Thursday, February 15, 2018

Love, Amusingly...

At Casa WestEnders, we've never taken Valentine’s Day terribly seriously. I mean, there are no romantic dinner dates, or pink champagne toasts, or…general mushiness. Nah—for us, it’s pretty much like any other day…but with a super-handy built-in excuse to eat copious amounts of CHOCOLATE! (Riiiight—as if we needed one…but whatever…)

Therefore, I felt a little alarmed-slash-intrigued when I was performing my routine online perusal of our recent account activity, and spotted an unknown charge on the credit card. (I confess that I check up on an almost daily basis, since A) our previous card got hacked 4 times before I finally gave up on it and B) let’s be real: that’s just how compulsive a Family Financial Manager I am. So on a side note--even though there was no telltale receipt presented to me to enter into the program I use to track all of our household expenses--good luck getting away with a “secret gift” around here, in the age of digital banking! But I digress…)

ANYWAY…it was for a local bakery called Sugarland, on Franklin Street…so I figured I’d at least wait until after the 14th to see if it was actually Husband doing the purchasing…rather than some sneaky sweets-bandit who’d swiped our information…to feed his or her cookie addiction. Meanwhile, I did my own Target raid, to obtain treats for the boys, as small tokens of my undying affection. (Because nothing proclaims “I love you dearly” like fresh breath, yeah? What can I say—Altoids and black licorice are their faves, for some reason…)

Then I stood in front of the card rack for, oh, approximately 20 minutes, reading and rejecting (and sometimes groaning or gagging at) one offering after another, until I at last hit upon what I believe may be the most perfect sentiments EVER for all three of my guys. (Seriously, I should just stop here, and never patronize Hallmark again, because I suspect it’s not gonna get any better than this…) C’mon—the dishwasher? That’s an instant classic, I tell ya. And in the “Great Minds Think Alike” category (or, you know, “People Who Are Related to Each Other Have Similar Ideas”, which definitely doesn’t have the same ring, so just we’ll stick with the first one…) apparently Riley and I went the same direction this year, and decided to bring Spanish to the Dia de Amor (not to mention its punny cousin, “Spanglish”).

Husband, on the other hand, lamented that he’d gone to 2 stores (that obviously were NOT the illustrious Tar-zhay)
and been equally dissatisfied by the unsuitability and/or gooey sentimentality of this year’s selection…so he gave up on the packaged drivel and wrote his own message on a sheet of paper snagged from his office printer…plus bought flowers (Which earns valuable Spouse Points for his demonstrated effort, and persistence!) Oh, and the...confection mystery...was cleared up when he brought home a box of specially-ordered gluten-free cupcakes from the aforementioned shop (red velvet with cream cheese icing and YUM, in case you’re wondering). So, heart-day WIN for Husband, all around.

As for the rest of the 14th, it’s just the yoozh…school, work, soccer practice, blah blah blah. But as we all go about completing our regular tasks, at least there will be plenty of opportunities for...let's call them "cocoa-fueled mental health breaks"! Mmmmmm…. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

February folderol...

Everyone who knows me even a little bit is aware that Winter rates no better than my 8th favorite season, right down there in a tie at the bottom with “Cold and Flu”. Whattya mean there are only 4? No, no, no…there’s Spring (the most glorious, IMHO), Fall (a very close second), Summer (mostly good, when it’s not acting out its beastlier side, called “hot and humid”), Baseball (awesome…except of course when the Orioles stink), Vacation (loads of fun, albeit much too brief ), Holiday (Halloween to New Year’s: festive and delightful), Soccer (which is extra-special for Team WestEnders, since it happens TWICE a year in our household), and finally…the chilly, dark, sleet-and-snowflake time that shall not be named. (See what I mean? And I've probably even forgotten some...but any additions to the list would STILL probably rank above the Big W, for me...)

Well, if we've gotta be stuck in frosty limbo for a while, at least there was some excitement last month, with the monster storm—for this part of North Carolina, anyway—that dumped up to a foot of the white stuff in our area. But now it’s just…February (spoken with a groan and just a hint of whining)…that short, dreary placeholder between January 1st and March 1st--which in our area, signals the de facto beginning of the Warming-and Blooming period…that keeps us going until the calendar catches up with the official first day of Spring a few weeks later.

So yeah, there’s really not a whole lot to recommend the F-month. For the boys, the academic term has entered its 2nd semester, which doesn’t really change anything in terms of their classes. However, the cancellations from the aforementioned icy precipitation caused the Powers That Be to pretty much take back every holiday from now until Spring Break, so it’s gonna be a loooooong slog for the students. Oh, and also Derek now prefaces many conversations with his new catchall excuse: “Hey, I AM a Second Semester Senior…”, which translated from the Teen Dialect essentially means “I don’t want to be bothered with whatever it is you’re asking me to get back to you on/care about/do”. (Does that about cover it? Yeah, I think at some point we're ALL going to start counting the days until graduation...currently 122, if you're wondering...)

As for Riley, he continues to slog away at his Freshman schedule, as one must do at this point in the year. Recently, though, he got to break up the usual routine of reading/writing/studying by constructing a model of a building—of his choice—for World History. He opted for a Greek temple, and came to me with the loaded question, “Hey, Mom, do you have time to take me to Michael’s for some craft supplies this weekend?” 

He fully knows that this is rhetorical, as the answer is always going to be an unqualified, “HECK YES, sweetie!” (What can I say? It’s a super-fun Nerd Field Trip, wandering around in the aisles, discussing what materials to use for the walls, roof, and columns; how to securely attach the pieces; and the best way to decorate his creation. Although he did 100% of the actual work himself, I earned my Design Consultant badge on this project, for sure.)

