Archive for category Family

Expanding the Stable

So there has been news swirling around the household for the past few months, and there’s a bittersweet edge to it. My step-father died in early October from complications after surgery. Two weeks before, right after his surgery, he at least knew the news.

We are expecting.

Hence the subtlety of the title… We made a big deal a few years ago about having a baby dragon. This time around, the delivery will be during the Year of the Horse… Stable… Get it? When MC first made the announcement on her Facebook account, they read it as an actual equine addition.

Only, it’s not just an addition. It’s a pair.

That’s right, twins. But we didn’t find that out until late-October.

For the first pregnancy, we didn’t find out the gender until he emerged. At the time, we said that IF we were to have another one, we would find out. With twins, the decision was guaranteed. Which was today. Would there be a filly and a stallion? A pair of stallions? A pair of fillies? Inquiring family members wanted to know.

We found out this morning.

Officially: A pair of stallions are due for arrival at the stable sometime in the spring.

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Paint Fumes = Happiness

I have two nephews, one with a birthday in late June, the other near late July. I have decided, at this stage in the game (the oldest is 11, the youngest is 7) that it’s easier (and, MC and I think, better) to give “experiences”, instead of “stuff”. The last couple of years, this has led to taking them to concerts on both legs of the Rush Snakes and Arrows tour (2007 & 2008). This year it had to be something different.

They moved into a new (for them) house last August/September, and their new rooms left a lot to be desired. Specifically, the paint colors were near torture. The eldest’s room was mellow neon purple – on all four walls. An accent wall may not have been so bad, but it very nearly had the feeling of living inside a grape. The youngest was graced with a room that had been painted a neon lime green. The closest color approximation I can make: take a green highlighter, and drop it into a bottle of water.

With no changes being made in the almost year they’ve been in the house, the idea floated up from the eather, and slapped me around like someone being snapping out of a hysteria. Paint the rooms. That was the root thought, and then I talked with my mother to see if they wanted to be involved. They talked about it, and suggested changing out some of the furniture. We talked options, and looked through stuff at Ikea.

This past weekend was the big “While You Were Out” styled makeover. They had already been doing some prepwork duringthe week – packing up boxes of clothes, toys and books so things could happen quicker [read: moving furniture only, not stuff]. When we got there Friday, we made realatively short work of cleaning out their rooms, putting virtually all of the furniture except their beds into the garage.

Saturday was a day full of painting. A fresh coat of white on the ceilings, a grey, high-hide primer to cover the old colors. After lunch (and time for the primer to dry), fresh coats of grey flat paint for the Eldest, and a light (Carolina) blue for the Youngest. At the same time, we also painted their bathroom grey as well. After dinner (and more drying time), we went back for one more pass, cleaning up the white trim with a fresh coat of gloss.

Sunday was a day of details and staging – assembling the furniture, mounting a couple of shelves on the walls, and unpacking the boxes to stage the rooms for their arrival. A steady stream of activity through mostof the day, and we finished up and left around 5pm. We left town around 6:30 and made it home a little before eight.

Later, after they had gotten home (around 8:30pm) we all spoke on the phone, and we were told “it was cool” and “awesome” and other words of praise. In short, they liked it. So while the sniffing of paint fumes in a well-ventilated area is not normally a good idea, sometimes the results can be worth it.

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Weekend Update: Concert (part 2)

We arrived at the hotel by 4 o’clock, still a little full from lunch at MC’s parents, so we just hung out at the hotel, setting up the fold-out couch, and getting ready for the concert. The room was nice enough – two queen beds and a pull-out sofa, but I was thinking it might actually be two seperate bedroom spaces (like I have had at some other hotels)… oh well…

My sister had not told her boys what the grand plan was for the weekend, but they had picked up that we were going to a concert. The youngest asked, “Mom, are we going to a concert?”

“Yes,” she replied. “And who would you want to go to a concert to see?”

He contemplated this question, tapping his chin in deep thought. “Rush?!” he said, his voice almost asking a question, as well as giving an answer. He’s seven, and likes to rock. His older brother (10) got in on it, “We’re going to see Rush?” And there was much rejoicing by them.

