Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Parties: Take One

A weekend sure to be overloaded with candy and fun kicked off today with the school Halloween parties. I take that back, at Crystal Spring, they are called Halloween parties. At Highland Park, they are "Fall Parties." Have we had it with politically correct yet people? But I digress.

Stop one, Kindergarten. Mom & Dad came with me and we helped them get dressed for the Kindergarten parade through the school. Now feeling the spirit of the season, I came in full Glinda glory. And that glory was so great that Eion insisted I too come on the parade. Hmmm, hadn't counted on that.

But I made it without tripping on my dress and was well received, especially by the younger girls. Eion made sure to tell everyone he was Jango Fett and that I was his Mom. He was just the sweetest thing, insisting that we walk together the entire time.

The homeroom Mom, way more organized than me, had the room set up with four stations: snack, bingo, craft and a game where you wrapped another kid up as a mummy in toilet paper. The advance planning made for a smooth party even if E was not going to play mummy.

Then it was off to Maggie's class for another round of crafts, games and sugar, sweet sugar. I can say this, there is no shortage of generosity at this school. So much was donated we ended up leaving tons with the teacher to use for snacks in coming weeks.

Olivia was also a way organized homeroom Mom and we had multiple crafts and a game to play. We played bingo and it was so cute to see them get excited as they got close, calling out "I only need one more!!!" As it turned out, the prizes I bought (candy cane sticks with Halloween gummies) came in a pack of 24 (go Sam's Club) and everyone got a prize. While I am generally not a huge fan of the everything-needs-to-be-equal-all-the-time philosophy, I was won over by the smiles today.

After school, a friend commented that dismissal seemed a bit more chaotic than usual. I think we can safely say it was the sugar!

Sugar which is sure to be in ample supply at the weekend's other events. We're just getting started....

This Election Season

C'mon now, you didn't think this close to an election that I would have nothing of a political nature, did you? Though I will say that while this will have some political undertones (or overtones as the case may be,) I am going to consider its overarching goal as informational. Should it sway your vote to the right as well, even better.

My parents are visiting and my Dad and I were discussing some contract work he has done. I was telling him (again) to make sure he files his quarterly estimates so he doesn't get a fine or end up with an unexpected tax bill. He let me know that he was going to pay some of his tax bill with money he is owed now but he planned to defer until the new year, making it taxable income for 2011. At this point, gigantic red flags are going up and I told him that is the very last thing he wanted to do since everyone's taxes are going up when the Bush tax cuts expire.

Now, I generally consider my Dad, a computer programmer, to be a smart guy. But his response shocked me. He said he didn't need to worry about that since the Bush tax cuts had only helped people who made more than $200,000 and they were the only people facing a tax increase.

Whisky Tango Foxtrot.

So I became concerned. Clearly, he had been snowed by the mainstream media into thinking the tax increases were only on the "rich." How many other unsuspecting people did I know who were not aware of the taxation surprises that await them in 2011? Therefore, I am taking it upon myself to put a little truth out there for ya. I don't care if you like Bush, don't like Bush, or what side of the aisle you favor, what I am going to provide here are some non partisan cold, hard facts.

Everyone's Taxes Will Go Up if the Bush Tax Cuts Expire
There are currently six tax brackets: 10%, 15%, 25%, 28% 33%, and 35%. If nothing is done, the rates come January 1, 2011 will become: 15%, 28%, 31%, 36% and 39.6%. In case the numbers are not clear enough, this means every American who pays taxes has a rate increase.

Child Tax Credit Decreases
The per child deduction will drop from $1,000 to $500 and eligibility for the credit will become more stringent. Everyone who claims a child on their tax return will face an increased tax burden due to lesser deductions.

Capital Gains Tax Increase
The capital gains tax is currently between 0% and 15% depending on the income of the filer. Everyone can say goodbye to those rates as they rise to 20%.

The Marriage Penalty is Back!
The Bush tax cuts made the standard exemption for married filers twice that of a single filer. But come January, married couples will have an exemption that (per person) will be lower than single filers.

What does this mean for you? Duh. Higher taxes. Without a legislative intervention, we are all in for a bigger tax bill. Just something to think about as you head to the ballot box.

And if you need something else to think about, consider how the Democrats and the media have successfully convinced a large portion of the population that these were rich people's tax cuts when they clearly benefited all taxpayers. They were lying about it. Do we think they might be lying about some other things too?