Then there's the fact that the "Spring" soccer games have just kicked off (Ha! Pun intended...), meaning that we'll be spending our weekends running all over God's Green Earth (which my mother used to say, as a general this case, though, it encompasses "various sites in the Carolinas") for the next several months. For our first set of matches, we had a chilly one (sunny, but temps in the 30s) at a nearby field (15 minute commute), followed by a slightly warmer contest (50 degrees)...45 minutes a steady downpour. (Which Husband volunteered for, believe it or not--but I think this might be used against me somewhere down the keep your fingers crossed that it doesn't rain again on a game day...until we wrap it up in May, okay? Thanks for your support...)

And finally, we can't wrap up this segment of the news without a Derek story, right? Last night he came looking for me to enlist my help with some homework...which almost NEVER happens anymore, so I was extremely curious as to what input he could possibly need from me (beyond the usual "Please sign this" or "I need money for [fill-in-the-blank activity]"). It turned out that for an APES (A.P. Environmental Science) assignment, they were calculating their carbon footprint, and he wanted me to consult on some details of our family's...consumption of resources.

For example, he led off with, "So, how many pounds of fruits and vegetables do you think we go through in a month?" Oh, Jeez Louise, I don't know....can you just say a LOT?" Tragically, we had to come up with an actual amount, so I did some quick estimating...calculating...fabricating?...and threw out what seemed like a reasonable answer. But we were FAR from done...we also had to make up stuff--I mean "formulate a logical number"--for such items as: dairy products (Um...Hold on while I Google 'How many quarts of milk does a whole cow hold'? And cheese? Fuhgeddabout it--just put down a really big number and move on...); grains (including cereal? Good grief...can you convert "at least an entire grocery store shelf" into units of measurement?); and beef...broken down into "grain or pasture-fed" (to which Derek exclaimed, "How the heck should I know what it ate?" But I assured him that since we typically buy the box o'burgers from Costco, we'll just go ahead and admit to the less-environmentally-friendly option in this case...).

Then we had to tackle such entertaining brain-teasers as "How many kilowatts your house uses monthly". (Is "no clue" an acceptable response? No?) Siiiighhhh...I was just getting up to go check the electric bill when Derek waved me off and said, "Nope! We're just gonna enter the national average for that one!" We did at least take a stab at some of the more transparent queries, like "Miles you drive every month". And we did our best to mentally add up an approximate weight of plastic, glass, and metal that we recycle. But when all else failed, "national average" carried the day. At the end of all this, the spreadsheet did a handy-dandy calculation and figured out that Derek's carbon footprint, based on our semi-fictional data, was...2...which meant absolutely nothing to me. 

That is, until Derek explained that according to his teacher, everyone would probably end up between 2 and 4. Okay, so far, so good--but what does it MEAN? Apparently, it corresponds to the number of acres of land you'd have to theoretically cultivate, to offset your lifestyle. Therefore, Derek's score indicates that he should be tending 6 acres, to make up for his impact on the planet. Well, alrighty, then--that's good to know! (Not gonna happen, mind you, but valuable and fascinating information, nonetheless.

So there you have it...while it's true that we're still in the throes of my least preferred season, we're officially heading toward the much more pleasing double whammy of Spring...and Baseball...and who knows, we may even be getting smarter while we do it. We'll just go ahead and call that a Winter Win-Win

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

More tidbits of (future) academia...and whatnot...

Cast your memory back with me, if you will, to those wonderful byegone days of...2017...when Derek was scrambling to compile and submit all of his college applications before the Early Action deadlines in October and November. Despite a bit of unwise procrastinating that led to some near misses early in the game, and no small amount of frustration with the classic task known to High School Seniors everywhere as "writing a &#%$ personal essay", you'll recall that it all did get done on time. And then--wonder of wonders--we were totally shocked...and hearing back from two universities within a matter of weeks, rather than the expected months of delay.

And then...after all the initial excitement and hubbub, the whole process came to a screeching halt, and we entered the extended Waiting Period...which manages to be both tense ("I wonder when we'll find out? I hope he gets accepted!") and boring ("It's been soooo long! Can't they just make up their minds, already?"). As the weeks passed, we came to the realization that the rest of his chosen colleges take their sweet time reviewing materials, making their selections, and notifying families. So, we resigned ourselves to the inevitable, tried to exercise patience, kept our fingers crossed, and bided our time.

However, once the holidays were over, and the calendar flipped to January, we knew that several institutions' predetermined Decision Days were finally approaching. James Madison University, for example, promised to inform applicants about their status by the middle of the month. That's why, when I went away to Charleston with my mom friends during MLK weekend, Derek was under strict orders to text me immediately if he received communications of any kind from JMU while I was gone. And so...I got a text while out shopping with the ladies, consisting of a screenshot from Derek's laptop, showing the message "Congratulations, you're in!"

I'm not gonna lie--I might have squealed a little bit in the middle of the store. And jumped up and down a few times. Okay, and gotten just a tad sniffly. After all, this was the other bit of news we were most anticipating, since Derek considers South Carolina and JMU his front-runners, in terms of places he'd most like to spend his next four years. And how was the potential college dude feeling about all of this? His next text, a minute later, perfectly summed it up: "I'm done for the year". Um...buddy? About that final semester of High School? Ya know, they can actually rescind your acceptance, if you don't keep those grades up, so let's not quit just yet, 'kay? Thanks...

Well, that was undoubtedly thrilling, but there were still several schools yet to weigh in on his applications. When I mentioned this to Derek, though, he shook his head and admitted, "I don't really care about any of the others at this point." "But...but...what about UNC?" I protested. He gave me a side-eye and replied, "Honestly, I'll be kind of upset if I get in...because you guys (meaning Husband and me, of course) will want me to still consider it...and I just don't want to go there." He explained to me a while ago that although he loves Chapel Hill--the town AND the campus--he would prefer not to attend school "in his own backyard"...or as he succinctly explained it, "I'd like to actually go away to college!"