We stopped off at a Bob Evans, right next to the hotel, for dinner on the way to the show, and finalized the seating arrangements. I would be in the closer group of seats, with the two oldest boys.

We tried to use text messages between the sections, during the course of the show, but there just wasn’t the same immediacy as sitting with MC to point out some of the videos, or items on the stage. Also, since they released a live album from last year’s tour, and there are plans for a live DVD to be released this fall, I wasn’t so worried about trying to track down the setlist (like last year… which, by the way, I realized I was wrong with what I thought some of the songs were…).

The main recognition that MC’s nephew had with Rush was “YYZ” from Guitar Hero 2 (which was the last song they played), but he enjoyed himself. Of course, my nephews had fun (even though the youngest fell asleep during the encore, I was told his head was rocking along during the drum solo. MC was actually quite receptive, overall, for her first substantial exposure to them. “They’re obviously very talented,” she said, “but I couldn’t really understand them. And with everyone standing, I couldn’t really see the screens.”

However, one point of humor that has to be pointed out… you know how most of the time the line at the men’s room is usually very non-existent, or moves quickly, while the ladies room will extend 20-30 people from the entrance? Exact opposite… the ladies room was a breeze through while the guys were stuck waiting to go. “And I’ve never seen so many mullets it one place,” MC mentioned (referring to many of the fans).

Another humor point that my sister and I noticed – a guy, driving a black Ferrari… and having to park in a gravel parking lot. What the hell was he thinking?

We returned to the hotel, blessedly by way of a “back route” (the same way we go to the venue, actually – but it did not involve getting on I-85, which was how virtually all of the rest of the traffic was heading), everyone showered, and collapsed onthe beds for a few hours of sleep.

The next morning, we met up with my friend Ben who lives out there, and we all went to breakfast (at Cracker Barrel, again, as it was too early for the lunch-themed restaurants, and we were all hungry). After breakfast, we all went to Concord Mills mall for a little over an hour, to do a little shopping “since we were there”. After dropping Ben off back at the CB, we reversed the route, going back to Winston-Salem before coming back east, and calling it a trip.

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Weekend Update: Concert (part 1)

What had started as a plan to go to the concert with my sister and my fiancee morphed into something else… a family trip. As previously recounted here, I took my sister and nephews to see the Rush: Snakes & Arrows tour in 2007. When I heard they were doing another leg, extending the tour into 2008, I planned to go. I had only planned for the three tickets, since the nephews could have been with their other parental unit in Texas for most of the summer (didn’t happen, long story, but the ex-bro-in-law has moved back to NC… and I mention this only because it’s relevant to the story) on the anticipated concert date…

But I am a geek in that respect… I had the three tickets, but wondered, “Is there anything closer?” I checked, and there were (by about 15 rows), and I got another three tickets. But I had time to decide what to do with the other tickets, so I didn’t sweat it. I checked with some other friends (and MC’s family), with no takers. Since the ex-BiL was in the vicinity, I did the nice thing and offered to sell them to him – not because I really wanted to see him, but because it would give him a chance to actually, maybe, be a parent and allow him to spend time with his kids. And that fell through.

So we changed tack, and decided to take my nephews, which left us with one ticket – a little easier to deal with. So we tried the adult rounds again, but with no takers. MC had been considering seeing if her nephew (age: 14) could go, and with everyone else in our area declining, she called “out west” to see if he could go. Which, after some discussions out there, it was decided that he could go.

The weekend came for the concert, and my sister and nephews came up on Saturday – and we went out for dinner at Cracker Barrel, and breakfast at a local bagel shop – before leaving kinda early on Sunday. We drove out to Winston-Salem to pick up MC’s nephew, and switch vehicles (into something that would be more comfortable for six people). From there, we rolled down to Charlotte so we could check in to the hotel, relax a little, and get dinner before the concert.

Next: The details…

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Weekend Update… the Move

Soon after the concert was planned, my sister-in-law was approved for a transfer with her company, and the timing worked out that she wanted to move the same weekend of the concert. I took a few extra days off of work to help her get everything taken care of.

