Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Nontraditional Thanksgiving

A while ago we realized that we weren't going to have visitors for Thanksgiving and we don't usually travel during the holidays and we would definitely NOT travel during the busiest travel week of the year and we didn't have any place to go and I would be in the middle of a 10-day stretch of working at the hospital. Taking this all into consideration, we decided to do a bit of a non-traditional Thanksgiving celebration. Mostly we wanted to save ourselves a lot of work and just enjoy the day together. 

Stacy had this great idea to do a "Christmas Story" kind of thing and go out for sushi on Thanksgiving. I said, "Hey! Let's see a movie, too." These were, of course, met with zero opposition so we planned on getting one of those huge sushi boats. You know, the kind where a colorful variety of raw fish and sushi rolls adorn this big wooden boat and everything is so well arranged and looks so delicious? The day before Thanksgiving, I called 15 sushi restaurants in our area, and by "our area" I mean restaurants that were still in our time zone. Not one was open. Not. One.

I won't bore you with the variety of plans we explored (I believe we eventually got to Plan E after A, B, C, and D didn't work out), but in the end we really wanted to spend a quiet day at home and then go to a movie. Plan E was us shopping on Thanksgiving morning for this (believe me, Plans A-D involved much better food):

Don't weep for us. We had very delicious meal. We could eat Mexican food and leftovers very happily for a long time, so this was a great meal. Enchiladas, rice, refried beans, salad, all topped with avocado and sour cream? No complaints around this table! We topped it off with apple and pumpkin pies and everyone was quite satisfied.

We also made homemade butterbeer. What a great invention, Ms. Rowling!

Scout had a fancy meal, too. She is happy and cute, as always.

We should have taken a picture in front of the movie theater. "Wreck-It Ralph" was incredible. What a great movie! At the end we saw that John Lasseter was the executive producer. For those who don't know, he is Mr. Pixar. It was his original ideas about computer animation and a complete devotion to his dream that brought us "Toy Story" and all of the other great films to follow. When Disney acquired Pixar recently, John Lasseter was placed in charge of all of the animation projects and "Wreck-It Ralph" had his fingerprints all over it.

It had an animated short. It had a great story. It had fantastic attention to details. It had wonderful voice talent. It made you cry in all the right places. It had vintage video games. If I hadn't known, I would have thought Pixar made this one. Seriously, we all highly recommend it.

There's something cool about seeing a puzzle out, ready for someone to work on it.

Here we are playing games together (we played Mario Kart and several board games). This is one of our favorite family activities. During a traditional Thanksgiving we'd probably be trying to roll off of the couch to go back into the kitchen to wash dishes and debone carcasses. This was much better. 

Snack time! We made bacon cheddar ranch puffs. 
We saw the recipe during the Macy's parade that morning. Very tasty. 
(No pictures of the parade, but we all watched it before lunch
 since, you know, we weren't busy cooking.)

C'mon! Bacon and cheddar? Of course Scout wanted some.

More games. This time we played Munchkin. This is a great card game that spoofs role-playing games. It is a lot of fun, and there are a lot of other versions. We are actually playing Munchkin Bites here, the vampire version.

Yeah, this Thanksgiving rules!

 Our awesome Thanksgiving and games from a different vantage point.

On Friday I worked at the hospital but I kept the afternoon free in the clinic so we could hang out the rest of the time. We got our sushi lunch on Black Friday. Shopping or Sushi?
Hmmmm. We'll take sushi, suckers!

It tastes even better after the extra 24 hours of anticipation.

One more picture so I can be in it.

We seriously had a really good Thanksgiving. We made a whole weekend of it and really enjoyed the time we had together as a family. We get to spend a lot of time together anyway, but this felt extra nice for some reason. All in all, Nontraditional Thanksgiving was great!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

As part of our leap year full of visiting places (more on that to come) we took a bus trip to Philadelphia to see a Major League Baseball game. The kids have been to games at the local minor league ballpark, but they've never been to a big stadium. A local bus company here had a day trip down to see the Phillies play the Giants, so it was pretty much a no-brainer. It's a two-hour drive to Citizens Bank Park, and who wants to drive in Philadelphia, so we jumped on it.