And frankly, we all knew this might be a moot point anyway, since there was no guarantee he'd even make the cut, at the highly competitive and selective local university. So when I started seeing Facebook posts about friends' kids who'd been accepted, I prodded Derek to check his own account and get the scoop. Aaaaannnd, it was no surprise that he'd been "deferred", pending further review, submission of mid-year grades, and blah blah blah. In Derek's mind, this chapter of the saga is now firmly closed....but we'll see if I can convince him to at least send along the later information...just to...I don't know...finish the job?...or whatever. (Yes, that's Type-A Mother what?)

Finally, one other contender delivered their verdict, when the envelope from Penn State arrived in the mailbox. And, in my opinion, they win the cuteness award (if there is such a thing, in the serious realm of higher education). You see, it's a PSU "thing" for fans at football games to start chanting "We Are", which prompts the rest of the stadium to respond "Penn State". To take it even further, you pretty much can say the words "We Are" to a current student, random fan on the street, or alumni, anywhere, at any time, in any context, and they'll enthusiastically finish the sentence for you. (I speak from experience, so you can trust me that it works. Go ahead and try it--it's pretty amusing!) So the package had the obligatory Congratulations splashed across the front, but the catchy declaration on the back added "You Are...Penn State". Nicely done, Nittany Lions...even if Derek's come to the realization that you're just too darn far away to make it work for us...

So there you have it: the official scorecard now stands at 4-0-1, a very respectable record, I must say. Technically, there are two more universities still to make their decisions known...but I don't think they're going to factor into Derek's preferred destination for the Fall of 2018. For now, he wants to revisit his two favorites one more time, to reacquaint himself with the campuses and do a head-to-head comparison, so we've scheduled a couple of road trips in the next few months to do just that. Then...I feel like there's one more thing I may be forgetting...what could that be...oh, yeah: we nail down the critical details of "how the heck to PAY for all of this", and add that into the equation...and then bada bing, bada boom, we'll have it all figured out! Yeeeaaah...feel free to stay tuned, but you might not wanna hold your breath, 'cuz this is still gonna take a while!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The CDC probably LOVES us right about now...

In the infrequently visited "Odd Health News" department, our little corner of NC has recently been experiencing an outbreak of pertussis--more commonly known as whooping cough. Our first inkling of trouble on the horizon came in the form of an electronic message that the kids' school sent in December, warning that a student had been diagnosed with the ailment, and providing information to share with a physician, should it rear its ugly head in one's own kid(s). At the time this was a curiosity, but not necessarily a cause for alarm, since we, personally, weren't aware of any sick friends or acquaintances.

However, a second notice showed up a few weeks ago, reporting that more cases had been identified...and this time, it was accompanied by an additional letter sent specifically to families whose child(ren) were likely to have been in contact with the infected parties, and therefore may have been exposed to the disease. Oh...GOODY. Now, while I definitely appreciated the heads-up, it raised further questions, since it didn't tell you whether it was the Freshman or the Senior class--or both--that was affected. Then another mom that we know posted on Facebook that her family had also received the unsettling communication...and we were therefore able to put two and two together to figure out who we should be watching for telltale signs of impending illness. (That would be the one called "Riley", by the way).

After that initial revelation, further details became available within the helpful parental grapevine, about some other 9th graders who'd unfortunately fallen victim to the highly communicable malady (even though, in order to enter Middle School, everyone had to prove that their vaccinations were complete and up-to-date, including the one that guards against this nasty bacteria. I guess that somehow the determined bug wiggled its way around the preventative medicine...sneaky bastard!)

Well, lemme tell ya, that was quite enough for me, thankyouverymuch. To avoid giving in to panic, I decided to drag the boys to their pediatrician to be tested; even thought neither one was displaying any of the early red flags, I thought it was a justified case of "better safe than sorry". So we got up early one day to arrive at the doctor's office in time for walk-in hours before school. The nurses greeted us wearing protective face masks--which isn't the least bit ominous, right?--due to the influx of potentially-contagious young humans.

They proceeded to stick a long-handled cotton swab up each of the boys' noses to obtain a testable sample...which appeared to be an unpleasant process...but not nearly as terrible as actually suffering with what I've heard described as a "hundred-day cough" (so, you know, there's THAT silver lining). Then Dr. W came in to talk to us, and after examining each of the kids, he announced that he would not, in fact, be sending their cultures to the lab, since the results wouldn't change the method of treatment, and therefore didn't matter. (Oops, sorry for the...unnecessary nostril invasion, guys!) He explained that he'd be following "exposure protocol", and prescribing a course of prophylactic antibiotics. Providing that they continued to be symptom-free, no further action would be required.

Alrighty, then! I dropped them off at the petri dish--um "High School"--in time for their first class, with strict instructions to turn around and sprint in the opposite direction if they spotted anyone who appeared to be actively coughing. And to be perfectly clear: by that I mean, even if it was an innocuous, "I have this tickle in my throat", mucus-clearing kind of deal. 'Cuz there's nothing like a good old fashioned public health emergency to bring out one's latent sense of self-preservation...Tiger Mommy protectiveness...oh yeah, and paranoia!

At this point I feel like asking, "Jeez, is it Spring yet?" I'll take pollen and sneezing over this circus situation ANY DAY! (Of course, if you remind me of those words in April, I will probably categorically deny having uttered them...) So here's to pharmaceuticals...and the end of the incubation period...everyone please keep your fingers crossed with us until then!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Snow Much for January!

So, to add to the…delight…of returning to the school/work/etc. routine after a long weekend, Team WestEnders hadn’t even settled in yet when the rumors of potential “impending snow” began to fly around. We approached this with our usual Northern…ish…cynicism, adopting our standard “Yeah, right, we’ll just see about that” outlook. But the forecast in this case continued to spiral downward into more and more dire territory…from 1-2 inches …to 2-4…3-6…and finally topping out at 4-8. Now, this is pretty serious for Chapel Hill, NC, y’all!