Sunday was crazy… The SiL had been making some phone calls on Saturday to confirm the arrangements for the truck, only to be told that the truck: a) would not be available until 12:30 (instead of hte 10am, as was requested), and b) Would have to be picked up from a different location than was originally requested (the “new” location” being about 20-30 miles away from where we were actually needing to load it, and in the opposite direction of where we would be going when we left…)

Sunday morning, we went to the local U-Haul (not the one with the truck) to get some extra boxes and packing supplies to finish the last minute items that had not yet been packed. Afterwards, we returned to the apartment to handle some of the other items before going to get the truck around noon.

The U-Haul location was located with a “Peace Frogs” outlet – a tilt up tin siding styled garage building, with some mini-storage units in an adjacent lot (sharing the same driveway). We had initially passed right by it when we were looking for it (I saw the truck, but the SiL had been given the directions, and lived in the area). In her defense, however, the directions were not very clear – “get to highway x and we’ll be a couple of miles down on the left”. If there had been something a little more specific, like, I dunno, “Look for the big ‘Peace Frogs’ sign” we probably would not have shot so far past it. The advantage to the extra detour, though, was there were a couple of sweet, old school roadsters in a yard that we passed – and I’m really curious if they were up for sale. The first two images that crossed my mind when I first saw the longer of the two cars was: 1) like something that would be driven in Great Gatsby, or 2) a model used for Toad’s car from the animated Wind in the Willows. I would have enjoyed a chance to check out the cars, if it weren’t for the time crunch that we were on.

SiL had some of the football players from William & Mary lined up to help load the truck, and they arrived while we were out looking for the hippie Kermits. By the time that I arrived with the truck, most of the boxes and smaller pieces of furniture had already been carried downstairs and stacked on the sidewalk to be loaded into the truck. That’s when I started having fun.

I see moving, and packing, as a big puzzle, a study in theoretical/spatial geometry (read: based on the size of space X, what kind of pieces & shapes can I use to fill the volume of space). Despite a few sprinkles (literally… a few random drops, no actual showers), we had the truck loaded in a little under two hours… and it was a 26 foot truck! There were still a few things in the apartment that would be needed during the night, but would be loaded up first thing in the morning.

Monday, after finishing the small, general cleaning and hauling off the last bits of trash, we drove over to the cable company to turn in her cable box and terminate service (after a breakfast at Chic-Fil-A) before retuning to the apartment to load up the last few items, get her dogs, turn in her keys and get on the road. We were rolling out by ten o’clock in the morning.

While we were driving across the state there were a couple of sprinkles and grey clouds, but the weather would hold (if anything, we traded the chance of showers for higher humidity). One little spot that we passed through had a shop that boasted “Digital Viewing Booths” – and I’m still trying to figure out what the point of those is supposed to be? (And, for the record, I do know WHAT they are for, but what is the point of a digital booth?)

We made it with no real issues (except for me backing into a light pole in a Burger King parking lot in Wake Forest – but no damage, no foul, so we kept on truckin’). I called my friend Chris who lives near Raleigh as we got closer to the area, and I called Allen after we had found the place (he was supposed to be in Wilmington for some tests, and headed back to try and help us move, so I was checking in – turns out he didn’t go to Wilmington because he wasn’t feeling too great, but he did come out a while later to help us finish unloading the truck).

Again with the upstairs apartments, so hauling things got to be more tedious (and the mid-day heat wasn’t making things any more pleasant). There was already a washer and dryer in the unit, so we had to arrange for the maintenance guy to come and remove them. They took the washer but did not come back for the dryer (until Wednesday… we left it on the porch, strapped to their dolly since we removed it on the Monday afternoon while unloading). The boxes and smaller furniture went along easily enough, but the living room set (the couch and loveseat specifically) were fun to maneuver, especially due to the way the landing for the apartment is designed.

They were the last two pieces, and I looked at the guys and asked, “Would you rather take care of the bitch, or the beast?” The bitch was the loveseat, which we handled first, and after some juggling (read: holding and sliding at different angles before finally removing the legs). Then came the beast – the couch – which required even more thought, shifting, and eventually leg removal. The truck was finally empty, and everything was in the apartment.