Before the game

What would a trip to the park be without hot dogs and cheesesteaks?
It's all about the food!

The TV broadcasters in San Francisco have this thing where they look for "Gamer Babes" at all of the Giants games. Since my parents watch almost all of the games they thought it would be cool if Stacy and Thing 1 were spotted on camera. They felt uncomfortable holding up the sign, but they did it for my parents. They were not on TV.

The view from our seats. Not bad for the upper deck.

Thing 2 is feeling good, as long as he's got his sunflower seeds.

Buster Posey at the plate.

The Giants ended up losing in extra innings so it could have been a better trip, but a sunny afternoon at the ballpark is a great way to spend a summer day! Plus, Buster Posey ended up winning the MVP, and Giants won the World Series, so one loss in Philadelphia doesn't seem like such a big deal.

For all you Giants fans out there, enjoy!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Random Thoughts and Opinionated Venting

Mark wrote a great post about our awesome puppy.
Scout is soooooo cute. It is a must read.


I must have a lot to say in this post,
 because I'm already up to 29 random thoughts
(and opinionated venting).


Principled people are awesome.
I think it's lame when I see people pay lip service
to something they say is important,
but then not follow it up with actions.
And people who live what they say?
Mad respect.


Also, flaky people suck.


The song "Call Me Maybe"
 makes me think of the girl in Arrested Development.


The kids are in several D&D groups.
They are learning a ton about working as a team
 and with different personalities.


My husband does a mean Cee-lo impersonation.
It's hysterical.
"And I appreciate that."


The VERY easily offended types?
I hate being around people like that.
Get OVER yourself, you know?
I am SO tired of people being easily hurt and offended at every little thing.
Being around touchy people like that feels like walking on eggshells.
They get angry. They take everything personally.
If someone doesn't like something you like, it's not an extension of YOU.
It's not an insult to YOU.
If someone thinks your choice of books/movies/clothes is stupid,
it doesn't mean YOU are stupid.
Adults modeling this crap for their kids?
Even more maddening.
 It's like they're raising a generation of rampant insecurity.
Way to go.


So I was listening to the song "Hot and Cold"
 by Katy Perry the other day
right when two women next to me
were talking about hot flashes and cold sweats.
Now the song makes me think of menopause.
I might be weird.
(Uh-oh, now I've offended menopausal women. And Katy Perry fans).


I spewed hot cocoa (three times)
 while watching an episode of 30 Rock on Netflix.
I blame Tracy Morgan.


We love NBC's new Matthew Perry show "Go On."
Great cast.


Why do we get in our own way?
I tend to put off doing stuff I like to do (like blogging)
 in the name of things that must get done.
It's some kind of sick self-castigation, I guess.
But why?
(Oh boy. Now I've offended all the masochists).


The other day,
 Thing 2 said,
"I wouldn't want to live in a mansion,
 because if I lost something it'd be hard to find."
These are the inner workings of my son's mind.


(Oh! Oh! Now I've offended crafty ladies).


I saw a map of the U.S. colored red and blue by majority county votes.
There is A LOT of red in the middle
and that seemed to confuse the person who posted it.
It's a population density issue.
Newsflash. No one lives in those red areas in the middle!
Would YOU live in North Dakota?
I didn't think so.
(North Dakotans? My apologies).


Also, some people are supremely ungrateful.
They're not particularly happy people. Go figure.


I had a dream that we joined my BIL and SIL
 on their weekend getaway.
Not cool.
 I think it means that Mark and I
 would really like a little getaway of our own.


An old truck went past the back of our house today
 while we were eating lunch.
It was an old kind that reminded me of my Dad's old truck.
Which in turn reminded me of my Dad.
For a brief second, I thought of how cool it would be
if he were alive and coming to visit.
It's funny how the littlest things can remind you.
And make you sad.