Therefore, it surprised exactly NO ONE when school was cancelled the night before there was even one glimpse of the white stuff, due to the anticipated timing of the storm--which was expected to bring precipitation all day, rather than the more considerate scenario of piling up while we slept. (You know, to add frosty insult to injury...or whatever...) And—wonder of wonders—that’s precisely what happened. It started out as gentle flurries early in the a.m. on Wednesday, but quickly gathered steam, and began accumulating before long. And for once, it was big, fat, fluffy flakes, rather than the dry pellets or sleet that usually come down from our skies.

In case you think I might be exaggerating (Moi? Okay, okay, your suspicions are justified…) let me put it to you this way: even I stayed home to work remotely in my pjs from the upstairs office, rather than brave the roads—even in the trusty Subaru! Good thing, too, since the weather—in contrast to its typical behavior—followed the script pretty much to the letter this time. The snow came down—and piled up--at a steady pace all day long, until I figured I’d better go out there and shovel some of it off the driveway, if I had any hope of making a break for it in my getaway car over the next couple of days.

That proved to be a wise decision, since pushing around and lifting 6 inches of that wet, heavy stuff was just about all I could handle, and our steep, 25-ish-yard driveway doesn’t exactly provide easy terrain. Fortunately, Riley was so bored by this time that he voluntarily came out to help, making the job both speedier and easier in the process…otherwise I might STILL be out there slogging away.
When all was said and done, and the comments started trickling in from friends in various parts of town (using the totally reliable, scientifically verified “yardstick method”) folks reported no fewer than 8 inches in their neighborhoods…with one person claiming an entire FOOT around her house. Sheesh! Did I go to sleep in North Carolina…and wake up in North Dakota?

Obviously, there was no doubt that the kids would be out of school on Thursday…and we assumed Friday was probably a wash as well. (Especially given the fact that a few weeks ago, when we recorded a HALF INCH of the slippery stuff, they were home for 2 days.) My limited experience with our own driveway clearly indicated that it would take time and, "humanpower" to sweep the sidewalks and plow the roads and parking lots after this much accumulation—even WITH motorized equipment that I didn’t have at my disposal. The brilliant sunshine and rising temperatures helped to kick off the melting as well, but of course the battle reset to Square One every night, as whatever hadn’t completely dried during the daytime hours would refreeze all over again.

Not having found my experimental day at the Home Office to be terribly...productive...I ventured out into the frozen tundra on Thursday morning, to attempt navigating the 5 miles to my actual workplace. Aaannnnd, let’s just say it was…an adventure. I bypassed several side streets entirely, based on how dicey they looked while creeping by, and opted for the larger interstate-type road, rather than the hilly, winding route I normally take. Still…I was shocked to see that the entire surface, from one sideline all the way across to the other, was a solid sheet of crusty covering, without a single visible glimpse of black pavement whatsoever. Gulp. Suffice it to say, I gripped the wheel and drove like a little old lady, topping out at about 25 miles per hour and taking care to make no sudden moves.

So, it took quite a while, but I did arrive safely…to my building’s uncleared parking lot…where I was the only vehicle in sight. (Hmm, which spot should I take—oh, who cares, they’re all mine! Mwah hah hah!) However, it was actually super-fun to be the first one to make tracks through the snow, carving my path up to the door. Then I puttered around our suite—profoundly alone—for several hours, playing music as loudly as I wished, taking care of business…and, to be honest, occasionally talking out loud to myself, since it was so dang quiet.

At 2 p.m. when I was ready to head out the door, I was again startled—this time in a good way—by the changes brought about by the morning’s stretch of above-freezing temps and solar rays. Where there had been copious amounts of packed ice, there was now slush, or wet asphalt peeking through, or even dry patches, in some cases. Hallelujah! The ride home was therefore MUCH less stressful..not to mention significantly faster!

Well, there you have it: the (hopefully ONLY) major Winter Weather Event of 2018. The boys get to enjoy their outdoor time playing in it…it’s lovely to look at…and now it can go away, right? Looking ahead, the mercury is supposed to be climbing for the next several days, until it might hit 60 degrees on Sunday. Ah, now THAT’S more like it! After a frigid, (relatively) snowy January so far, I’ll take a hard-earned taste of early Spring, thankyouverymuch! In fact, it's projected to be so pleasant that all I have to do now is figure out a way to walk or run...around the remaining slick areas...and massive puddles. Great Outdoors, here we come!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Charleston Retreat--for ladies only!

Is anyone else experiencing a state of mild melancholy that comes from reentry into Real Life after a 3-day holiday weekend? If so, I'm with ya. This one is particularly hard to take, since I spent the time in Charleston with a fabulous group of girlfriends that I don't get to see very often, reconnecting, catching up, and having an absolute blast. These are women that I was matched up with by the local Moms' Club in my old hometown, to form a playgroup when Derek was 5 months old. We bonded over the trials, learning opportunities, and joys of new parenthood--sharing, commiserating, supporting, celebrating...and So. Much. Laughing. Even though our kids grew apart as they entered school, and several of us have moved away, we keep in touch as best we can and get together whenever possible.

So, about a year ago one of our tribe contacted the rest of us and proposed a radical idea: since our oldest "babies" are turning 18 and graduating from High School this year, we should plan a trip to commemorate these important milestones (and help each other through the potential emotional trauma). Amazingly, 6 of the original 8 members were able to commit to the endeavor, and with a whole bunch of logistical hocus-pocus, a destination was selected, lodgings were secured, meals and provisions were detailed, activities were discussed, travel arrangements were made...and the hypothetical "Hey, we should do this" turned into "Yay, we're going!"

Thus on Friday I found myself all packed and ready to hit the road, with showtunes queued up to make the 4 1/2-ish hour drive hopefully pass smoothly and quickly. It must have worked, because the only obstacle I encountered was some rain, which didn't slow me down much. And then suddenly came the big reunion...our Atlanta lady having already met up with our Wisconsin traveler, and the 2 of them joining forces to retrieve the Maryland crowd at the airport, then returning to our rented house, where I, the North Carolina contingent of one, was waiting to greet them all. As you can imagine, it was one EPIC group hug!