Run Away

Morrigan's school started a running club with the intention of running a 5K in December. Now, I was as shocked as anyone could be that she wanted to join and in spite of needing absolutely no additional activities, I couldn't turn down her request for more physical activity. And I promised that anytime I could, I would come run with them on Thursdays. I run a couple of 5Ks a week so I don't really need to train per se but I wanted to encourage her.

My parents are here and willing to watch Maggie and Eion so yesterday Tim and I were both able to join her. They have the kids divided into groups loosely based on their speed and each group has one or two parents or teachers with it. Morrigan's group only needed one more chaperon so Tim ran with her while I was with another group. We had slightly different experiences.

My group was clearly the over-achievers. We were looping around Highland Park and the goal for the day was 2-3 laps which was somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.5 miles. My kids immediately decided they should run five laps. They asked me, "How fast can we run?" I said as long as I could keep up, they could go as fast as they wanted which translated into damn near my top speed with as few breaks as they could manage.

The goal of five laps was not enough and they added that they wanted to lap all the other groups. I am currently fighting a cold which was not at all helping my situation and made the running somewhat unpleasant. Mercifully, one boy fell and I got to take a break to get him a band aid. (Well not mercifully he fell - more mercifully I got a rest. You know what I mean.) But even that was short lived as he was devastated to have to quit early and he insisted on rejoining the runners. He and I finished essentially sprinting past another group.

Now Tim's group was another story. When we got home, I asked if he was going to shower. He said there was no need as he never broke a sweat. Seeing as I had just been killing myself, I was intrigued. Apparently, one member of his group was winded just walking to the start of the trail. From there, it was allot of walking, very little running and only then under duress and a great deal of complaining. Soundbites included:

"If I were a ninja, I would be able to run fast."

"You can't work an animal too hard or they'll quit."

"I would be a fast runner but I am too slow."

Tim and the other Dad spent the whole time goading them into running and setting goals like, "Let's just run to that sign 50 yards up." These were not the over-achievers. Having grown up playing ice hockey, baseball, football and just about every other sport, Tim didn't understand these kids at all but figured it looked like they were the ones who needed it the most and pressed on. The other Dad said he was just glad they ran some this week rather than walking the whole time.

While the sprinters were fun to run with, I think Morrigan was disappointed I was not with her on team lollygagger. Hopefully next week I can join her.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Thrown Directly Under the Bus

So I volunteer in Eion's class on Mondays and I was telling his teacher how disappointed he was to miss the pumpkin patch trip last Friday due to illness. She then told me of this great interaction with Maggie on Thursday...

Teacher: Maggie, do you think Eion will be back at school tomorrow? I know he and you Mom are looking forward to going on the field trip.
Maggie: Well she doesn't actually, really want to go. She's just going because she has to.
Teacher: Well Maggie, none of us really want to take 60 Kindergartners to the pumpkin patch.

Way to sell me out Mags. Sweet baby Jesus I need to be more careful about what I say in front of these kids.

Halloween Parties, Swim Meets and Sick Little Boys

I always know it is bad when I have to go read my own blog to see where I left off. This week was highly irregular and threw my whole routine off. Eion was under the weather and stayed home Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The poor little guy was intermittently running a fever and was just puny looking.

Unfortunately for us all, Thursday was the last ODTA tennis match and, knowing our opponent, there was no chance of rescheduling. But the good news is Eion is used to hanging out in country club tennis shops and watching tv. I hopped him up on motrin and dragged him along. The matches themselves? Choc full o' drama - some of which is still under executive review so I'm going to cover that topic a bit later. And yes, I did use the words "drama" and "executive review" when writing about the lowest level of country club tennis. Can you say "too much time on some people's hands?" But E was great and caused nary a problem, which is more than I can say for my opponent.

The weekend was poised to be even busier than normal kicking off with THE Halloween party. We pre-gamed with Ann, Hans, Sean and Amy before heading off to the party, held for the first time at a downtown location.

Behold the dress that had to be completely taken apart and reassembled:

Bet you didn't know Marie Antoinette had a pimp. 

Sean and Amy, topical as ever, were a stink bug and exterminator. Would that I had more interesting ideas. I just tend to go with big, over the top dresses. Oh well, once a princess, always a princess.

The party was, as ever, outstanding. Our friends Tom and Kirsten were in from West Virginia adding to the fun.

There was a full complement of Chilean miners - and their mistresses.