We spent a little bit of time tidying up the apartment (read: staging furniture and getting boxes out of the way so people could actually walk around the space), we got cleaned up ourselves (and I cannot stress how good the shower felt, even if there was no shower curtain to keep the floor dry) before going out for dinner. There was a group of five of us that went to eat (one of the cousins of my wife & SiL who goes to NC State had also come up to visit and help with the move-in process – as was also my ride home) and a Mexican place down across from campus, before going up to a Houka bar with one of the cousin’s friends.

Tuesday, since I slept on the couch I had the peace and quiet of being able to move around without the dogs, so I started unloading book boxes and putting then into the bookcase (a funny aside, my FiL made the comment around Chris, “I can’t believe someone would move with so many books.” Chris looked at him, and as politely an nicely as he could, said, “Um, I have over 1800 books” which makes the SiL’s collection look quite anemic.) and clearing through the boxes. We plowed through and got most of the boxes unpacked, and clothes put away… bigger pictures (paintings) hung and boxes consolidated. By the time we stopped to go get groceries before the cousin and I left, the only boxes that remained were those that contained knick-knacks and pictures/photos to be hung.

The cousin and I made it to the house early enough for me to still go to dinner with someone (the same person I had dogsat for) and still have some fun. A long, whirlwind of a weekend, but it was all good… even if it did take me a few days to really recover from all of the late nights.

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Weekend Update… part 2

The driving force behind the weekend was, of course, the concert – but we had to drive there! The side act for the weekend was a trip to Busch Gardens. This is the brief story of both…

Thursday I got home from the RCIA session around 9:30pm, and proceeded to put together the things I would need for the weekend (laptop, iPod, clothes, HBA items, books, moving supplies, etc.), and went to bed around 11-ish.

Friday morning, I got up fairly early (about my usual 7am) so I could get my oil changed, try to get an inspection, and a few other things before my sister arrived. While I was getting the car worked on, as part of the service check, the technician pointed out a couple of items. It was about time to get a radiator flush, and, “Sir, this is your serpentine belt, and it helps to keep everything running – your AC, alternator, etc. – and it’s looking pretty bad and dried out. I would really suggest getting that taken care of today.” So I did.

It took a little more than an hour, maybe an hour and a half, and it was done and I was ready to roll. I ran to finish my other errands (which included getting breakfast – around 10am) and then headed to the house to finish packing my things for the trip. I was just finishing putting my stuff in the car when my sister and the kids arrived. After transferring bags to the one vehicle, and final pit stops, we were on the road. It was about 12:30.

We’re rolling along, music from the iPod pumping through the speakers – the kids either sleeping or playing their GameBoys, and my sister and I are either talking or she’s trying to read as we roll along. Around two o’clock, my battery light pops on, followed shortly by a spike in the engine’s thermostat. We are in Virginia, just on the north side of Suffolk, and still a good hour away from our destination. I find a spot to pull over and pop the hood open.

I can’t help but laugh at the sight that hits me as I peer into the open front end. The brand new belt, replaced a mere few hours before, had broken. Fortunately, we happened to be close to a used parts yard (“Everything sold at auctions, no sales on site”), so I navigated the median and crossed the “business” route to get to the shop and seek some help. They contacted a local shop (“Are you looking to just get it towed, or towed and fixed?” Fixed… Duh!) where we were taken, and eventually fixed (they had to wait for the new belt to be delivered). It was also discovered that there was still some of the flush fluid in the radiator (as it was still clear to white – virtually no green).

We were back on the road around 4pm, and I opted to head for the venue, just to make sure we were there for the entire show, instead of backtracking as I would have if we had made it earlier (we would be staying the night in Yorktown, and the show was in Virginia Beach). My bearings were all out of whack (partial dehydration, and partial frustration at the kink in the schedule, and partial stupidity in the fact that I hadn’t eaten since 10am, and not having taken that direct route to Virginia Beach in a long time).