And from there, the fun, festivities, and frivolity commenced with a vengeance. We'd decided to have our first dinner at a place I'd recommended from when Team WestEnders visited Charleston last year for a soccer tournament. The menu at the Brown Dog Deli once again came through--managing to satisfy the wildly varying dietary needs and palates amongst our gang. Later that evening as we hung out at our lodgings, someone had the brilliant idea to FaceTime one of the amigas who hadn't been able to come with us, which resulted in 90 minutes of hilarious video chatting as we passed the phone around, or switched spots in front of the screen to alternate telling stories, to get her all up-to-date on current events, so at least she wouldn't miss out on that aspect of our getaway.

The next morning we virtuously ventured out into the neighborhood for a walk, to converse and explore and stretch our legs...oh, and FREEZE. It turned out that South Carolina was undergoing the same frigid weather that gripped much of the rest of the East Coast, unfortunately. Add to that a stiff wind off the water, and you end up with downright uncomfortable be endured by admittedly somewhat under-dressed adventurers. (Suffice it to say that we had chosen our apparel...optimistically...which didn't work out so great. Oh well, the fingers eventually thawed, I'm happy to report...) After surviving our early constitutional, we figured we'd earned ourselves a delicious we navigated across the Intracoastal Waterway to nearby Sullivan's Island, where we dined at an eatery that--to be honest--we chose for its title: The Obstinate Daughter (named for the area's refusal to back down from an attack by British troops attempting to gain control of Charleston during the Revolutionary War).

After a delightful nosh (fried polenta--I was unaware of such yumminess!), we strolled away some of the calories on the beach--it might have been chilly, but we couldn't resist the siren call of the sand and surf, you know? Once our communing with Mother Ocean was complete, we headed back to home base for a little bit of downtime....before our next eating engagement. For the evening chow, we opted for a small restaurant in our neighborhood of Mt. Pleasant, amusingly called Graze. Once again, we were treated to mouthwatering dishes--we were beginning to understand why Charleston has earned the reputation of a "foodie destination" in recent years! (Salad with fried bits of sweet potato, cashews, cranberries, and a curry vinaigrette...seriously? Sooooo awesome..) With full bellies, we chose what seemed like a perfect way to finish the night: crash on the sofas next to a roaring fire, and watch a chick flick. (Crazy, Stupid Love...because "Ryan Gosling"...need I say more? I thought not...)

We'd saved our foray into the city itself for Sunday, so we meandered to a little joint known as Hominy Grill, for their highly regarded brunch offerings. and approximately a million other folks with the same idea, resulting in an estimated hour-plus wait for a table (since it's not a large dining room by any means, either). We huddled in the fresh air courtyard with the other mobs of shivering people, until one of our party noticed that there was a window one could walk up to and order a drink. Alrighty, then! The menu mentioned Mexican coffee, which I'm familiar with as java with added cinnamon, cocoa, and chili powder. Sounded perfect for warming my hands and my insides, so I promptly requested one. The barista handed it over and brightly said, "That'll be 9 dollars!"

I'm sorry, WHAT? How is that possible? Is this concocted from an exceptionally rare and special vintage of...bean? While all of this was running through my head, I paid her, then turned to my squad and shared the outrage. One of them--clearly so much savvier than I am--immediately and logically asked, "Is their alcohol in it?" Ohhhhhh...I stopped ranting long enough to bring the cup closer to my nose...where the fumes almost bowled me over. Yep, that explained it...and as strong as it smelled, I'd be sipping that beverage for quite a long time, thankyouverymuch!

Fortunately, the hiatus proved to be well worth it, as we all agreed that this might have been the best meal we had during our mini-vacation I mean, the quintessential southern grits, made with butter and milk and cheese--which is heavenly enough--and then topped with roasted mushrooms and a leek cream sauce? It was almost ridiculously stupendous. Oh, and our waiter was precious--charming and funny and full of cute anecdotes and quips. Definitely a highlight...

Aaaannnd then we kept to our traditional post-feast agenda, and hit the pavement for some exercise, and people-watching, and window-shopping (or in some cases, actual purchasing...which also counts toward your activity for the day, right?). In one of the adorable boutiques on King Street, a clerk made small talk with us while we browsed, inquiring as to where we were from (hold on--you mean we don't sound like we're natives? Let me work on my drawl....) and what brought us to town. We explained our girls' getaway, and as she nodded in agreement, she commented, "Oh, I understand! Sometimes you need a little...y'all time!" Oh. My. Goodness. That might be my new most favorite phrase in the universe...which I will now use as often as humanly possible--consider yourself warned!

Finally, having tourist-ed the heck out of downtown Charleston, we took our frosty selves back to HQ, to relax and enjoy our one big homemade dinner of the weekend. (We even ate at the dining room table, using real plates and silverware, and everything! So fancy...) After the cooking and consuming and cleaning up, we had time for one last film-by-the-fireplace, before we had to begin facing the reality that our time together was almost at an end.

In fact, Monday morning arrived much too quickly, leaving us to tidy up, re-stuff our suitcases, do the obligatory search into every nook and cranny to make sure no one forgot anything, and most of all, continue talking..about everything and stall for as long as possible before bidding each other farewell. There was sadness, to be sure, since there's no telling when we'll be able to repeat this kind of extravaganza. But we made 3 days' worth of new, amazing memories to add to our collective history: more giggles, more sagas, more to be nostalgic about, until our next excursion. When we're ready for another Mom playdate, I'll just have to teach the Male Posse the concept of Y'ALL TIME, and we'll be good to go, right? Ha! Counting down...

