Sunday, November 19, 2017

Gamecocks...for the win!

Have you ever felt, at certain points in your life, that there seems to be a fifth season added to the year? For example, around the time when you and perhaps many of your friends are getting married, it could be considered Wedding Season...and then for those who choose to add to their families, it's a natural progression to Baby Shower Season. Well, when you're a High School Senior--or the parent of one--you may find yourself mired in the challenging period known as College Application Season.

At least it doesn't sneak up on you, since the timeframe is pretty predictable, depending on whether you opt to submit your materials for the Early Action or Regular Decision deadline. That is, of course, if your parent actually allows you to make this determination for yourself...or decrees that you WILL be completing all of the applications by the first possible date, in order to get them out of the way. (Raises hand..."Guilty as charged, your honor....and not even the slightest bit remorseful"...) In my defense, you might recall that in preparation for all of this...stuff...I attended many presentations at Derek's High School, hoping to gather tips and advice from the wise minds of the Guidance Counselors. Among all of the piles of useful information, one comment in particular stuck out to me, for whatever reason: "Preparing college applications is like having a whole other class in their schedule, based on the amount of time and effort it involves." So...yeah...YIKES.

Therefore, in order to not have this onerous task hanging over Derek's head for the entire first semester of his Senior year, I forced--ahem "strongly encouraged"--him to use the October and November dates as his goal. ('Cuz, let's face it, "I just LOVE spending every minute of my free time doing college apps!" said no one, E-V-E-R...) So the Carolinas went first (UNC, USC) on October 14th (that would be all of "one day early", in case you're scoring at home), followed by JMU and UNC Charlotte (due October 30th but sent on the 19th. Yes, he learned his lesson from the first mad scramble, thank goodness.). The final batch has a November 30/December 1 deadline, and includes Clemson, Penn State (both finalized on 11/7, by the way), and Virginia Tech (which we're planning to send by the Sunday night). Aaaannnnnd...that's it!

The point is, once you get the confirmation email that all of your required items have been received, you can relax, knowing that you've done what you can, but now it's out of your hands and the responsibility for your future has shifted to the Admissions Committee. (Okay, when I put it that way, it sounds a LOT less calm and peaceful...but once again, Derek's low-stress personality will see him through this with nary a worry, as usual...lucky duck...)

Next, of course, you begin the lengthy process of Waiting to Hear. Another advantage to the Early Action, of course, is that the notifications are supposed to occur sometime in January, thus ending the suspense of "Did I get in?" and kicking off the process of "Hmm, where am I going?" So we congratulated Derek on getting the job done, and mentally prepared ourselves for a looooong period of radio silence (because, you know, patience is SUCH a strong personality trait of mine...hahahahaha! Yeeeaaaah, I just kind of resigned myself to the fact that this whole thing would slowly drive me toward the Loony Bin...but what can ya do?)

But despite my best attempts, I just couldn't stop myself from thinking about it, every day when I opened the mailbox. (Yes, even though some institutions already informed us that they've converted entirely to electronic communications, old habits die hard, it seems...) From way back in my own pre-college days, I recalled that a large flat package means good news, while a business-size envelope indicates a polite form letter of dream-crushing denial (or whatever...). So one day (that would be "November 7th", specifically) I saw one of the former types, underneath a stack of the typical daily junk mail we receive. It was addressed to Derek, and it was from USC.

I flashed back to a recent conversation I'd had with one of my co-workers, who laughingly told the story of how her own parents had ripped open her first college letter before she got home from school, because they just couldn't stand the anticipation (and also, they claimed that they wanted to be able to share any bad news with her themselves, thereby cushioning the blow). Firmly, I resolved to NOT be that mother...nope, I could tough it out for (checks phone for time) 2 hours until Derek returned. However, as it turned out, I needn't have wasted my determination, since when I flipped the envelope over to the back, this is what leaped out at me:

Well, thanks so much for that LOL moment, South Carolina! And also, of course, I appreciate the kindness of sparing both prospective student and nervous-for-their-child parent that moment of dread before they rip open the flap to get to the fateful sheet of paper inside. Since I didn't have to manage that particular emotion, I had plenty of time for the others that welled up--excitement and pride for Derek, on the occasion of his very first acceptance to a university (and one that he considers a top choice for him, at that...so Bonus Yay)...along with just a wee bit of...let's say "mistiness". I mean, this just got waaaayyyy real, y'all. And I thought I had already steeled myself for it, but when it actually happened, maybe...not so much. (It WAS 2 months ahead of the schedule we'd had in our minds, so maybe that can be my excuse. Yep, we're totally gonna go with that...)

After barging into his office and waving the envelope in front of Husband (who was on a conference call at the time, but events like this are what Mute is made for, right?) I texted a photo to Derek, which he'd see the next time he checked his phone, probably (hopefully) between classes. (Meaning: not in the middle of a lecture, which I would never encourage...except in the most extreme situation...such as this one. Oh, go ahead, have the Principal call me--I'll take the rap!) In an hour or so, he replied with this question: "Did I get accepted" (Also note the missing punctuation, and if you're a..."mature adult"...who's also a card-carrying member of the Grammar Police, say it with me: "Grrrrr!").

I admit that I was perplexed here for a minute, folks. I glanced back and forth between the phone screen, and envelope's blaring proclamation, and I wondered for a brief, terrifying heartbeat if I'd somehow misinterpreted the message. But then I re-read the words "Open, Celebrate, Post #UofSCYes" and realized that it was just my goofball son, having his own Senior Moment (of the adolescent variety--yes, it's a thing, TRUST me...). I typed in "That's what the ginormous YES means, dude", restraining myself from conveying what I was really thinking, which was something along the lines of "And I'll be sure NOT to tell them that the student they offered a spot in their Freshman class of 2018 failed to understand his own admission packet....siiiighhhhhh...

