Thursday, February 26, 2015

It's Been, Well, Quite a Week

The kids finally went back to school on Tuesday, with a 2 hour delay, but let's be clear, I am not complaining! They were there for one and a half whole days before we got another three inches of snow, canceling school again today.

What did I accomplish in that one and a half day period where things were back to normal? Well not a whole hell of a lot, thanks to our friends at US Airways. Tuesday night, I was about to call a potential spring break housesit and thought I'd best look up the times of our flight. Heading over to the US Airways site, my investigation soon turned to panic upon discovering that our out bound flight was completely untenable. There are three legs: Roanoke to Charlotte, Charlotte to Miami, and Miami to Costa Rica. The Charlotte to Miami has us getting in at 6pm, which is unfortunate because the plane to Costa Rice leaves at 11am.

This is a problem.

I called US Airways right away. Sadly for me, storms all over the eastern seaboard have caused all sorts of flight cancellations and the wait time was "longer than normal." What the hell, I have time. Four hours later, never having spoken to an agent, I just went to bed.

The next day, I woke up early, anxiety ridden, at 5:30am and called US Air back immediately. I spent the next eight hours on hold and never spoke with anyone. Seriously. Having unlimited minutes, I just put the phone on speaker and went about my day, yes, making me the jerk in the store with the phone on speaker.

At one point, we went to the airport to try to get some help. The desk agent said she was loathe to change anything and said to check back in a week, feeling it would all work out. Wanting a second opinion, I remained on hold.

We're traveling with two other families, both of whom managed to get through without the extended wait and changed their flights, but to far less desirable options, one arriving at night and the other having an overnight layover in Miami. We were still unsure what was going to happen to us.

I continued my holding game as I went to get my second Hep A/Hep B booster, ouch. Somewhere in the building, I lost signal, 8 hours in.

Since US Air just merged with American, I thought what the hell, I'll call them. After an incredibly brief wait of ten minutes, help was on the line. Sadly, she couldn't really assist as their computer systems were not fully merged BUT she was able to skip the line and get a US Air rep on the phone directly, a trick which would have been helpful before I spent 12 hours on hold but I am not looking a gift horse in the mouth! Long story short, the US Air employee told me a couple of things. She said the 8 hour wait was common this week which is just insane, insane I tell you. She also agreed with the woman from the airport and promised me that if I waited until March 3rd, it would all work out.

None of this is making me feel any better. But with nothing to be done for a week, I am enjoying my snow day, playing with Photoshop. Today I learned to do this:

And this:

So if you need color splash or tie dye lamb pictures, I am your girl.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Oh Good, More Snow

We woke up to more snow falling this morning. Tim was off to work, from which I really hope he is released early considering how bad the roads are, so it was up to me and the kids to clear the driveway. I put them all on notice to suit up and head out to work. Maggie promptly asked that Eion stay inside.

Maggie: Can we just do this without Eion?
Me: I know he's not as good at shoveling as you are but I wanted to be fair.
Maggie: Really, we are better off without him. He can stay in.
Me: I don't ever want to hear about this in therapy as The Time Mom Didn't Make E Work.
Maggie: Deal.

She was the first out with me and a happy, efficient worker. Morrigan came out next and complained E wasn't helping. When I explained why, she seemingly took a page from his playbook and endeavored to be the slowest shoveler in history.

And she wouldn't pose for the requisite pictures.

In some sort of reverse psychology situation, Eion came out anyway because he wanted to help. 

It wasn't perfect and some were happier than others, but we got the job done. Not that a half hour later you can tell. May be a long, snowy day!

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Nine Day Weekend

To the complete and utter delight of the children, there was no school at all this week. Between snow, icy roads, and unseasonably cold temperatures, classes were all cancelled. Tim had to go back to work on Wednesday and postulated that it would be better than being trapped in the house with cabin fever. 

Honestly, it hasn't been bad. The kids are good at self entertainment. Maggie even struck out on her own to her friend Rosie's, where they went sledding and made hot chocolate. We've cooked, watched movies, and played board games. It's been relaxing.

Also this week, I started an online Photoshop class. I used it for some basics years ago, before I bought a Mac, but once I made the switch to Apple and my old program was incompatible, I was reticent to buy a new version. It was pretty spend. So I just used iPhoto, an inferior bit suitable product. But recently, Adobe changed its model and offers Photoshop as a subscription - $9.99 a month. Over time it is likely to be more expensive, but you always have the most up to date version.

One of my first assignments was to paint over this picture,

and make it into this! Not something to be framed, but fun to play with. 

There was much worry about the safety of the Peepers in the extreme cold. I researched and all the chicken blogs said not to worry, they were built for this. They didn't need a heat lamp. Seems "they" were right. They don't seem to be enjoying the weather, but they are all alive and well.