Monday, January 8, 2018

A Little Snow Business

One week of 2018 has come and gone, and I've gotta say, it was...kind of a weird one around here. I mean, it started out exactly as expected, with everyone chilling on New Year's both the literal AND metaphorical sense of the word. You see, the Arctic Blast that we'd experienced during our time in Maryland--and that we desperately hoped had moved Canada, perhaps (no offense to our friendly Northern's just that you guys are used to dealing with this sort of nonsense, right?)--was, in fact, just getting started, and blanketing the entire region in frigid, arid, windy conditions. Um....yaaaayyy? (NOT!) Of course, this didn't bother the Male Posse, who simply used it as an excuse to sink deeper into the sofas and watch televised sporting events.

Okay, I guess I can get behind that...but then things took another strange turn, when we received an email from the school system announcing that the return to classes the following morning would be delayed by 2 hours. While the students in our household couldn't have been more thrilled (or amused), my own reaction ran more along the lines of...indignation. "Why is this happening? You can't go to school on time....because it's CHILLY? This is not...Buffalo...people!" 

Now, I've been chastised by locals about this--they point out that the real issue is that the administrators are concerned about the buses not being able to start up, after a long, cold hiatus. Well, guess what? It's a heck of a lot frostier in many other parts of the country, yet somehow THEY manage to throw on some extra layers of clothing, crank the vehicles to life, and keep things rolling along on schedule. I'm just sayin'... (On the other hand, if people needed a couple more snooze cycles on the first day back, that's a different story...and entirely understandable!)

Right...where was I? Oh yeah: January 3rd...a completely ordinary day! Whoo hoo! Except...while I was at work, our building's management company sent a message that they were closing at allow their employees to get home light of the forecast. I'm sorry, the WHAT, now? So I checked, and the 4-letter "Winter s-word" was indeed mentioned, which is enough to cause the immediate commencement of emergency preparedness-type activities...commonly known as the "Bread/Milk/Toilet Paper Phenomenon". (If you've ever lived in the Mid-Atlantic, you know what I'm talking about, yeah?)

While I did make plans to hit the grocery store for a couple of things we were running low on (not the aforementioned items, but fresh fruit and salad ingredients), we otherwise adopted our usual "wait and see" attitude with regards to potential weather drama. Riley and I (separately) even went for a run; although it was only around 30 degrees, this was projected to be the warmest temperature for the entire week. It turned out to be a fortuitous decision, since later that evening, when I ventured out to the supermarket, the first tiny flakes had begun to flutter from the sky. And when I carried my bags out to the Subaru after no more than 20 minutes inside...the parking lot already boasted a thin white covering on the asphalt, as well as all of the cars.

For several hours it precipitated fairly fast and furiously, resulting in maybe 1/2 inch of accumulation--before abruptly ceasing. Aaaannnnd schools were promptly closed for the following day. (Siiiighhhh...) When Riley came in to say goodnight, I told him to enjoy his free Thursday. He thanked me automatically before his face registered confusion and he said, " get to stay home too, right?" Um, that would be a "no", buddy--as long as the roads are decent, I'll be heading out. Because this happened to be actual snow, for once, rather than the ice we usually have to try to manage, both our steep driveway and the streets were navigable, as long as one chose a prudent speed, and exercised all due caution (made even easier by the fact that I was the ONLY person even attempting to drive to the office...everyone else having opted to remain home and connect it didn't matter what time I arrived!).

The kids made the most of their unexpected leisure time by playing outside--apparently, neither football nor soccer were hampered by the light dusting of frozen stuff on the ground. Then the notification came in that school was canceled again on Friday. Ay yi yi. When informed of the news, Riley shook his head ruefully and commented, "I was hoping that wouldn't happen. I reeeeallly need to get back into a routine." (Yep, "my child" all the way...) However, Derek had a different take, "I'm looking forward to using the time to get ahead on my assignments--not just catch up and be current, but actually go past where I need to be." (That's so awesome, I might cry! But hold on just a minute...who are you, and what have you done with my son? You know what, never can stay!)

Besides that, after a couple of bonus days off, the teenagers were kind of over it...mostly because of the continued sub-zero temperatures and uncharacteristic gales that made being outside for extended periods of time unpleasant, to say the least. Not to mention the fact that, in order to make up the lost instruction time, they'll be at their desks, plugging away on President's Day (sorry, George and Abe), which is surely going to make February a b...ear of a month.

Well, it's still only early January, so there's may be plenty more opportunities for...meteorological disruption...before Spring is blessedly upon us. For now, though, it seems we may be coming out of our deep freeze, with the thermometer predicted to climb into the 40s...or even 50s....every day for the next week. MUCH better than the 4 I saw this morning when I got up! So whattya say we top off our anti-freeze, crank the heat in those buses, bundle up, and get 2018 back on track, y'all!

Friday, January 5, 2018

So long, 2017!

We bid hasta luego to Maryland on New Year’s Eve, and began to make our way homeward--knowing from experience that the southbound trek always tends to be fraught with (traffic) peril. Husband took the first driving shift, and as the Captain, if you will, he made the Executive Decision to…sneak up on Virginia. This meant that we took a roundabout route into our nemesis-state, completely bypassing the hell that is known as “Fredericksburg”, and coming out on the other side of the inevitable, 24-7 backup on Interstate 95. Whoo hoo!

It did take a bit longer, but the time was spent moving, rather than sitting in gridlock, so it was a good trade-off. It also afforded me a captive audience, to address a burning issue that was on my mind. Imagine the reactions from unsuspecting 3 males when I—without warning, mind you--led off with the following: “Okay, since we’re all here, there’s something I want to talk to everyone about.”