Then--get this--Derek stayed at a friend's house--as he does almost every day after school--and played football until it got dark, rather than rushing home to see his Extremely Exciting Correspondence....and in the process, delayed the ceremonial Big Reveal of the contents for the rest of his dying-of-curiosity family as well. (Seriously? Sometimes this kid is sooooooo NOT like his mother at ALL...) So, yeah, that sums up our first experience with actually getting a positive response from one of his schools. Just think, 1 down, 6 to go...and 8 more weeks of thumb-twiddling. At least now we've got one of those other seasons coming up soon to provide a plethora of delightful distraction for much of that time...that's right, let's hear it for...the Holidays! We've got cheerful decorations, festive carols, delicious food, fun parties, and surprise gifts to look forward to...and no paperwork...or deadlines! Whoo hoo! Bring it on!

(And if a couple more of those universities wanted to, oh, I don't know...check something off their own To Do List...by sending Derek expedited notice of his status, that would be a super-special-present for Team WestEnders...just sayin'!)

Monday, November 13, 2017

When you take suggestions from the Peanut Gallery...

To continue with our second day in Charlotte: when initially planning our adventure, I'd purposely booked a hotel that was conveniently located about 2 miles from the university we were visiting--figuring that not only would this give us a central HQ from which to base our other activities, but it also would afford a realistic glimpse into how quick and easy traveling into the city would be, for students living on or around campus. And I'd have to say it worked out well for both of those goals...with the added benefit that we were able to familiarize ourselves a little bit with the area immediately surrounding UNCC...including one enormous, instantly-visible-for-miles, iconic establishment that the boys had heretofore never laid eyes on, much less entered...I'm talking about Ikea, folks.

That's right, when we lived in Maryland, the closest one was in College Park, about 30 minutes or so away, in a direction we never needed to go for anything else. (And very close to the University of Maryland--coincidence? Nope, I think they're very strategic when choosing where to build one of those things--what with college students being the ultimate customers for affordable items with which to furnish their dorm rooms or apartments...and also notorious impulse buyers!) So when we passed the building on one of our initial forays into Charlotte, Derek mused, "Hmm, I've never been to an Ikea. I kinda feel like I want to see it. Can we stop by before we leave to go back home?"

"Um...that's kind of an unusual request, coming from you, but sure, honey, why not?" (I blithely replied, with no earthly idea what I was getting myself into...) Thus on Saturday morning, after checking out of our hotel and thinking we were heading downtown, the sight of the blue-and-yellow monstrosity reminded us of our agreement...fortunately in time to veer into the turn lane and detour into the parking lot. As we pulled in, both boys admitted (with no small amount of amusement) that they were somewhat excited by their upcoming...consumer initiation of sorts. Then we strolled into the lobby and took the escalator to the second-floor showroom...where the boys' mouths dropped open in astonishment as they faced the acres of artfully-arranged, endlessly-varied merchandise.

While they gawked, speechless, I took advantage of the momentary lull to address other pressing matters--namely that the hotel coffee had proven decidedly sub-par, and I wished to pick up a fresh hot cup of java at the cafe before commencing the...shopping-palooza. The boys nodded distractedly and waved me off, before following the magnetic pull of the...Swedish Wonderland...and meandering into the retail mecca. I joined them just a few moments later, having procured a mug o'delight...FREE before 10 a.m., by the way. (And I'd been totally willing to pay the buck they normally charge, so...Double Bonus!)

The teenagers started off slowly, wandering among the furniture and household items, but rapidly picked up steam and began scheming together. "This [armchair] would be great in our Game Room!" "Ooh, imagine if we had this [sectional sofa]? I'd never get up from playing FIFA '18!" I just trailed slightly behind them, listening to their excited chatter and shaking my head in bemusement. Who were these young men...and what the heck happened to MY shopping-averse children?

It got even more hilarious when they entered the kitchen section...and began critiquing the finishes, for crying out loud. For example, Riley commented, "I don't really like the colors in here. I would have gone with something lighter, to make it look bigger." Oh. Good. Grief. I swear, it's like I'm stuck in the middle of an episode of....Adolescent HGTV, here. (Meanwhile, I listened attentively and nodded thoughtfully...while keeping my face neutral and cracking up inside...it was pretty tough, I tell ya...)

Next they kicked off the inevitable process of holding up random, ridiculous stuff...and (mostly jokingly) asking me if we could buy it. "Can we have this [plush] soccer ball?" "Ooh, look at this fake plant! We should absolutely get it!" Or my favorite: "Mooommmm, we really NEED this...stuffed cactus!" At some point it became clear that they'd become completely...assimilated...when Derek actually uttered the words, "I mean, I feel like we'd be LOSING money if we left here without buying anything, am I right?" (He was kidding...at least partially...)

And whattya know...we stumbled upon something that truly did warrant a purchase (drumroll): a laundry hamper. You see, we'd literally just discussed this topic in the car on Friday--i.e., how it's long overdue for the boys to start handling their own dirty clothes, rather than Husband and I just chucking them in with ours like we've always done. So there we stood, amongst all the selections, conducting a surreal conversation on the relative merits of each container. (You know, capacity, durability, presence of handles for easy transport up and down the stairs, and finally...preferred color. No, I'm not making that up...)

After much consideration, we made our final choice...and having dawdled away an almost incomprehensible 90 minutes in this place, broke for the checkout line before we could do any further damage. Except for one teensy, tiny loss of concentration as we neared the registers...when Derek grabbed a bottle of sparkling apple cider, assuming I'd shoot him down without even giving it a moment's thought, and I shocked him by agreeing to add it to our bargains. (The only defense I can offer is that I'd passed the point of overstimulation and crossed into downright giddiness somewhere after the first hour...and I have the $2.99 fake booze to show for it...ha!) So that's how we finalized our Ikea trip: with a bill that came to...$11.78. (I'd throw in a dramatic "Curse you, Ikea!", but seriously, what are the odds that one gets out of that warehouse for under 12 bucks? Yeah, I'm gonna take the W...and RUN toward the exit...)

After that experience--which left us still laughing as we escaped to the car--we made a beeline for Freedom Park, a charming swath of nature tucked into the heart of Charlotte, where we enjoyed some crisp Autumn air as we circled the small lake in its center. I'd promised Derek that I'd try to show him some of Charlotte's other neighborhoods, so by the time we left, he'd have a pretty good feel for the city's character. Therefore, to arrive at the outdoor oasis we traversed Dilworth, an area of  older, but stately and gorgeously-maintained houses with pristine lawns and mature trees.