Tomorrow we are due for more snow, which has the kids speculating that maybe school will be cancelled Monday as well. We'll see if they are disappointed!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Snow and Sun

Last night, in spite of the cold and driving snow, it was back out for more sledding, where the children lasted much longer than one could have anticipated.

Today is, fortunately, much nicer. The neighbor girls let us know they were going out and the kids all played in the snow and went sledding. At least until Maggie discovered her friend was home from DC and disappeared to find her. Can't win them all. 

And after a day of hiding in the coop, even the chickens made it out!

Monday, February 16, 2015

1st Snow of the Season

Save the dusting of snow we received on Thanksgiving, this winter has been mild and without the white stuff. Watching friends in Boston get pummeled while we had occasional days of 60 degree weather was surreal, and a little nice.

But we are spared no more! Today it has been coming down all day and looks like we'll get about a foot of snow. It wasn't supposed to get started until 10am so Tim and I went to the gym and then out to Sam's Club for some extra provisions. By the time we left to go back home, things were already getting dicey and we knew we were in for the day.

This is the first weather we've had that the chickens just refused to go out. They've been holed up in their coop all day, leaving us to rotate their waterers as they freeze over.

But snow means the first sledding of the year! Our neighbors, Tyler and Jen, are always sweet and let the kids sled down their driveway. We've got one round under our belts for the day but with all the accumulation, we're sure to go out again.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Redecorating By Cheapy-skate

My friend April recently did some remodeling that turned out great. But after looking at it, we came home and thought, wow, we have some work to do here. With what is looking to be an expensive deck remodel coming up, we were loathe to spend to much money. Bring on the cheapskate decorators!

First on deck - the dining room chairs. We had people over for dinner the other day and I just thought our dining room chairs were bordering on embarrassing. Granted, we bought this set knowing it would be in high use by kids, so it isn't upper end. But things have gotten downright dank.

Case in point:

Let's move in a little closer...

These needed help. So it was off to the fabric store, where we found new material for a total of $84. We picked up an electric style gun as well for $29. Then it was an afternoon of labor.

This is exactly what I wanted for Valentine's Day!

Just a few hours later and voila! Begone ugly! (Assuming you like the new fabric, of course.)

Emboldened by our success, we looked to improve elsewhere. We had a couple of related problems. Maggie didn't like her desk and the computer desk was a room dominating monolith. Look at it looming in the corner, monopolizing way more real estate than it deserves.

With screwdrivers and saws in hand, we set out to dismantle the entertainment center and make it into Maggie's new desk.

With the desk underway, she needed a chair. We headed out to the furniture store. It was looking bleak until we happened on a return table and chairs, which had one too many chairs. The store was willing to sell us the chair for $42 and Maggie had a new set up!

Her old desk, with a surface too bumpy for writing but just fine for computers, moved downstairs to house my computer. Look at how much more open this is!

The next steps look like they will include an interior decorator, making them far more expensive, but so far, we spruced up three rooms for $155! A weekend well spent.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day, Because You Know Hallmark Holidays Mean Lots to Me

While not planned to be a Valentine's present, I don't believe in those, my new camera, a Canon 70D came in the mail just in time for the holiday. So I have been subjecting the household to a level of harassment increased from my normal paparazzi style. Hence, why I have pictures of Morrigan getting her hair cut yesterday. (She looks so much like her cousin, Kelsey, in this one.)

And while I have a million of these, I never tire of photographing sunrise on Stone Mountain!

Taking some pressure off the family were the Valentine's Day parties at E's school. I had plenty of classes who needed to be photographed for the yearbook. Most of the kids are used to seeing me and are happy to pose. 

The only blip on the radar was one of the third grade girls. I was taking a pic of three kids when she came in to be part of it, which was fine. I was about to snap and she popped up two sets of bunny ears. I told her sweetly that this would render the photo unusable for the yearbook, so please don't do that. 

Take two, I raise my camera up and am greeted again by bunny ears. Ok, a little less nicely, I requested again that she not do so.

Take three, you guessed it. SO I told her, in a stern voice, that she needed to leave the picture, post haste. I don't know if I was louder than I meant to be or if it was just chance, but the room had fallen silent and all eyes were on me, the world's meanest photographer. Ah well, she shouldn't have been such a sh*t.

In better news, E survived his party without a complete implosion, possibly a first.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Tons of Fun

This Saturday, there was a festival, in the very loosest sense of the word, called Tons of Fun at a local mall. This poor mall has been in decline the entirety of our time in Roanoke and has plenty of empty store fronts for different exhibitors. It was packed, which speaks to the pent up demand for things to do around here. Granted, people may only be looking for free things, like this was.