It seems I can have a clean house and a lousy homeschooling day
or a great homeschooling day and a messy house.
Not quite sure how to manage both.


We tried to get some Drake's Coffee Cakes
 and Devil Dogs and Funny Bones.
You know, to say goodbye.
Stores are cleared OUT.
Also? Our kids haven't ever tried Twinkies.
No great loss, really, but it would've been nice
to experience that pop culture food.


Mark is picking up a lot of extra shifts at the hospital.
He's working 10 days in a row right now.
We are grateful for work.
We are very grateful for our business,
his moonlighting gig, and flexibility, too.
We're especially grateful that even with lots of work,
we spend lots of time together.
We feel very, very fortunate.


I am getting tired of self-proclaimed
 "I-stay-out-of-my-kids'-stuff" parents
constantly getting into their kids' stuff.
Quit acting like it's some kind of badge
 to be "the cool mom" and own your crap!
Grrrrr.  Like it's a "bad" thing
 to get involved. Gah!
Just own it.
(Helicopter Parents? I know. I've offended you.
And probably your kids, of course).

 We are boycotting Thanksgiving.
Not the giving thanks part. Just the turkey part.
We came to the realization that it's a ton of work
to make a meal we only like so-so
and to have a lot of leftovers that we don't like that much
(if it were, say, enchiladas, it'd be another story).
Since we're not going anywhere
and no one is coming here, we've made other plans.
We're watching the parade, going out for sushi, and
hitting the movies to watch "Wreck-It Ralph."
Then we're playing games and doing puzzles
 and writing all afternoon.
We're so excited!
(And now I've offended the Pilgrims).


There is a difference between respecting someone's beliefs
and respecting their rights to have their own beliefs.
The beliefs can be crazy as all get out -
 you don't have to respect them.
But it is their right to have them that we respect.
Learning that difference has made a lot of sense.


Wanna hear something cool?
Mark had the kids make a Father's Day card ABOUT my dad.
It was very sweet.


This past summer/earlier this fall,
 Thing 1 made this profound statement:
"Scout's so lucky. All she knows is chewy toys and snuggles.
Then again, all she knows is chewy toys and snuggles."


Losing an aunt is more like losing a grandmother to me.
I didn't know one grandmother at all (my dad's mom died when he was 15)
and I hardly knew the other (she died when I was 6).
Not to be morbid, but I'm worried that
by the time I'm 50 (which is not that far away really)
and because of the huge age difference
between me and my extended family,
most of my extended family will be gone.


 Our kids have been posting gratitude posts
 all month on their blogs.
Be sure to check them out!
Also, be sure to check out their review blog, too.
They've got some new stuff on there as well.
And more to come this week!


Thing 1 is going through yarn like crazy!


I saw someone online say
 that the good thing about Romney not being elected
"is that Mormons won't be blamed
when the country goes downhill in the next 4 years."
 LOL. That's a ringing endorsement of your candidate there.
Isn't that like saying,
"Well, I didn't really think Mitt was going to do a good job anyway."
(Oh Lord, now I've offended the Mormons).


Seriously. That post about Scout?
Please go read it.
I think it got buried under a bunch of posts
and people missed it.
But it's full of cute pictures and videos.
Please, please read it.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Look Out, World!

Presenting THREE new black belts . . .

Thing 1, Mark, Thing 2

On November 15th (this past Thursday), my husband and kids were awarded and presented with black belts for all their hard work these past 2+ years. I am SUPER proud of them. 

Besides the obvious impressive achievement of these three, one of the coolest aspects of the day was that Jim drove all the way down here from Massachusetts just to be here with us for this presentation. That. Means. So. Much. To. Us.

Know why? Well, because it just does. And because Jim is awesome and loves us and we love him. But also because of stuff like this:

That is a special row of black chairs set up and reserved just for family members of those receiving black belts. I think that if I had had to sit there by myself, it would've put me in a funk for days. But I didn't have to sit there by myself.