I then navigated us through the Uptown section again, so the boys could see it in the daylight (and marvel once more at how close we came to the football stadium--which never ceases to amaze and delight them, evidently). Finally, we cruised through South End, an upscale district that boasts historical architecture, but is also newly revitalized with fancy eateries and shops.

At the end of all this, without needing to put forth much effort at all, I succeeded in showing the kids that Charlotte is a pleasantly-sized, accessible, attractive, fun city (and...ahem....only 9 miles away from UNCC...which is going to have its own campus light rail stop, projected to open in the Spring of '18. Not only will the train obviously provide students a simple way to get into town, but also the cost of riding will be included in tuition. Just sayin'...)

Even if Derek doesn't end up attending the university, he and Riley are now both familiar with and appreciative of North Carolina's largest city. My work here is done! Let the boys tackle their pile of unwashed clothing--I've earned some sparkling cider...and then, a nap...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Cheers for Charlotte

Well, I'm absolutely thrilled to be able to report that Derek is winding down his own personal College Application Season, with 6 submitted, and only 1 more to finish up. However, Team WestEnders (the High School Senior and his Support Staff, as they shall be known in this case) also had to address another important piece that was still missing from the "Which U. for You?" puzzle: one final institution on his list that he hadn't yet paid a visit. Thus with a day off from school to honor our nation's veterans, the teenagers and I headed for Charlotte, to spend an afternoon with UNC Chapel Hill's southwestern cousin of the same name.

Now, I've been to Charlotte on a couple of solo field trip occasions already, so I already knew how much I liked the city. I'd even spent a short time on campus once, visiting UNCC's lovely and serene botanical garden. On this trip, though, we were going for the full "prospective student" experience--with the formal presentation, the student ambassador, the guided walking tour....in other words, the whole shebang.

So we cruised into the designated parking deck about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. (I know: Whaaaat? This is just soooo unlike us! But trust me, it wasn't exactly planned; rather, it came from skipping lunch. Again, very uncharacteristic, but the way the drive worked out, we had to choose between arriving a little late, or eating, and we voted for the "quick snacks from a convenience store and being on time" option...aren't we such the responsible ones?) From there, a shuttle whisked us over to the Student Union, where we were able to kill time procuring a delicious Starbucks beverage (um....yeah, that would be only ME), and goofing around in the bookstore--where we were impressed by the staggering variety of high-quality apparel, much of it sporting UNCC's forest green color and 49ers logo.

Next we politely listened to the official "get to know our institution" talk, joined our designated undergrad...and boarded another bus, for  a driving loop around the grounds. This brings up a couple of things I noticed immediately about this particular campus: it's pretty vast (1,000 acres, according to the brochure), and there are shuttles running every which way, seemingly continuously, to enable people to get to all corners of the complex. There are also bike-share stations scattered about, where students can borrow a (free) two-wheeler to negotiate the terrain more quickly than they could on foot. And according to our guides, there are ZipCars that can be similarly checked out as well! Finally, along with the size of the place, all 3 of us noticed that a great deal of the environment is lush and green, featuring manicured lawns, picturesque landscaping and a veritable bonanza of trees, everywhere you look.
Of course, we made the the usual stops: the library, a residence hall (utilizing a suite-style setup--3 bedrooms with a shared sitting room and bathroom-- that seemed pretty ritzy for a college, to be honest), a classroom, blah blah blah. All in all, Derek came away with an even more positive impression than I had hoped for...so the bottom line is, even if UNCC isn't one of his top choices, at least now he knows he likes it there, and could see himself attending. (Mission...Part 1...accomplished...)

One agenda item they hit pretty hard during the introduction was how much it benefits the university to be located in such proximity to a city like Charlotte, with all of the opportunities it offers for student enrichment, such as internships, service projects, etc. Now that the institutional propaganda had wrapped up, it was up to ME to continue the extracurricular portion of our day, and sell Charlotte to the boys as a desirable destination for their possible future educational endeavors.

With this in mind, I'd researched an independent little deli-type joint where I thought we could eat dinner. It resided in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood, which as we strolled through on foot after parking the car, we agreed gives off a kind of artsy, kitschy, funky vibe. It was interesting and potentially entertaining...but alas, the deli counter (inexplicably) closes at 6 p.m. (Seriously? What's UP with that?) So, without a backup plan, I made an Executive Decision to just...wing it...and let the chips fall as they may, so to speak. Fortunately, I could see the city's skyline off to my left, so I pointed the Subaru that way, and navigated by..."feel"...towards what I hoped was the center of the action.

And the...gods of exploration...apparently blessed my journey (oh, and also the fact that Charlotte's a pleasantly simple city to get around in...) since we came into the middle of the Uptown area, pretty much exactly where I wanted to be. (Whew! Thank you....Magellan? Sure, we'll go with that...) Now that I recognized my surroundings, I confidently drove towards where I remembered the Spectrum Center being (the NBA Hornets' arena), which served the dual purpose of A) providing the certainty of parking decks in which to stash the vehicle for a while and B) causing the boys to gape in awe at being close enough to touch a major sports venue. (Point: Mom.)

Having safely tucked the automobile into a spot, we happily hoofed it up and down the main thoroughfare--ostensibly keeping an eye out for someplace to grab a meal, but also people-watching, and taking in the ambiance. About that: Charlotte's city center features a cool mix of big business (the 3rd largest banking center in the U.S., behind NYC and San Fran, with the soaring, glass-encrusted skyscrapers to show for it), unique shops, trendy restaurants and bars, museums, theaters...and a smattering of chain stores and fast food thrown into the stew. And among all the bright lights and flashing signs that demand your attention, there are also gorgeous fountains and mini-waterfall installments, as well as historical statues and sculptures randomly scattered throughout the pedestrian bustle.