We danced the night away until I noticed dancing was becoming difficult. And then standing became increasingly troublesome. And then my kind friends were smart enough to escort me to a sofa. The Designated One drove us all home though in retrospect, I probably could have done with leaving just a wee bit earlier.

Especially considering it was a swim meet weekend. Now I love the outdoor swim meets in the Summer. You're hanging out by the pool, generally in nice weather, with all your friends, having a few pops. Not to mention, you get to see the friends you've been missing since school let out when you compete against their Clubs. Fall/Winter swim meets on the other hand, are brutal. You do get to see buds but beyond that, it is approaching torture and that's without a blistering hangover.

You're in a loud, hot pool area and there tends to be allot of shouting and whistles. But I rallied and clearly my misery had company as I could see many other party attendees (and hosts) looking a little green around the gills too. The long morning was finally over around 11am and we packed up and headed home where I discovered Eion let Tim sleep until 11:15! Seriously, this was some major bullsh*t. I was up at 6:30 and then spent my morning at a swim meet and he got to sleep?

E apparently fed and entertained himself. When Tim woke up, Eion was sitting on our bed and informed him, "You slept through wake up time!" Hmmph. 

Though it felt like I had already put in beyond a full day, we were hosting a couples poker game that night and more rallying was called for. I was knocked out early but didn't mind too too much since then I was free to socialize with Kirsten and Melanie. Not to mention my concentration was, shall we say, a bit on the low side.

Sunday was day two of the swim meet and while still not as good as Summer meets, was markedly better than the day before. I was really proud of both the girls. Morrigan, who was given the option of not competing, decided she wanted to enter. Having just aged up, all her events were 50M or more. And she was generally DFL but she was happy, had a good time and improved many of her times. 

Her happiness may be a bit tilted at practice Monday when the ribbons are passed out and her sister gets several and she gets none. Maggie generally finished 5th or 6th for her age group but dropped time in everything including a 20 second drop in her 50 Free. She was also legal in all four strokes for the first time.

I couldn't have been prouder of both of them! To celebrate a successful swim meet, we had family movie day complete with popcorn and ice cream. Though Tim and I may have dozed off just a bit.

Monday, October 18, 2010

With This Ring

We went to a wedding this weekend for the first time since about 2002. A co-worker of Tim's was getting married. It was a second marriage for both and I knew their kids (in the ballpark of our own) were coming so we rolled the dice and accepted the "and family' portion of the invitation.

The girls had been looking forward to it for weeks and weeks. They got over their initial disappointment of not actually being in the wedding rather quickly. Eventually, they had to agree with my iron-clad logic that they personally didn't know the bride and groom which would make their inclusion rather odd.

The next hurdle was their attire. Eion was more than happy to don his seersucker suit. The girls, on the other hand, bemoaned having to wear dresses they had worn "a least three times" when "everyone else would have new dresses." I assured them I would not have a new dress and offered up the idea they could buy the new dresses. The idea lost favor quickly after that.

The ceremony and reception were at The Kyle House in Fincastle (seriously, more than all the way across town) which, in spite of it not being in the bubble, was quite lovely. It was a small, intimate affair. To my surprise and delight, the kids were well within tolerances. Certainly, they were a bit, ummm, enthusiastic, after a few sugar sodas but I give them high marks overall.

Eion saw the bride before the wedding and was smitten. He told Tim, "I want to kiss the girl in the bride dress." And later, he made sure he did.

He also was a fixture on the dance floor and tried to dance with the bride as much as he could. Crystal was a more than a good sport and danced with him a couple of times.

The girls were all about dancing too, though in Morrigan's case, it trended interpretive.

And they got to participate in their first bouquet throw, which they found very exciting.

While we were just about the last people there (Team McK being last out - who knew!) the kids had to be dragged out. All the merriment certainly took a toll with all three falling asleep on the way home.

The fun the kids had (while hopefully adding to the fun) made me [almost] feel a little bad about my adults-only reception 15 years ago. Almost.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

From The E Files

Did I mention that lately, the E has totally turned a corner? Case in point, this conversation yesterday...

Girls (singing): All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.

Me: All I want for Christmas is lots of hugs and kissing.

Eion: Then today is Christmas for you. I have all your hugs and kisses.

I may even forgive him for wearing that "Thing 1" tshirt on picture day.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

And All Else Universal

As I look back, I probably should have done these posts in reverse but screw it, too late. If you're just signing on now, go down a couple of posts and get all caught up.

Back? Ok, let's go.

