lots of things blow up. Green light if you like thin plots full of pretty people who are excellent shots.
3 stars

Out of the Furnace (December 6th)
Rated R and described as a thriller. I really, really want the furnace reference to be about Freddy Krueger but I don’t think it is. Anyway, sounds like a family terrorized in their own home. I adore horror flicks so for me, it is 4 stars. But for the rest of you,
1 star

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (December 13)
That Peter Jackson is clever! Take one book, split it into everyone’s favorite movie serving, a trilogy, and make three times the profits! While it is a sad chapter in my geeky life, I never read the Hobbit. What with all the second breakfasts and the like, I just got bored. But my kids saw the last one and said it was quite good. No doubt this one will be too.
4 stars

American Hustle, Hours, Saving Mr. Banks, Some Velvet Morning (December 13th)
Her (December 18th)
August: Osage County, Labor Day, The Invisible Woman (December 25th)
Lone Survivor, One Chance (December 27th)
These movies are all dramas and they are being released at the end of the year, which can only mean one thing, they are Oscar bait. A full 98% of Oscar nominated films are absolutely insufferable, so we can extrapolate these are too. I’d imagine the closer you get to the end of the year, the more pretentious they are.
1 star (if you are me)
3-5 stars (if you are the rest of the world)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas (December 13th)
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (December 20th)
Both these films can be subtitled, “the quest for more cash.” I’ll wager they are completely serviceable, yet not as funny as the films before them. But one never knows. Christmas Vacation was a stitch! A gamble, really.
Anywhere from 1 to 5 stars

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (December 25th)
Could be a reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise. Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin are getting a bit long in the tooth to reprise the role so we’ll assume there is a new lead. It doesn’t really matter if it is good or not. Your kids have been home for days and/or you are looking to escape your relatives who are in from out of town. You might as well commit to this one now.
Stars are irrelevant

Now equipped with questionable knowledge of the second biggest movie release season, go forth, and enjoy! Or just do what I do and wait for it all to be released on Netflix. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

All Family, All the Time Weekend

Last weekend was filled with about as much family togetherness as possible AND worked out amazingly well, to the surprise of all involved. Friday night, we went out to dinner and then went to a Virginia Tech hockey game. (Minus Morrigan who was at a school dance, where she was planning on mocking all the other students. Way to make friends.) While the children had limited (read: no) interest in the game, everyone had a friend and the night was great fun.

Saturday, we were headed to Charlottesville for the UVA v Clemson game! A friend was not using her tickets and asked if we wanted them. Seeing as the weather was gorgeous, there was no way we weren't going.

We tailgated prior to the game and the kids were all so much themselves. Maggie just wanted to hang with us, Morrigan wanted to read alone in the car or wander the parking lot and Eion made friends with the guys in capes and they commenced to beating each other with sticks.

What I love most about the UVA stadium, admittedly, I don't know the name, is the large grassy area for festival seating. I always, for the few games I attended at the University of Michigan, hated the crowded, cold student section. The option of a wide open, sunny, grassy area might well have increased my attendance 100 fold.

UVA ended up getting pummeled so we didn't stay the entire game. But it was another perfect day!

As a side note, which I am sure you will find fascinating, the only other UVA game I've attended was 13 years ago and was also against Clemson! Here's a blast from the past photo from that one. 

Note to self: travel to past and recommend I ditch the pleats.

You would think by now we'd be done - but no, it was on to a Girl Scout hike at Peaks of Otter.

We brought the entire family, much to the chagrin of Morrigan and Eion. I was expecting a mile or so hike that would be leisurely in nature. I expected wrong. Turns out we were headed to Sharp Top, 3500 some feet up, and it was going to be 2 hours+. Internally, I kind of panicked. Thus far, I've only been cleared to walk a half hour on flat land. This was far outside what I was supposed to be doing. But I knew if I bailed, one to three children would follow and family outing failure was not going to be on my shoulders. If I had to spend a week suffering, so be it!

To save you the suspense, I survived nicely, much to my delight. I had to take it a bit easy this week but no major pain. And my PT didn't even yell at me!

It would have been worth the pain. The hike itself was beautiful. As a friend put it, we are so lucky to live in a postcard.

View from the top.

To the astonishment of all of us, Morrigan loved it the most. She led the pack, racing up and down the mountain. Eion was a close second on the happiness scale, declaring his love for climbing mountains. Who freaking knew! (Maggie was happy too, but she's always happy.)

Why yes, Eion is wearing the same outfit as the day before. 
I pick my battles.

Maggie on top of the world.

E's first words Monday to his teacher were about how much fun he had. I am beyond floored, and thrilled of course. They want to go on another hike this weekend. Tim and I are giddy at the prospect. 

That family fun works out every once in a while.

Disappear For a Month at a Time Much?

One of my favorite bloggers, who I don't know personally, recently came back after about a six month break. Her posts were a welcome addition to my day and I thought, "I should really get back to writing!" Imagine my surprise when I found I had left you all hanging, just dying for the details of my uber exciting life [snort,] for a full month. How about we do a speed catch up, complete with lots of pictures!

What really threw me off track was our trip to Detroit in mid-October. The night before we left, Morrigan came home from Technology Club letting me know we needed to be back at school in a few hours for the Beta Club induction. {Beta Club was billed as an honors society but I kind of have this feeling that a desire to belong and $20 is really the only threshold to membership.}And, she added in an aside, she needed to dress up. Which is dandy and all but the child has nary an outfit for such an occasion that fit. Shopping with Morrigan is challenging in the best of circumstances. The idea of going to the store at the last minute and quickly obtaining something we could both live with was unrealistic, to say the least.

Enter my hero, Maggie's friend Margaret. She had recently attended a Bat Mitzvah and had bout several dressy outfits for the weekend's festivities. Margaret is a little taller than Morrigan but I thought it was our best shot. Fortunately, their family was nonplussed at the whirlwind arrival of several McKs, demanding dresses. We outfitted her, and all was well.

All except her shoes of course. We had previously purchased black flats from Zappos that Morrigan assured me fit, in spite of not being narrows. They did not fit and the child ended up with a really interesting gait. At least they are now down to $52.64 a wearing. 

Fashion crisis in our rear view, we headed north to Detroit where we spent a long weekend with my family, visited dear friends, and even fit in a niece's soccer game!

The minions, my brother Dominick and his husband Chris

Said dear friend, Olivia, who was kind enough 
to hang at my Mom & Dad's with us.

The whole fan-damily

Dinner with cousins!

Once we returned home, Halloween was on us in no time. This holiday will go down as "the year no one really gave a good rat's ass about their costume."

Morrigan wanted to be some anime character, but she waited too long to order her costume and there was no way it was making it here from Hong Kong in time. After tears of unfathomable sadness, she decided to be some other character for which we only needed  black cape. Sold! 

Maggie wanted to reprise her "Eskimo" costume from last year. It was getting a wee bit short but add leggings and problem solved.

Eion wanted to be a Clone Trooper, again. After I don't know how many freaking years of one piece polyester suits, that are always too hot, and helmets, which he always ends up hating, I took a stand and said no. Procrastination ensued and we found ourselves on the eve of the Club Halloween party with no costume. Indiana Jones - back in action!

Total holiday cost: $19.99 (plus tax.)