Fortunately, Derek and Riley--who are generally not terribly fond of big city situations-- took to Charlotte's cozier, more friendly personality immediately. Yeah, and it didn't hurt that at some point during our wanderings, we found ourselves close enough to the Carolina Panthers' stadium to have the glowing facade looming over us...which caused yet another "Ooh, aah" moment for the ESPN-loving boys.

At this point it had gotten late enough that most non-swanky eateries had closed, but we managed to find a Qdoba that was still serving (and allowing us refuge from the chilly wind, which had begun to make us shiver...dressed as we were for more typical NC November balminess!). Therefore, full, warm, and content, we unanimously agreed that our first foray into Charlotte had been a rousing success, and we were all quite satisfied with our evening. Better yet, Derek expressed a wish to come back the next day, to venture into some other parts of the city, before heading back to our own corner of the state. So I do believe I'd have to say: Mission Part 2...achieved! Yaaaayyyy...everybody wins!

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Bitter Defeat in...the Gourd Wars

I know that since we moved to Chapel Hill several years ago, I've described the bucolic setting--picturesque small town surrounded by lots of green space--as well as the abundance of creatures who (usually peacefully) share the environment with us. Most of the time this is delightful...except when the roving bands of four-legged herbivores start getting a little too complacent...overly fearless...and downright "uppity", as Husband indignantly called them.

What prompted such an outburst, especially from a self-proclaimed animal lover and nature enthusiast?  Well, let me illustrate it for you, with the photographic evidence you'll see to the right.

Yes, folks, this is the level of...bestial insubordination (I know that sounds vaguely...non-G-rated, but I promise you it's totally not) we have to deal with around here. Those innocent jack-o'-lanterns were intact on Halloween, but it seems like as soon as our backs were turned, they became fair game for the deer horde that frequently wanders through our yard nibbling on whatever takes their fancy.

When I entered the house, prepared to vent my outrage at this...gourd gouging...Husband had even more intrigue to contribute to the tale. You see, one of the pumpkins had originally been carved to look cat-like, with triangular ears made from the eye cutouts stuck to the top of it. Husband described how he'd stood in our foyer and watched as a doe "delicately removed an ear and proceeded to eat it like it was a cocktail weenie". (He somehow managed to pull off sounding admiring, amused, and annoyed, all at once. And the rest of us shared a juvenile snicker over the stupidly funny phrase "cocktail weenie". )

He continued, "Then she took the lid and set it aside, so she could get to the good stuff in the middle." Sure enough, a little later I caught her red...hooved. (Or could have been a family member--who knows? It's not like they wear nametags...but I swear, they should. Maybe our HOA can do something about that...it would be easier to impose a suitable punishment, yeah? Hmm...I wonder how you "ground" the resident wildlife....)

Well, let me tell ya, I wasn't having any of these shenanigans; I glowered menacingly, and stomped towards her in my best threatening manner, causing her to vacate the porch...temporarily. However, within 5 minutes she'd overcome her...mild misgivings...and was back up to her old tricks. So next I picked up the discarded lid and flung it at her to encourage her to either leave...or, I don't know, act like a canine and chase it. (Come to think of it, this will probably confuse the neighbors when they find it in their yard. Eh, I'll explain it all later...)

I'm not kidding you--this ridiculous pumpkin dance went on for the rest of the afternoon, with an endless loop of those idiot beasts tiptoeing up onto the porch, scampering off when startled, and returning as soon as they thought it was safe again. (After several cycles of this, Husband was inspired to come up with another gem of an insult, calling one of them a "brazen hussy"! And to answer your unspoken question: no, I do NOT have any idea where he gets this stuff... )

Eventually of course the sun went down, and at least we couldn't actually watch them decimating our poor decorations anymore. The shameless varmints appeared to take advantage of the cover of darkness, though, as I woke up in the morning to the charming tableau you see pictured to the right. And a short period of searching turned up the other one, which had been absconded with, and now resided several yards away from its original position. (HARRUMPH, I say!)

I guess we missed a big old mobile overnight buffet while we slumbered nearby, blissfully unaware. And on that note, can I just say: seriously? We're only a few feet away, you crazy critters! Have you no respect for humankind, your one true danger in this environment? Oh yeah...clearly NOT...never mind. That's it, next year, we're going non-traditional, and adorning our porch with...I don't know...something deer DON'T like to munch! Luckily I have a whole year for botanical research....or to set up a deer resistant perimeter...or to design booby traps...or to come to some kind of acceptance...give up...and let them win? (Yeah, most likely that one...)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tales...of Males (Ha!)

Today I present a collection of short stories, featuring anecdotes from the past several weeks. My only warning is the usual: there will be an abundance of...goofiness. (Because, you know, that's such a surprise, given the cast of characters...)

Penn State "College Tour"
Derek's godfather, who happens to be Husband's Penn State roommate from byegone days, lives close enough to that university to  attend several football games each year with his family. So, he had purchased tickets to the big Michigan rivalry game quite a while ago, but he couldn't have known that it would end up conflicting with Homecoming at his son's High School...or that the child in question would prefer the local extracurricular festivities, rather than the more far-flung gridiron event. With his wife and son remaining at home, Godfather therefore found himself in possession of 2 unexpected extra passes...and knowing that PSU was on Derek's list of potential colleges, he offered them to our family instead.

Now, when I say that Derek is considering Penn State, I should clarify that it's kind of an outlier--mainly because it's the furthest away, and thus logistically the most difficult. It's also ginormous, and situated more or less in the middle of nowhere...with the exception of the small town built around it. So I wondered what his first impression of it would be like--and whether he'd return home less enthused about the prospect of going there...or having been sucked into the rabid fandom that permeates the campus on football weekends...and therefore completely ready to pick up and move to rural Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch--um, "Casa WestEnders"--his brother had a small taste of what Life Without Derek will be like...and it's an understatement to say that he did NOT enjoy it. At all. By the end of the weekend he was super-bored from not being able to pop into his sibling's room and chat, or get him to go play in the yard, or what have you. This in turn made him increasingly grumpy and miserable...until Sunday afternoon, when he finally came to me and asked, in the saddest voice, "Mom, is there anything YOU can do with me outside?" Um...I thought hard to come up with an idea....but I can't shoot a basketball very well...I don't have a baseball glove that fits me anymore...and all of our footballs are waaaayy too big for my hands. So the answer, tragically, was "No, buddy--I'm so sorry!" (However, the next time we were anywhere near a Dick's, we bought a Pee Wee football that I can actually grasp and throw...ish...so we're now prepared for just such a future...recreational emergency!)