The youngest was needing to go to the bathroom, and I was getting hungry, and it was a little after 5pm. I picked an exit looking for food, and happened to catch sight of an “Ampitheatre” sign on the same exit, so I followed it, eventually stopping at a Chic-Fil-A. I asked about the location, and was told that yes, we were headed the right way – it was just another couple of miles. We ate, made it to the show with time to spare (we were standing in line waiting for them to open) and watched the show.

After the show, we hung out in the parking lot for a little bit, waiting for the lines to die down a bit before leaving. Since I hadn’t driven the route to Virginia Beach, my bearing were a little fuzzy (that, and three hours of a rock concert :o) and it took a bit longer to make it to Yorktown than it would have if I knew (well) where I was trying to go…

Saturday, we were up kind of early (around 8am) for breakfast, and to coordinate meeting other people at Busch Gardens around 10am. The temperature was warm, the sun was bright, and Busch Gardens can be a big place when you’re walking and back-tracking between “countries”. I rode the Griphon – the first of the rides for the day, around 11am. It was, by far, the most popular, and it was a good thing I got in line when I did (around 10:30-ish) – things moved quickly, but it definitely would have been a longer wait if I tried going later in the afternoon.

I also hit Alpengeist, Loch Ness and the Big Bad Wolf, as well as a lot of walking through the park. Lunch was at the Festhaus (one of the sampler plates). All told, we were there until almost six before we left, returning to Yorktown. My sister and the kids packed up and returned (with no noticable problems from the car) while I tried to recover and recharge the batteries – preparing for “the exodus” of moving someone over the next couple of days.

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Weekend Adventures… The Concert…

So, I mentioned the Rush concert – and it was great! The seats ended up being about 6-7 seats off of center stage, and about 20 rows back. My sister (who had last seen them on the Roll the Bones tour in 1991-ish) commented that the seats were “much better” then the ones she had for the other show. We could actually see the band – not as dots on a far off stage, but as real people – facial expressions and everything!

And, being the musical goober that I am, I also took notes. I wrote down the set list as they played to possibly recreate the concert later (it was the first concert [period] for my nephews, and they could get a kick out of it). When we got into the car after the show, the eldest (9) commented, “We were just listening to this. They were just playing.”

I’ll put up the setlist later, once I actually have it in front of me.

UPDATE: Well, I had actually tried this part earlier this week (like, on 1 July) but for some reason the stupid thing didn’t feel like cooperating when I tried to post it. Well, here goes again…

About the stage setup and opening video. During the last two tours, Geddy has had dryers on his side of the stage to balance out Alex’s amp stack (for R30, Geddy had 2 dryers and a deli-style cake display that he would put various souveniers in). Neil’s drum kit (complete with the rotating riser) was in center stage.

For this tour, however, Geddy has changed things up. He has ditched the dryers, and replaced them with hig powered bass amps – in the form of two rotisserie chicken ovens! (And yes, during the show people would periodically come on stage during a few moments of downtime between songs and season/basted the rotating birds.) There were even a couple of skewered pieces of poultry down by Alex’s mic stand (revealed just before the band came out).

The opening video was also hilarious, in keeping with previous tours (R30 featured Jerry Stiller introducing the show). There is a collage sequence, and then Alex is shown waking up on the bus/in an RV, freaked out. He rolls over, and nudges the person in the bed next to him, and says, “Honey, wake up: as if he had heard something outside. The figure next to him sits up – and it’s Neil. Then there’s a cut to Geddy waking up to the taunts of a twirked-off Scotsman (also played by Geddy), telling “real” Geddy to “wipe that chiken off yer face, un get up on tha’ stage!” The lights are slowly coming up, Alex entering from Stage Right and hitting the opening chords for Limelight. Neil and Geddy are hurrying to their spots, with Geddy wiping his mouth and throwing the towel off to the side of Stage Left, before fully cranking into the concert.