Because Jim came to be with me
and to help support Mark and the kids in their achievements.

That's why.

Here are pictures of Mark and the kids being presented with their black belts:

Thing 2 receives his black belt

Thing 1 right after receiving her black belt

Mark receives his black belt
In the above picture, you can see Master Gladwell, the owner of the studio, tying the black belt on himself before tying it on Mark. He did this with the kids as well. They hadn't done that with any of the other belt presentations leading up to this one, so he explained that they were taking part in an over-2,000 year tradition symbolizing the passing of knowledge from master to student.

Master Gladwell reads the wording on a special certificate
This part was a neat surprise. After all the belts were presented and, as customary, the new black belts had been asked to say a few words to everyone (see video below), the Master of the studio presented a special certificate to me and Mark for supporting and encouraging our kids in their goals and pursuits and achievements. That was a nice touch!
Thing 2 and Sean
Thing 2 posed for a picture with his buddy in the class. Sean had just earned his green belt!

Mark, Thing 2, Thing 1, and Sa Bom Nim Derr
It really is special that they were all able to test together with their super cool teacher. Here we have three new black belts and one new 4th-degree black belt. Way to go!

Here is the video of their belt presentations (I started taping right after they called out Thing 2's name and he responded with a nice, loud "Yes, Sir!") and speeches - yes, Jim and I both got choked up:

It was a great morning, made even more special by Jim's presence. We are doing Tae Kwon Do at all thanks to him and we're even signed up for two more years, also thanks to him. He was so kind to take us out for a celebratory lunch afterward, too! He is a great guy and I don't know why we're so lucky to be on the receiving end of his love and generosity, but we don't take that for granted. We love him and wish he lived closer.

Jim and his buddy Max (who was really sad when Jim had to leave)

Scout was sad, too - she moped all day.

Jim and the kids!

Jim with Mark and the kids - 3 new black belts!
Thank you, Jim, for coming all the way down here for a 10-minute event. It was even more special because you were there. And congratulations to the three new black belts in our house!!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Brief Musical Review

I was doing some organizing of our music collection, including uploading all of our CDs and converting them to mp3s for use on our iPods. This has been no small task, but it's also been very cool to review the variety that we have. As I was stacking some CDs I came across a few new additions to the collection and felt like I wanted to share. It's a little different from all the posts about our family and tae kwon do and Stacy's random thoughts and our usual fare. Here are some albums that I think are definitely worth checking out.

1. Mumford and Sons, "Babel" and "Sigh No More"


 OK, I cheated. I already slipped two albums into one entry, but this is my post so I can do that. Mumford and Sons were nominated for the Grammy for Best New Artist and that is where I first learned about them. I had been on a Flogging Molly kick at the time so another folksy band from across the Pond was very intriguing to me. They blend an English folk style with some southern and bluegrass stylings. A lot of their recordings, especially some from their first album, "Sigh No More," are very haunting and should stick with you.

They were on Saturday Night Live not long ago and their live sound is phenomenal.

They were also featured on the closing credits of Pixar's "Brave." The song is another success.

2. John Mayer, "Born and Raised"

Those of you familiar with Mayer will know that he is bat-crap crazy, but his music is incredible. His music incorporates so many genres that it's tough to pigeonhole him at all. He can play pop, the blues, jazz, rock, country, folk, bluegrass, whatever. John Mayer is one of those artists that I will listen to anything he does because I know it's that good. "Born and Raised" is a total departure from his previous work, and he said he wanted to do something completely different this time around. I particularly like "The Age of Worry" and "Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967," though the entire album is great.

OK, this video isn't from his newest album, but it's one of the best songs I've discovered this year. There was a two-week period earlier this summer where I couldn't stop listening to it.