Then when Derek got back--after a couple of days of driving a LOT and sleeping...not so much--he reported that he had, in fact, L-O-V-E-D the place. With his dad and godfather to give him a personalized tour (along with the inevitable side trip down Memory Lane)...the presence of over 100,000 maniac football supporters...and the peripheral glimpse into...ahem...frat life...and tailgating...that he got while there, he found the atmosphere to be somewhat intoxicating (pun intended...but without any alcohol involved, I assure you...). This doesn't alter the fact that getting to Penn State from where we live still takes 8 hours, and the adult chaperones were also quick to point out that these types of..."celebratory situations" happen only 7 or 8 times a year, when the football team has a home game, while the rest of the semester(s) you'll be, oh, I don't know, IN CLASS, and regular old stuff like that. Keeping all that in mind, we basically just have to wait and see if he gets accepted first...then we'll discuss it further, if necessary.

A Shortage...of Shorts
My sons have never been what you'd call...fashion forward. Their daily uniform consists of athletic shorts and t-shirts--with a sweatshirt or jacket, and very occasionally, soccer-type windpants, thrown on when necessary to combat chilly weather. In fact, Derek owned exactly one pair of nice...er...shorts to wear for "special occasions" (whatever that might mean to a 17-year old guy). That is, until he had to start using those for his sandwich-making shifts at Subway--at which point he declared "the smell of that place is never going to come out", and asked for a backup pair. (Okay, that was the relevant background--stick with me for the actual saga...)

Anyway, Riley came to me one morning before school (Yes, that would be "at the last possible minute") saying that he'd gotten a message from his soccer team captain, telling the players to "dress up", due to their match later that day. With nothing in his own closet that qualified, Riley had only one option: ask to borrow his brother's shorts. Of course Derek didn't want him taking his brand new pair, so Riley obediently donned the Subway pants...until I noticed the--apparently permanent--grease stains etched into several spots on the front of them. This meant that unfortunately Riley had to switch to the new ones after all, and promise upon pain of death--or whatever--that he'd return them in the same pristine condition in which they'd left the house for their debut...on the wrong kid.

This ultimately led us to a Kohl's excursion...in November...with our fingers collectively crossed, in hopes they still had some shorts in stock. Thank goodness we live in the South-ish, because, although they were relegated to the clearance rack, there were still some Summer pants on sale...and deeply discounted, at that. (WIN!) Granted, we had to go through a fair amount of trauma (for Mom, at least) to find anything the boys deemed acceptable. Picture if you will the wrinkled noses and disdainful tones: "I don't like that color!" "Those are too long; they look like capris." "They're too heavy and/or stiff." Ay yi yi. We finally found TWO that were A) attractive enough (yeah, that was strictly from my point of view--they boys couldn't care less); B) fit Riley well (with the addition of a belt, naturally...skinny dudes, what can I say?); and C) and passed the comfort test.

As a bonus, Derek came and found me wandering in the Women's apparel section waiting for Riley to finish the try-on process, and shocked me by asking, "Can I buy these, too?" He was holding out yet another pair of shorts that he'd evidently come across while browsing, and he explained, "I know I never ask for clothes, but I like these, and (he paused for effect) they're NINE BUCKS!" Um...absolutely, honey! I'm not even sure why you're asking, since you offered to pay for them yourself...unless you were seeking my approval...in which case, DONE! Good job, you...bargain hunter, you! (And with that, we're probably finished talking about clothing for the boys...with the obvious exception of shoes, which are a whole 'nother topic...for a looooong time. Yaaayyyy!)

More Senior Silliness
And finally, in the Adventures of the 12th Grader category, we recently received information about ordering Derek's cap and gown ensemble for graduation...which was packaged along with a whole catalogue full of additional, superfluous...ridiculous items. (Seriously, beyond the usual every-possible-piece-of-clothing-you-can-imagine, they also include tempting tidbits such as key rings, coffee mugs, photo albums, and something called a "cell phone pop socket with clip"...whatever the hell that's supposed to be. I don't even want to know, frankly...) I was paging through this--honestly both fascinated and horrified by the display--when Derek tossed out a comment about a class ring. I wasn't paying much attention, since he's never owned any...bling...much less would ever be caught dead actually wearing it, but I managed a distracted, "Oh, you're not getting one."

His mouth dropped open in comical exaggeration, and he indignantly burst out with, "WHAT? Why NOT?" I lifted my eyes away from the brochure-o'nonsense and gave him a sarcastic look, "Because that would be an utter waste of money, perhaps?" He assumed an injured expression and retorted vehemently, "But...I need to design...my championship ring!" "Wait a minute...you mean the enormous, gaudy, bejeweled rings they give to pro athletes after their team wins a title, which they never actually put on their fingers, but rather keep on their mantels to make sure guests are aware of their achievements?" He nodded vigorously, seemingly pleased that I'd caught on so quickly to his intent, "YES! One of those!"

Oh. Good. Grief. Suffice it to say that--unless he chooses to spend his own hard-earned cash on this bit of foolishness (the suggestion of which dampened his enthusiasm instantly, by the way)--he will NOT be getting a class/championship ring with his required commencement gear. In fact, I had to peruse several inserts, and diligently read down to the very...fine...print at the bottom of the pages before I located what I was seeking: the cap/gown/tassel ONLY package. (They reeeeaaaaallly don't want to make that easy for you to pick. It's almost as bad as the whole Wedding planning scam--how much money can we get sentimental parents and their impulsive offspring to shell out for memorabilia? Whoo hoo! Well, I'm onto you--so take my hundred bucks, and I'll be on my way, thankyouverymuch!)