This was greeted with deafening silence, augmented by a palpable sense of “Uh oh,  THIS can’t be good!” and classic “deer in the headlights” expressions on each of their faces. Absolutely priceless, I tell ya. (But then I took pity and let them off the hook by admitting I needed them to help me choose a vacation destination for the upcoming Summer. I’d estimate that the tension level in the vehicle plummeted about 80 notches…but the smart-aleck factor increased by at least that much, as they began throwing out ridiculous options. On second thought, maybe I’ll just leave them in Chapel Hill, and run away somewhere by myself…)

Anyway, we arrived back at Casa WestEnders without incident, to spend NYE in various ways. Husband and I intended to relax, maybe watch on TV as the iconic ball dropped in Times Square (from the much-preferable warmth and comfort of our cozy Living Room, of course), and generally keep it low-key. When I queried Derek about his plans, he reported that he didn’t have any, and wasn’t sure what his friends were doing. (Because, you know, he hadn’t bothered to check, or anything goofy like that. Typical teenage boy…) Riley, on the other hand, was the only one who actually had an agenda. You see, he’d been invited to a party in a nearby neighborhood, thrown by some people he knew from school. There was one, teensy, tiny glitch, however: the hosts were all of the…ahem…”female persuasion”.

It turns out that he and 3 of his other buddies were the only guys on the guest list, which caused QUITE a…Freshman Frenzy…as they weren’t sure what to do. Riley mentioned that one of the group gave an immediate “hard no” to the shindig. Another (the diplomat of the gang—I swear this kid is gonna grow up to be an ambassador, or a mediator, or something where his job is to try and make people happy) agonized that “it would be rude and disrespectful NOT to go”. The third stated that he’d be willing…IF there were 3 of them to hang out together. Now, if you’ve been counting along, you realize that the upshot is…it came down to Riley to cast the deciding vote.

So he came to me, in a quandary over the situation--I mean, it was unfamiliar and borderline-scary territory, the thought of fraternizing with GIRLS and all--not to mention he felt bad for the one boy who was being left out! Fortunately, to the Mom Voice of Reason, the solution seemed perfectly clear: attend the fiesta for a couple of hours, then Husband or I would come pick all of them up (including the one who was staying home) and bring them back to our house, where they could finish the evening doing…adolescent-dude-stuff. (Which involved, among other things, lots of indoor soccer, and a fairly heated Nerf battle, in case you’re wondering…)

In the meantime, Derek received some kind of 911 alert from some of his neighborhood pals—something about there “not being anyone our age at the house right now, so can you come over RIGHT AWAY?” He obliged, and was gone for a while…but then he returned with the Senior Squad in tow, and they settled themselves into the Family Room to play Cards Against Humanity with the traditional New Year’s Rockin’ Eve broadcast playing in the background.

And that’s how we ended up with 9 High Schoolers livening up our “quiet evening”, and participating in the midnight toast. (Bonus: we finally got to share that sparkling apple cider we impulsively purchased at Ikea last month!) Then, at about 12:15, all of the youngsters magically disappeared, and we were able to go to bed….for the first time since last year—ha!

It might not have been exactly the way we'd envisioned kicking off 2018, but it was definitely amusing! So I’ll leave you with this: here’s to lots more laughter, joy, family togetherness, fun times with friends, and travels in the coming year! (Oh, and lest I forget, “world peace”! I know it kinda goes without saying, but let's have some of that too, yeah? Cheers!)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Extended-Family Fun Day

Our last full day on this Maryland visit was reserved for spending at the house where I grew up, with my dad, my siblings, and my brother's kids, (aka "the cousins" to Derek and Riley). First, though, we had to take a moment to...appreciate?...the light dusting of snow that had fallen overnight, as well as the swirling flakes still dancing around in the air when we awoke. I swear that this happens each and every time we travel north in December--although I wouldn't be able to prove it without looking back at previous years' posts, so you'll just have to take my word for it, okay? However, I can tell you with great certainty that I enjoy the icy vista so much more when I know that I'm only going to be seeing it temporarily!

Fortunately, they know how to deal with such minor meteorological inconveniences in the greater DC metro area, so that--even though the temperatures remained sub-freezing--the roads had been pre-treated, and were safe for driving by the time we embarked on our morning journey. Thus we were able to navigate our way to my childhood home, for a day of cousin bonding and family catching up.

Speaking of the kids, they pooh-poohed the temperatures in the teens, not to mention the wind chill, and engaged in some spirited "snow football" in a neighbor's yard. (And if they couldn't exactly, you know, feel their fingers, faces, or feet when they came back inside, they shrugged it off as "just part of the game"...or some such nonsense...crazy youngsters...) I speak from experience, because when I ventured out for a stroll around the block...well, let's just say the sharp, dry, biting cold, combined with the stiff breeze, made for an extremely uncomfortable jaunt.

Anyway, it was toasty and pleasant INDOORS, especially when my brother put his Winter Survival Skills to good creating cozy, crackling flames in the family room fireplace, to warm everyone up while they cheered on Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. (Or in my case, I made a half-hearted attempt to at least pretend to pay attention....while soaking up the ambient heat). Then, when the Nittany Lions had secured their victory over the Washington Huskies, another form of entertainment was introduced--one that would prove addictive...ultra-competitive...and polarizing for everyone within earshot (and, given that it inspired an alarmingly-elevated decibel level, this probably even included anyone within about a quarter-mile radius...)

You see, one member of the tribe introduced an app called Trivia Crack to the rest of us. If you're not familiar with the game, it's kind of like Jeopardy...but without the supervision of Alex Trebek, to temper the contestants' impulses to yell, taunt, cheat, and engage in some truly creative trash-talking. (Right...that's probably just MY clan...) Basically, you challenge other players, and can have multiple games going at once. The only ones actually participating in the online version were my sister, niece, and nephews; however, when one of the adolescents didn't know an answer, they'd read the question to the group, and accept the most reasonable, enthusiastic...or loudest....responses. In a nutshell, it was equal parts deadly serious battle of wits...and freakin' hilarious.

Finally, the moment arrived for the yearly Cousin Photo. This has gone through various stages, from posing them when they were babies and toddlers, to wrangling the elementary-agers, to...brow-beating the tweens and teens, who should fully well know by now how to quickly, cooperatively--maybe even attractively--arrange themselves for a picture, for the love of Pete! (Seriously, is that too much to ask? Apparently so...) Both my sister and I attempted to achieve an acceptable shot, in between giving the beloved crew constant directions that increased steadily in volume...and level of exasperation: "Closer together. You moved off center--get back in front of the tree. Look over here. Stand still. Stop poking him. Okay, SHHHHHH!"