Topic One: Eion

While this will come as a surprise to all acquainted with the E, he was the bomb on the trip. He was generally well behaved and hilarious to boot. some of the better quotes:

When asking about his available allowance money, "Do I have $5?" "Yes, you do." "Good. Then I'll waste it."And he did.

"I used the stand up and sit down potties. It was a good time."

"Yeah! I get to ride with Mom! I love Mom!"

While he was a bit fearful of almost every ride, once we got (forced) him to go on, he was happy and wanted to go back again and again.

Topic Two: My Kids Make Me Humble

So Tim and I were making fun of all the families who bought the Dr. Seuss themed Thing 1, Thing 2, Thing 3 shirts. And we were going on about how, in general, clever shirts were less than clever and should be avoided at all costs. Then Eion used his allowance money, which we had promised would be restriction free for the trip, to buy a Thing 1 shirt. And wear it the rest of the vacation. And wear it to picture day today. While bias will show, he did look kind of cute.

During another attraction, we were mocking the "I'm going to add to the fun" guys. You know them. When the poor schlep working the ride says their scripted bit, that guy has to throw out a zinger. Well we were talking about how we hated that guy right up until Morrigan, during the Olivander's Wand Shop experience, became that guy. So much so she was shushed by an adult. Not that it stopped her.

Topic Three: Sylvester McMonkey McBean was Demonized

Go back and read The Sneetches again. My main man Sylvester was just providing a service. He was a good capitalist. Protecting the Sneetches from themselves was not his job. Nor should it be. Silly, shallow Sneetches.

Topic Four: The Importance of Water Gear

Even when it was not listed, there was water all over the place. We were much happier when we a) had the kids' bathing suits along and b) also packed a change of clothes. Being able to let go in Curious George land because you know you have dry clothes for all the minions is delightful. And it lets you relax with some $6 beers.

Topic Five: Know When to Drive and When to Passenge

When it is the start of the day, don't listen to the kids. While everyone else is going right to Harry Potter, you should go left to Spider Man, Jurassic Park and Toon Town. When the Harry Potter overflow hits the rest of the park, let the kids drive and happily spend 2 hours in the Dr. Seuss (water filled) playland, knowing full well you have a change of clothes for all involved.

Topic Six: Sometimes You Should Wait an Inordinate Amount of Time for a Ride

While you might not find it worthwhile, you might find out that you make a kid's day.

Topic Seven: Rest Easy

Knowing all the kids had just about the best time ever.

Does the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Live Up to the Hype?

Well, yes and no. On the plus side: it is very well done and just like you would imagine Hogsmeade. The ride in Hogwarts castle was awesome and the other rides and attractions we rode and saw were great too. (Couldn't ride the dragon roller coaster - damn short kids.)

BUT - it was still so busy. I personally don't find any ride worth an hour wait. And people are so geared up that they were quick to lose their manners. For example, a family cut in front of us in line. I could see that they hadn't meant to do it so I brought it to their attention. Response: no we didn't - this is the end of the line. Well I and the the Brazilian family saying what sounds like some pretty disparaging things in Portuguese behind me beg to differ.

That being said, I think it will be just lovely in January 2012 when all the fanboys have had a chance to visit and the waits are 15, rather than 60+, minutes.

So technical evaluation done, can I tell you my catty eval? Seriously, never a larger collection of geeks have I seen. And I know as Her Highness, Queen of the Dorks. If I had a nickel for every fat, pasty white teenager in a "mischief managed" shirt, I would be rich. Oh and the people in full wizard costume. Yes sweetie, no one else thought of that. And by the by, wearing knee socks, a scarf and a cloak in 85 degree heat is sh*t all stupid.

I was also floored by the 20ish person deep line waiting to buy butterbeer. Ok people, one, you have no idea what it tastes like and two, it is something concocted by the marketing wizards (good pun eh?) at Universal. That being said, same marking gurus caused me to have to purchase three wands at an eye-popping $30 each. Plus two stuffed animal Crookshanks ($25 each) that we got to carry around all day (priceless.) And got me to pay $6 each for beers. Though the beers were totally worth it. Not to mention, Morrigan said it was the best thing ever and that was definitely totally worth it.

Quick Trip to Florida

So seriously, life has been handing it to me lately. I just looked and realized it has been ten full days since my last post. Ten! But I have at least a little excuse. In addition to the normal flurry of activity, we did go to Florida for five days. And knowing full well that after a full day of fun park excitement I would be in no mood to blog, I didn't even bother with the laptop. But we're back and ready for the full debrief.