And there you have it...the everyday escapades of living with teenage boys continue. At least they've caught up on sleep....are well-dressed (when they want to be)...and to my knowledge, haven't purchased any unauthorized, unneeded swag--jewelry or otherwise--for this week, anyway! (Memo to Self: maybe I should keep a watchful eye on their bank accounts for now, just in case...)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Halloween fashion show, of sorts...

Okay, I already warned you guys that this was guaranteed to evolve into The Year of Being Sappy, right? Well, so far the beginning of the new school year had been fairly effective at helping me postpone being caught up in any overwhelming waves of melancholy or throes of panic about the...(I'm just gonna say it...c'mon, you can do this...deep breath...here goes...) Countdown to College. (Gulp...) What with all of the soccer mayhem (for the Freshman) and academic hoopla (both 9th and 12th grade)--not to mention the application-palooza that needed to be addressed, in order to advance the potential future plans of a certain High School Senior...it's really no wonder that it took me this long to suffer my first official bout of...Mom-stalgia. (Huh--I must not be too bad yet, if I can still make up words, yeah?)

Anyway, it occurred to me today that this will be the last Halloween Derek will be spending at home (or at least..."close by"--more on that later). I know, I know--what a silly thing to get all misty about...and don't get me wrong, I'm not sobbing into my bowl of chocolate, or anything (if only because that would ruin the candy...DUH!). It's more of a "realization", if you will, that things are changing from here on out, so I should make even more of a concerted effort than usual to pay attention, remember, and record as many moments as possible, in the upcoming months.

However, it also got me thinking about...the Ghost of Halloweens Past...which inspired me to look back through old photo albums and dig up some snapshots of young Derek and Riley in their seasonal finery. This turned out to be an absolutely fabulous idea, as I greatly enjoyed myself, giggling my way across the years of costumed cuteness. And because I'm such a sharing individual, I'm going to let you in on some of the festivities. (Lucky you! Or, that's your cue to run screaming in the other direction. It's your choice--no judgment if looking at other people's kids in goofy get-ups isn't your thing. Either way, I suggest you cue up a selection of your favorite All Hallows Eve treats...you know, just in case...)

So, let's start at the beginning, shall we? Derek's first Halloween: Husband had the cow costume from "way back when", and I swear he manufactured any excuse to wear that thing. (No, seriously, there are pictures of him skiing in it, among other activities. As you may have guessed, many of them involved adult beverages. That's all I'm gonna say. Just. Don't. Ask.) Therefore it seemed like a no-brainer to buy a mini-bovine-version for his firstborn son. The results, as you can see, are both ridiculous...but also kind of freakin' adorable...

Next we have the legendary dinosaur suit, which I bought at a Children's Place outlet store for, I believe 20-bucks, and Derek proceeded to wear for the next THREE years, because he loved it so much. (This still reigns in our household as the Best. Clothing. Purchase. Ever. and is unlikely to lose that title any time soon...also, when Derek finally outgrew it, Riley smoothly took it right over, and kept the tradition alive. And you know, that fuzzy full-body-fun-suit never fell apart--I finally just donated it to a thrift store when both boys had to admit they were too big to squeeze into it anymore. Sniffle...)

Speaking of the younger brother, the year that Riley came along, Derek started preschool, so we have the infant dressed as some sort of monster-type-thingie, aaaannnnd Derek rocking...the dinosaur again. Well, at least he made it easy on us!

I don't recall exactly whose idea this was or why, but when Derek was in Kindergarten we apparently decided to make him a King costume. (King of what? Eh, your guess is as good as mine.) Trust me when I tell you that this represents the extent of my...creative crafting abilities. (Yep, I drew on a turtleneck with fabric markers. Fortunately, he was 5, and didn't know any better, and thought it was awesome...so yaaayyy, us!) Meanwhile, Riley wore a firefighter ensemble that had been a Christmas present the previous year. (So to recap: homemade cheap outfit, + something that already lived in our toy box = winning!)

By 2006, Derek was firmly into his Music Phase. It just seemed like a natural choice to combine his love of drumming...with the iconic character known for his wild antics in the Muppet band. The shirt was from Target...the microphone his own...the hair sculpted by Mom, with the help of a whole lotta gel...and the expression? Pure, unadulterated Derek...ness. And then there's Riley...who at this point had clearly entered what would turn out to be a lengthy, dedicated, passionate Thomas the Tank Engine period of his life. (As you'll see from the next 2 years, in which he stubbornly wore the exact same costume, refusing to even entertain the notion of switching things up. (What can I say? The boy knew what he liked...)

Second grade Derek and preschool Riley opted for a traditional Orioles player...and the train dude again. (Hey, you can't say I didn't warn you...) The next year, Derek chose a Star Wars theme--because you can't go wrong with a Jedi, obviously. And...the familiar engine-with-a-face for Kindergarten (because his new friends probably hadn't seen it a million times....or whatever...)

And finally, the last year I actually have photographic evidence of the boys dressing up, we have vampire Riley and ninja Derek. I have no earthly clue why either one of them chose those particular items, but I seem to remember that--unlike when they were little, and just threw on the same delightful combination for several consecutive holidays, it was becoming more difficult to figure out what they wanted to transform into for the magical night of make-believe. Especially with the dual additional challenges of my admitted ineptitude in the Project Runway arena...and unwillingness to shell out loads of moolah for pre-made stuff meant to be worn once. So...yeah...the Halloween costume streak eventually ran out of steam, allowing the boys to instead shift their focus to the true meaning of the special day...that's right, obtaining and consuming as much sweet stuff as humanly possible in the short window of time slated for such endeavors.

As such, I'll wrap up with the touching note that was left for me this year:
(You'll see that neighbors' names have been skillfully redacted, to protect the....overly-sugared...) Yes, they each had plans--one to greet trick-or-treaters and pass out candy at a friend's house, and the other to eat pizza and watch some of the World Series game with his own group of buddies. As for me, I manned the door here at Casa WestEnders, chuckling over the heartwarming memories of byegone Halloweens, doling out goodies to visiting kiddos...and eyeing up the LEFTOVERS, so I can drown my sorrows with the proven healing power of Hershey's at a later time, if need be! (Whew--sounds like an excellent scheme! Now I can move on to figuring out how to deal with Thanksgiving.....siiiighhhh...)
Halloween 2017--just being...themselves!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Warning: not for the faint of heart (or...stomach...)