Mostly, these helpful instructions only served to reduce them to hysterics. (Can you imagine that? Hooligans...) At no time were ALL of them facing the right way, smiling, and/or motionless. And inevitably, after each flash, at least one of the bunch would call out brightly, "I blinked!" and then ask, "Are we done yet?" Oh. Good. Heavens. I almost long for byegone days when we could bribe them with treats, snap a few frames before they had a chance to get all silly and whatnot, and call it a success (or at least "over with"). Siiighhhh....

But ya know, I wouldn't trade any of these...special memories...or big old goofballs...for anything. Now it's time to bid a fond farewell to the northern Mid-Atlantic, and head back to the slightly-more-temperate Carolinas to ring in the new year. We had a heartwarming--if frigid in other ways--mini-vacation with friends and loved ones, and we look forward to our next the Summertime!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

December 2017 Maryland-palooza: the Frost Awakens

Team WestEnders kicked off our Winter expedition to the motherland on Wednesday evening, with Derek behind the wheel for his customary first shift of the journey. We left behind a rather balmy...ish...December day, with the mercury having climbed to a peak of 46 in Chapel Hill during the afternoon. By the time we stopped for our first driver switch and refreshment/facilities break in Virginia, however, we definitely noticed a downward trend on ye olde thermometer. In fact, I believe my quote was a startled and somewhat disgruntled, "It's' degrees out here, guys!"

And when we arrived at our second and final pause, it had bottomed 16. So let's try to rationalize this: we drive 300 miles north...and lose THIRTY DEGREES? Now, I don't know what kind of crazy newfangled math this is supposed to be, but I can tell you unequivocally that I. Don't Like It. (Meanwhile, the polar bear half of my family--you know, we call them "sons"--was unsympathetic to my shivering. Derek's response was a scoffing, "It's not even that bad!" And Riley shrugged and commented philosophically, "Eh, it's the North!" Thanks,'re both grounded, by the way...)

Anyway, we reached our destination safely, and settled in to enjoy our stay. Thursday's entire agenda can be summed up as "Hangin' with the H-clan",  since we designated the time to spend with our hosts. The morning began with the earlier risers of the bunch--their teenage son...and me--in the living room watching a Netflix show called Ultimate Beastmaster, which he'd turned on when he woke up. The best way I can describe it is that it's kind of like a pumped-up version of American Ninja Warrior, with a competition involving a super-risky and nearly impossible obstacle course that the participants try to complete, for points (and the cash prize, naturally).

Why am I even mentioning this, you might be wondering? Because one-by-one, as each member of the household emerged from slumber and congregated in the kitchen, we all got totally sucked into this program. Eventually we noticed that the one who'd started us down this path had actually LEFT, and yet the rest of us were still mesmerized by the televised stunts...that is, until Mrs. H suddenly exclaimed, "So, what are we DOING today? and reminded us that we should come up with other activities in lieu of binge-watching a marathon of this silly stuff for hours on end.

So, the adolescent male gang made their bi-annual pilgrimage to...the local Safeway supermarket. On this outing, their purchases consisted of: a bag of donuts, a box of chocolate croissants, and a ginormous deli sub that the 3 of them planned to share for lunch. This isn't counting the package of mini-donuts, tube of Mentos, and OTHER sandwiches they consumed after paying for them, but before leaving the store. Hey, at least it...keeps them off the street? Yeeeaaah, we'll go with that...

Afterwards, despite the icy wind and sub-zero temps, they played outside on and off all afternoon--with my children even going so far as to commit to long pants, hats, and gloves, so you KNOW it was "chilly". But really, I have no room to talk, since I bundled up, myself, to take a walk in spite of the uncomfortable conditions. I might not have been able to feel my toes...face...or legs...when I was finished, but I got my steps for the day, doggone it! (And hot tea...LOTS of that...) Finally, we rewarded ourselves for our--I don't know...hardiness?--with a delectable meal at a local joint called BJ's Roadhouse, where we packed on the calories in preparation for hibernation. (Wait, whattya mean HUMANS don't do that? Are you sure? 'Cuz it feels like the best thing to do right about now...)

Next up, we had our Friday sojourn to the former hometown...with a bit of logistical finagling to arrange first. You see, I had coffee and lunch dates scheduled with friends, and Derek was meeting a couple of buddies for an afternoon of shenanigans...none of which involved either Husband or Riley. So in consultation with Mr. and Mrs. H, it was decided that I (as the only one who is capable of handling a manual transmission--Yay, me!) would borrow their Jeep to transport the first shift, while the latecomers would travel in Husband's vehicle, and join us for dinner.

Thus Derek and I set off, with me piloting a 6-speed (for the first time) tank-type-thing (much bigger than my Subaru)--such that Derek looked down and remarked, "Jeez, the cars look so little next to us!" It was, in short, an adventure in all kinds of ways. But we prevailed through the challenge (of sorts), and eventually pulled into Olney, ready to proceed with the packed social calendar: java (with a neighborhood pal), noon nosh (with college besties), and finally, the traditional gathering at CalTort, our favorite in-town eatery, with soccer fams. Since I actually had a bit of time to kill in-between engagements, I also drove to a nearby lake for what had to be one of the fastest hikes I've ever taken--if you need any explanation why, just picture the fact that both the water, and I, were partially frozen from our exposure to the surrounding air, and that should clear it up.

It was an extremely busy, somewhat exhausting, but utterly delightful kickoff to our Maryland Madness Tour, the Holiday Edition. More celebration to come...keeping my fingers crossed it gets a teensy bit warmer? (Or stocking up on cocoa, one or the other!) Stay tuned...