Morrigan has been wanting to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando since about forever or at least since she heard about it. The grand opening looked to be a complete nightmare with hours of waiting just to get in and I am sure, more lines after that. We figured, somewhat correctly, that by now the frenzy would die down and the park would be manageable. So we loaded up and headed South.

Our Travelocity deal ($330 each for flight and 4 nights in a 3 bedroom, 2 bath condo) did require a connection through Detroit which meant we flew North just to turn around and fly South. The buffoonery was compounded when we missed our connection in spite of the entire family, mini suitcases in tow - be damned if I am paying to check a bag, ran thorough several terminals. As we dashed up to our gate, 15 minutes before departure time, plane still at the gate, we were told it was too late. Morrigan burst into tears which probably was to our favor as the gate attendant got us on the next flight in first class!

And it wasn't just regular first class but the kind with the kick ass seats that can be maneuvered in 16 directions and have their own tv with movies on demand. The ensuing two hour delay once we boarded was much more pleasant with drinks and snacks! You know, first class is the best. When my kids didn't like the lunch, the flight attendant got them all chips and cookies. She even gave us a few extra bags to take for later. If I weren't so frugal, I could get used to this.

Anyway, a few hours delayed we arrived at the Floridays resort and my in-laws came to hang out at the pool with us, bringing much needed beers.

The next morning, it was off to Universal. We spent all three days there as the marginal cost of the third day was $10 each where as switching to another park would have been $500+. The kids were a bit disappointed that we didn't hit Sea World and Disney but were appeased with the knowledge that we would visit those parks next time.

This post is getting a little long in the tooth so I am going to split it up. My whole Universal review, details and the lot coming up.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Here Comes Halloween

For at least two weeks, the kids have been badgering me to get out the decorations for Halloween. Busy weekends combined with illness delayed us but we finally (their emphasis) got around to it Saturday. While I have a certain way I would choose to set things out, I knew that most of the fun for them was unpacking our expansive collection of decorations and placing each item. So I let them have at it. And this was the result:

Four boxes of various Halloween gear and this is all that ended up on the main floor. The balance is all in their rooms. I thought about remedying the situation when they go to school tomorrow but decided against it. Is the house well appointed? Not so much. But the kids are thrilled with their work and I would hate to take that away.

I also spent an inordinate amount of time on my Halloween costume. After going through page upon page of eBay auctions of the trashy variety, I found a dress someone had made themselves. It was flouncy and over the top, just like I like my costumes. And based on the measurements they gave, about the right size.

Then it came in the mail. I am not sure where they learned to measure, but this dress was huge - easily 5 or 6 sizes too big. Not to mention, the maker was not much of a seamstress. So I thought what the hell, I can sew. Why not alter it myself. Why not? Because it will end up taking hours and hours and hours. I essentially deconstructed the whole damn thing, made it smaller and reconstructed it, deciding along the way that the sleeves were all wrong and making some new ones from scratch. At this point, my brother Dominick, professional costumer, who completely abandoned me, lost the forgiveness he had received for said betrayal. [Not really DRV - you know I love you.]

But in the end, it's hopefully worth it. Morrigan said it is "The most beautiful costume ever." Granted, that's what she said last year too. Could I have topped Glinda?

Friday, October 01, 2010

I Love My Neighborhood

For reasons I can't quite pin down, I've been feeling a bit out of sorts the past few weeks. (OK - I have some theories including but not limited to my epic loss at tennis yesterday and the ongoing "clean living" diet around here that Tim is spearheading which has a noted lack of both sugar and wine.) Anyway, I was bummed we had to leave all the sunshiny fun at the park this afternoon for swim practice when Amy suggested we meet back up at the park around 5:30, get some pizza, and make it a picnic. Seeing as Tim was at  work until 8 and pizza has most definitely NOT been on the clean living diet, I was in.

Later, on my way to get some drive though Little Caesars, Amy called and said we might want more than the original number of pies discussed as we had added a few people. Well those people called some people and before you know it, it was a happening. We even had a few people driving home from work see the gathering and stop by themselves. And the slight overestimation of number of pizzas needed on my part meant we had plenty to share with any kid (or adult) who came calling.

And it was just what I needed. The kids played, the adults chatted and everyone was happy. Including me. It does appear that about all I needed to lift my spirits was an impromptu picnic. Thank goodness I live in the neighborhood that has them.