In any case, Morrigan's fencing group uses this opportunity to showcase their skills and recruit new members. She spent the hours of 9am-2pm fencing and enticing people to come in and give it a try. She had a blast.

I loved when she and her cohorts recognized that the many princesses roaming the mall garnered much attention. It was decided that she would need to fence in regal costume next year. Way to evaluate the marketplace and adapt!

Which left the rest of the family. I brought Maggie, Eion, and Maggie's friend to the mall around lunch. The girls were off like a flash and, as reported later, had a good time doing things I find intolerable, like smelling every lotion on Bath and Body Works. Honestly, I can't even set foot in that stinky store.

Eion was more than happy to eat Chick-Fil-A and hang out with me!

One of the first things he saw was the animal rescue. He went right up and got argumentative with the poor teenager holding this hawk, telling him how he didn't feel they should be endangered and they are CHICKEN KILLERS!

The boy smiled weakly and tried to ignore him, so Eion turned his attention to a group of four year olds and their Moms, regaling them with the story, "I saw a hawk who looked just like this one murder my chicken, Putin. Right in front of me!" As horrified parents and kids alike looked to me, I suggested maybe we needed to move on.

E decided he was too old for miniature train rides and bounce houses but was all in with finding all the creatures he could, including snakes and bunnies.

We looped around, visiting many different stations until E decided we were done. We made a minimum of three passes by the hawks, each time instilling fear in the hearts of the volunteers, but Eion managed to hold his tongue.

They all had fun, which means there are really low expectations here or we need to get out more. Maybe both.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Middle School Science Fair

Yesterday was the 7th and 8th grade science fair. The kids stayed after school for the judging and we had to pick them up at 5:30. My plan was, like all normal families, to go back at 7pm for the awards presentation and to see the other exhibits. Morrigan had other ideas and no interest whatsoever in going back.

Surprise, surprise, she won 3rd place for chemistry!

She was pleased to have won and even more excited not to go on to the city wide competition. We'll call it a win.

Scared, Happy, and Relieved All at the Same Time

A mere three years into the odyssey that has been back pain, we made some decisions today. I went to see the spine surgeon and we decided that I am going to have an anterior lumbar inter body fusion (ALIF) which is, in very non scientific terms, bad part of spine removed and replaced with an implant. And maybe some screws.

In the con list, this is major surgery and will require an extensive recovery. But the pro list, at this point, is longer. He said that I am young (tell my kids that,) healthy, not obese, and have lots to live for, all of which are helpful to a favorable outcome. Also he was pleased that my expectations were things like "roll over without wincing" and "sneeze without pain." These are considered realistic and manageable desired surgical results.

It is a relief to have a plan and I'm happy that I might be pain free. I'm also scared shitless. I hate needles, let alone major surgery. But I already have my friend and Anesthesiologist, Christy, on board to be there in the operating room, a plus. And the surgeon says he doesn't have to warn people about potential death or paralysis with this type of surgery. Also a plus.

So after we get back from Costa Rica for spring break, it is under the knife for me.

Go State

Morrigan came home from school the other day and told us they had been researching colleges, how to find one that suits your needs and fits your expectations. I'm not sure she enjoyed the McK version of university selection...

Us: Actually, it won't be hard at all. We have narrowed it down for you to in state public universities.
Morrigan: But I really liked one in Maryland.
Us: Then you'd better get to work on saving money or getting a scholarship. We planned for in state tuition.
Morrigan: But, but what if I get into Harvard?
Us: You'd better get a scholarship as well.
Morrigan: Would you be proud if I got in without a scholarship?
Us: Sure, but you can't go.

It is so hard to resist conventional wisdom when it comes to student loans. The government has made it all too easy for kids to go into mind numbing debt and we, as a society, have gone right along with it. The universities have no incentive for cost control. Our kids will end up suffering. It isn't unusual to have doctors starting at the hospital with loans in excess of $300,000. Even at a physician's salary, that is one hell of a mountain of debt to pay off.

The kids are not very happy with our limitations to their school selection. Let's hope when they are out of school debt free they will see the wisdom in it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Portrait Torture

That's what the kids would call it anyway. I love to get professional pictures taken of the kids but as the years go by, I meet with increasing resistance. Not to mention, getting them into suitable outfits and all smiling and happy is quite an undertaking. So we've rolled back the frequency but I try to get at least one good session in a year.

As I am met with a united front of opposition, we've gone further and further down the "professional" ladder (and cost.) Portrait Innovations meets the price point and length of visit for unwilling participants. And it is walking distance to a Barnes and Noble where they can all go and spend some Christmas money (thanks Uncle Dominick!) while I pick out prints and wait for the order.

Perfect? There is no photoshop here so all the blemishes come through. Capture the moment? You bet, complete with all of Eion's "smiles." They were so well behaved, I may aim for two sessions this year!