Set 1

Limelight
Digital Man
The Space Between
Mission
Freewill
Main Monkey Business
Larger Bowl
Secret Touch
Circumstances
Beneath the Wheels
Dreamline

Set 2
Far Cry
Workin’ Them Angels
Armor & Sword
Spindrift
The Way the Wind Blows
Subdivisions
Natural Science
Witch Hunt (?)
Malignant Narcissism
[Drum Solo – reworked]
Hope
Summertime Blues
Spirit of Radio
Tom Sawyer

Encore
One Little Victory
Passage to Bangcock
Leave That Thing Alone

* A Note About the Videos
What is a great concert without at least a few great videos to either support or accent the songs – or to just give the band a quick moment to towel off or get some water. With a three hour show, you know Rush is going to have a few. Here are the “highlights” – some of the ones that struck me enough that I can stil remember them two weeks later.

Set 1
Geddy introduced Monkey Business, and during the course of the song there was a brief collage (running about three of the songs six minutes) of primate playfulness – doing a variety of activities from archive footage and other locations.

After Monkey wound down, the stage went dark, and a “Bob & Doug McKenzie” flashed onto the screen. They were sitting at a table, snacking, and finally talked about chips. One finally says something to the effect of, “Yeah, he likes eating them [this way], but I like using the Larger Bowl.” At which point, the band started.

I really liked the video that was used as a supporting piece for Larger Bowl. It was beautiful to see the juxtaposition of images like a shot of Klan members on one screen, countered with a shot of a Civil Rights protest. There were also a few CGI spots, including one that showed (on two different screens) and image of a house/building that was, theoretically, the same – but one screen showed the image as a well cared for mansion, while the other image showed a building with bars on the windows, as if it were a prison. (Listen to the song, or read the lyrics then think about the images that I remembered, and you might get why I liked the video so much.)

Set 2

Far Cry – I really liked the video for this one – actually, I would prefer this one over the studio produced video for the single. The “baby carriage” is the principle feature, going all over the countryside & world, and the faceless baby periodically playing with a snake (I think – throwing it, etc – at this point I’m fuzzy on that detail). The coolest part was at the end of the video, when the baby’s arm comes over the side of the carriage, and flicks a “thumbs up” sign.

Angels – This was another one of the “cool concept” videos, like Larger Bowl from Set 1 – taking various stock phot images – anything from 1920’s construction stills (like, skyscraper construction) to modern day soldiers in the “sandbox” – and superimposing angel wings into the images, coming from their backs. Very cool…

Wind Blows – A nice CGI piece, featuring a “family” traveling the country side, walking into the wind. Periodically, the littlest member would be blown backward (rolling), only to be picked up and carried forward again. It fit the music well, but like the video for Bowl would probably take a couple of viewings to get all of the subtleties.

[Solo] – Neil reworked the performance portion, and the “Big Band” video portion received a little tweaking as well to go with the new ending. Some of the same images & video bits are still present, but recut with a some new ones added. Unless you find a pirated a recording, or they cut another DVD, well… your loss!

Tom Sawyer – The stage went black, and the projection screens were glowing, focusing on a sign reading “Lil’ Rush”. A few moments later, the camera pans back and it’s South Park, with Kenny on drums, Cartman on keyboards, Stan & Kyle on guitars. And the video dialogue went a little like this:
{They start playing Tom Sawyer}
Cartman: My name’s Tom Sawyer, and I built a raft, and went sailing down a river with a black guy.
Kyle: Dammit Cartman, that’s not the way the song goes. That’s Huck Finn, I’ve read the book.
Cartman: Screw you! I’m Geddy Lee and I sing whatever lyrics I want to sing.
Kyle: Start the song again, and this time play it right.
{someone counts the tempo off} The screens go dark and stage light flare up as the band starts playing the song.

Encore
One Little Victory – The dragon video from the Vapor Trails tour.

Bangcock – A montage video with a couple of train shots, as well as a couple of Marijuana plant shots. The other reason I couldn’t help but laugh at this goes back to the R30 tour – Jerry Stiller’s bit in the opening video about, “I hope they play Bangcock… nah, they never play Bangcock.”

Overall, (as usual) it was a great show, and I highly encourage people to check it out. Jenn (my late wife) was never much of one for the studio albums – the way they were mixed, generally – but she went to the R30 show with me and had a blast.

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