There are many truths about growing older--some good, others...not so pleasant. For instance, the wisdom, experiences, and self-knowledge one presumably gains with passing years can be a wonderful by-product of aging. On the other hand, the body might begin treating you to a chorus of creaks and pops, an array of aches and pains, and a miasma of minor medical...stuff and nonsense. Eh, we can get all philosophical, and view it as a variation on "the price of doing (life's) business", right?

Okay, that sounds all healthy and well-adjusted, and whatnot! Except...for one teeny thing: at a certain birthday, the healthcare community advises you to undergo a routine test, just to get a baseline reading, if you will. Now, this procedure's reputation precedes it, from the many who have successfully completed the process--which is a positive thing, of course. However, it does tend to strike a hefty dose of dread into the hearts of those who must soon succumb...such as, oh, let's say...ME.

You've probably already guessed that I'm tiptoeing around the subject of the (whispering without moving her lips) colonoscopy. (Don't worry, I'm not going to use that word again. From here on out, I'll refer to it by the pseudonym "The Exam". Which will make us all feel better. But especially yours truly...) Yep, it was (unfortunately) time to pull on my big girl pants and schedule that sucker...so I held my breath and just made the call....then promptly put it out of my mind, because what's the point of worrying for months?

Then the paperwork showed up in the mail, reminding me that the date was approaching. Oh...goody!? That was my lukewarm-at-best reaction before I began reading through the instructions. I got as far as the page where it told me what I could and couldn't eat, 3-and-2-days beforehand...and was shocked to a dead stop. I'm not kidding--the list of foods one is allowed to consume consists almost entirely of...white items. As in, it specifically states NO fruits, vegetables, nuts, or whole grains...but things made with white flour are apparently hunky-dory. (Raising my hand) "Um...excuse me, gluten-free vegetarian, here! You've just banned my entire culinary repertoire--what the...HECK...am I supposed to eat?" By reading between the lines, I determined that the answer apparently is: "rice (excluding the brown variety)... pasta (but not the kind made with chickpeas that I usually enjoy)....bread (you guessed it--white only)...cereal (devoid of fiber)...dairy products...nope, that's it, soooo, good luck with that!"

Oh. Good. Heavens. That is literally a guide to exactly the OPPOSITE of how I normally go about nourishing myself on a day-to-day basis. But, I'm nothing if not a rule-follower, so I buckled up and prepared myself for two days of...colorless, low-fiber, nutritionally deficient, bland...junk, basically. For breakfast, I ate a yogurt, and pumpkin spice Cheerios (gluten-free, with only 2 grams of fiber--which technically counts as "cheating" a little bit, but whatevs, 'cuz a girl's gotta eat...something!). For lunch...white rice with butter and goat cheese. Seriously? It occurred to me as I gazed upon my snowy bowl of...mush...that I had been reduced to the diet of an extremely picky...small child. Yummmm....not. Dinner was gluten-free white bread with butter (again--which now probably marks the most of that condiment that I've EVER used in a day) and cheddar cheese. (I was so discombobulated that it didn't even occur to me to make a grilled cheese out of it...until just now. Ha! I'd make a terrible toddler...or college student...)

I pretty much repeated the same menu the next day, except for switching out the rice for pasta--made with rice and corn (but still topped with butter and cheese...Oy....). But wait, it gets even more ridiculous! For the final day before The Exam, you're supposed to eat (drumroll) ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! You may drink clear liquids throughout the day, but you're not permitted to consume any solid foods whatsoever. This, my friends, is going to--how shall I put this?--hmm, let's go with the succinct option: "suck". Knowing this, I even took a sick day from work, predicting that I'd be 1) extraordinarily grumpy and likely to bite one of my co-workers' heads off if they tried to talk to me, which they totally don't deserve, since they're lovely people, and 2) utterly freakin' useless anyway, after two days of cruddy nutrition, followed by a fasting period.

And you know what? I'm gonna spare you any discussion about what comes next...except to tell you it's the oh-so-delightful...ahem..."cleanse" one must self-administer before showing up for the actual imaging session. (Oh yeah, you're welcome!) I get to do that later tonight, and I've heard horror stories about it, so it's safe to say I'm eversoverymuch NOT looking forward to this particular activity. Afterwards, however, I'll supposedly just be able to go to bed, since I'll be weak with hunger, and also have to get up obnoxiously early to get this sucker over with at 9 a.m.

People who've gone down this path before have also assured me that The Exam itself is relatively quick, completely painless, and (perhaps most importantly) not-remembered, since you're under anaesthesia during the whole shebang. Meaning: hopefully the worst is behind me at this point? In any case, I can hold onto the notion that, when I'm finished, I''ll be free to scarf down Whatever. The Heck. I. Want. None of which will be the pearl-colored...or doused in butter...or blanketed with cheese...I can promise you that! Wish me luck, and keep your fingers crossed, y'all!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Was it really only ONE week? (Sheesh...felt like more!)

This week turned out to be kind of a chaotic one, and as such, when I finally sat down today to ponder how best to corral the events into any kind of unifying theme, even what I considered my most promising attempts still lacked...cohesiveness. (Translation: "sounded like a rambling mess". Wait, some of my posts end up like that anyway, don't they? Eh, let's make that "even less comprehensible than usual" and we'll just go with it, okay?) Thus I decided that the only real option was to use a hodgepodge approach-- which honestly is more indicative of how things unfolded--so without further ado, here goes:

--Riley's first season playing for his High School soccer team was supposed to have wrapped up on Friday...and it would have, if Monday's game hadn't been postponed until next Wednesday, due to the wet, squishy field conditions. (See, wasn't that confusing? Welcome to my world...) The finale was scheduled--as it usually is--against crosstown rival East Chapel Hill. Those of us rooting for the home team were rewarded by a hard-fought 2-0 victory, meaning that the JV Tigers and Wildcats split the series this year, each prevailing on their own turf. With only the makeup match to go, Riley has told me that--while he's definitely enjoyed being a part of the squad--he's feeling the fatigue from the combined effects of 3 months worth of nightly practices, and getting to bed late because he has to tackle his homework afterwards. He admits he's looking forward to a break--and he'll get it, all right...for about 2 weeks, until his club workouts begin. (Siiiighhhhhh....for both of us....)