3. Dave Matthews Band, "Away from the World"

Dave Matthews is another one of those artists that is really a can't miss in my opinion. There is nothing musical that I've heard from him that has disappointed me. His live performances are fantastic, as evidenced by the huge volume of live albums he's been able to release successfully. This guy is an incredible musician, as evidenced by the variety in his albums and the unique instrumentation that he uses. "Misery" is one of the tracks on his new album and it has a great feel.

Watching the Kimmel video I can see exactly how American Idol winner Phillip Phillips has channeled Dave Matthews in his performance style. I'm so excited to see what he comes up with on his debut album.

Another great album by Dave Matthews is his collaboration with Tim Reynolds on Live at Radio City. Oh, and don't forget Matthews and Reynolds on Live at Luther College. Three albums. One entry. Again, my post, my rules.

4. Sting, "Live in Berlin"

So, a few months ago I get a text from our friend Dave asking if I'd heard this album yet. I hadn't, so I went and sampled the tracks on Amazon. It was so incredible that I put it on my list of must-haves. Then the Johnsons came to our house and surprise, surprise, this CD/DVD was in my birthday gift bag. I haven't had a chance to sit and watch the DVD, but the album is one of his best. I've got to say that discounting Sting in my teen years is one of my biggest musical regrets.

Once I went back and gave an honest listen to his work I realized that Sting is one of our generation's musical geniuses. I was so into jazz in high school that I didn't listen enough to non-jazz artists, but if I had half a brain back then I would have realized that Sting's music is so infused with jazz that I should have been listening to him alongside J.J. Johnson, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Duke Ellington. Compare his work with The Police to the work he's done recently and you see how many genres he can cover. I mean, he has an entire album of Renaissance lute music! And he's an artist that keeps reinventing himself, whether he's doing solo guitar work or fronting a symphony you can't miss with Sting.

5. Casey Abrams, "Casey Abrams"

Casey was one of the American Idol contestants from two seasons ago so it's very easy to sort of cast him aside as a reality TV wannabe. Let's pretend that he came through a more traditional route, toiling in the jazz clubs, blending bass lines with great vocals. This album is worth checking out. He was unique on the show and his album has not disappointed. The first track, "Simple Life," is a great intro to his abilities as a bassist and vocalist. "Get Out" has already charted on the adult contemporary charts, and "Midnight Girl" is one of my favorite tracks from the album. I hope he sticks around because his is one of the best Idol albums I've heard to date.

How about a Maroon 5 cover?

* * * * * * * * * *

So, there they are. Five suggestions (plus a few additional picks) for your listening pleasure. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Black Belt Test

I am one proud mama and wife! My handsome husband and two amazing kids tested today for their black belts and They. Did. Awesome!

I'll try to paint a picture for you of what it was like. I was manning both the video camera and the regular camera, while trying to take it all in, too.

First off, there was a HUGE audience. They generally test for the belt promotions in their Thursday morning class (set up for homeschoolers and 3rd-shift workers), but since black belt promotion tests are a much bigger deal and since there was this special Saturday black belt promotion today, the Master of the studio asked them to test today instead. They aren't used to such a huge crowd, but they all did FANTASTIC!

Warming up in the practice room
Seven people tested today. Four tested for 1st degree black belts (my crew as well as one other kid) and three tested for their 4th degree black belts (a brother-sister duo as well as our regular teacher, who we all really love!). The way the "degrees" work is, once you get your black belt, it's two years until your 2nd degree belt, then three years until your 3rd degree belt, then four years until your 4th degree belt, and so on . . . the Master of the studio is a 6th degree black belt.

The black belts all there to help assist in the test
Everyone was nervous, but also excited. They've worked really hard for this! They go to class 2-3 times a week. Thing 2 started taking Tae Kwon Do two-and-a-half years ago (around March 2010) and then Thing 1 and Mark joined six months later (around September 2010). He was ranked ahead of them for quite some time, but eventually, it all evened out and they pretty much tested together for all their belts.

I love this picture - Mr. Derr, Thing 2, Thing 1 and Mark
all getting ready for their big test!
 I think it's REALLY cool they got to test 
at the same time as their beloved teacher.

So, testing began at 2pm. The Master of the studio called everyone out by name, while telling a little history about each family. Essentially there were 4 families testing (my 3, a brother-sister team, 1 kid, and 1 teacher). Here are Mark, Thing 1, and Thing 2 in their high brown belts getting ready to test for their black belts!
Mark, Thing 1, and Thing 2 facing the audience
Huge audience

I've never seen such a big crowd there for a test! Being that there were 4 families testing and I was the lone cheerleader for our family, you can tell there was a lot of support there for the other 3 families especially. It was a pretty big deal that there were 3 testing for their 4th degree belts and one of them is a VERY loved and respected teacher, so I am guessing that most people were there for that. We very rarely feel lonely out here - we have a lot of friends, but yeah, times like this we feel it a bit. Over 100 people in attendance and I'm the lone person cheering on our family and working the two cameras. :/

All lined up in preparation for the test
My 3, seated and ready (and nervous)

The 4 judges - three 4th-degree black belts and one 6th-degree black belt
The Master of the studio is a SUPER nice guy. Always smiling, always encouraging. They do a great job there making you feel like part of the studio "family." He is the unfortunate doppelganger of Jerry Sandusky and that has tripped me out a couple of times since all the media surrounding that trial. But really, he is a great guy and so good to everyone who attends and visits there. They do a really nice job there! Class acts.

And these classes teach more than self defense and forms. There are great character-building aspects of the training as well -- respect, self-confidence, patience, discipline, persistence, etc. They incorporate the lessons in the classroom to life application in general, both physically and emotionally.

So, the test began with those testing for their 4th-degree belts. Then it was our turn. Here are Mark and our kids doing their forms. They had to do 3 forms, then 3 more forms, then the black belt form.

After the forms portion, they did a couple different kinds of sparring and push-ups as part of their testing. While they did that, the other 3 suited up for their light contact sparring. I got a picture of that so you could see what that's like.

Then, the really fun part - breaking boards (and for the black belt tests, cinder blocks, too). I've got all of this on video, but for now, I've got pictures of the three of them breaking three boards each.

Thing 2 did three different hand breaks.

Thing 1 did three different hand breaks.

Mark did three different foot breaks.

They then did their cement block breaks (our kids did a foot break technique and Mark did a hand break technique). That part is on video. I couldn't manage both cameras and take in all they were doing at the same time very easily. I wanted to focus and cheer them on. We're uploading videos as I type this.

Here's the video. Below it, I'll give you highlights and where to find them. Feel free to watch the whole thing if you'd like - there's some interesting stuff on there and I got some of their teacher's test on there, too. He's a bundle of energy, that one. Plus, he busts through 4 cinder blocks.

Also, with regard to breaking boards and blocks, it is more important to determinedly try than it is to actually complete the task. After a few unsuccessful tries, they usually stop you so you don't injure yourself. The fact that you go after it and do your best is what counts.

00:38 Master of studio introduces our family
5:38 They do their forms
11:42 One-step Sparring Long Way
15:40 Sparring
23:38 Breaking Boards and Cinder Blocks (This is really fun to watch!)
31:20 A scan of the audience -- A LOT of people were there!!

Paying their respects to the judges

Wrapping up the testing with some punches
I am SO proud of them. Next week, they'll be presented with their black belts. Thing 2 is especially excited to be a black belt and help the lower belts learn their forms. He loves to teach and encourage others and he has, from day 1 of his training, talked about teaching Tae Kwon Do someday.

When they receive their belts, they are asked to say a few words to everyone there -- whatever they'd like to share. I'm looking forward to that. Speaking in front of everyone doesn't bother any of them -- they do that fairly regularly, whether at work through lectures and presentations (Mark) or in their clubs and classes (the kids).

I am SO proud of them. They have worked VERY hard. Their persistence and hard work is paying off.

Mark, Thing 1, Thing 2 . . . I love you!