--Meanwhile, Derek, having apparently internalized the Perils of Procrastination when frantically scrambling to complete and submit his first 2 college applications, said something along the lines of, "I'd really like to finish the next 2 that are due at the end of October before this weekend, if possible." (Pause: HAAAA-LE-LU-JAH ! Continue...) Aiding the process, one of them was already partially done, since it involved the Coalition App, which he'd "turned in" (you know, electronically...I just wanted to say that, because it amuses me in a nostalgic kind of way...) for University of South Carolina. One more pass of proofreading the demographic and other pertinent details...some Optional-But-Mom-Says-I-Have-to-'Cuz-It'll-Make-Me-a-Stronger-Candidate documents (which is an absolutely terrible name, right? I really should tighten that up...oh, yeah: "Recommended". Doh!)...and an edit of his autobiographical essay, to cut it down to the word count limit so he could include it as an also-not-required-but-why-not-it-can't-hurt Personal Statement....and that was that.

Oh, and the other one was substantially simpler, since they didn't really want any extra materials outside of his transcript (request already filed with the Counseling Department) and test scores (already ordered from the ACT program). Sooooo, the official count now stands at: 4 down, 3 to go...and the deadline for those isn't even until November 30th. Aaaahhhh....

--Switching gears: in seasonal news, we answered the doorbell on Friday night to find a plastic cauldron full of treats on our front porch, with the explanatory note that we'd been...BOOed. Not surprisingly, reactions around Team WestEnders varied, with Husband shaking his head and proclaiming it "silly"...and the boys more vociferously ranting about how they wouldn't support such nonsense, and couldn't believe someone had done this to us, an there was no way they'd follow the (very detailed) instructions and reciprocate. Whereas I walked into the kitchen to see what all the commotion was about and immediately exclaimed, "Oh, how CUTE! We're totally going to keep it going--who do you think should get BOOed next?" (Derek was predictably mortified--he gaped at me for a moment before snapping his mouth closed and retorting, "See? I KNEW she'd say something like that!" in his best tone of mock outrage.)

Hey, in my defense (if I needed one, which I DON'T, right?) our cul-de-sac street wasn't part of an actual neighborhood in Maryland, so while we often saw the evidence of these kinds of things, we were never included in them...and yeah, I'm excited to participate, so what? Anyway, I began considering what to purchase at Target to put into a basket for whoever we chose to "trick" the following night...but Derek brought the discussion to a screeching halt when he crowed, "Hey, I've got an idea! Let's just make it easy--put in 2 cans of beer and leave a sign that says 'You've been...BUSCHED'!" Oh. Good. Heavens. (You see what I have to work with? And this is why, my friends, I NEVER consult the Male Trio when planning holiday festivities...)

--And finally, since we're already sharing Derek's...ahem...razor-sharp-wit...or what have you...we'll bring this to a close with tales from the Senior's recent educational adventures. You see, he experienced not one, but TWO field trips this past week. The first involved a visit to a Health Careers Symposium at UNC Hospital. On a side note, Derek reported that--even though the High School kids' activities were confined to the medical portion of the campus--it was still interesting to be at the university when the undergraduate students are in attendance, and to witness the atmosphere that occurs during a semester.

As for the actual event, he got to participate in some hands-on lessons--for example, one involving fake (dummy) patients and the practice of health care techniques. The directions said to "administer a solution of sodium chloride." At which point my beloved child tells me that he turned toward his friend Mac, who was across the room, and called, "How about we just give them SALT, instead?" (Face...palm... ) Of course he was kidding, and achieved his desired result, which was reducing Mac to hysterical laughter. However, when recounting this to me he commented that, "Now a bunch of kids from snooty private schools think Chapel Hill is full of idiots!" He sounded entirely too gleeful--and satisfied--about this, if you ask me...but at least he had a good time? (Whatever...he didn't get thrown out, and I didn't get a call from his teacher, so we'll just move on...)

His other excursion had him traveling to a spot in Durham on the Eno River, to collect soil samples for analysis by his AP Environmental Science class. Beforehand, he was entirely unthrilled by the prospect of wading, in late-ish October. When he returned, though, he admitted that it had been fairly amusing--even if the only reason was because he missed yet another day of confinement in the actual school building, and instead got to advance his knowledge in the Great Outdoors.

So, there you have it: a week full of sports...Halloween shenanigans...school stuff (both K-12, and higher learning varieties). And now, for a weekend full of....N-O-T-H-I-N-G...whoo hoo!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

That's two Carolinas...checked off the list!

This will go down in the history of Team WestEnders as the week of %$*& College Deadline...Distress. First off, I did mention in a previous post that the applications were all available more than 2 months ago, right? And that the Senior (bless his heart) procrastinated until the calendar read October before actually, you know, beginning to take any steps to complete them? (Which is the reason why it has become a code word in our family--if anyone mentions putting off a task, or not having enough time to do something, someone will cut them off by yelling "AUGUST!", effectively silencing their complaining and letting them know there's no sympathy for those who wait until the Last. Possible. Minute. Yeah, we've heard that word a LOT in this house lately, as you can imagine...)

Even though the actual applications are now online (unlike when I was doing them, and had to copy the details by hand, over...and over...), they still involve a great deal of information, and therefore take time and effort. (I mean, seriously--name, address, parents, blah blah blah...sure, those are tedious, but make sense. But is it really necessary to enter each and every class you've taken in High School...one at a time? When you're getting an official record sent to you separately anyway? I'm asking for a frazzled friend, of course...) Also, we were dismayed to discover that, after all the big talk about the Common App, only one of Derek's potential schools actually uses it. Another two use the Coalition App, but that still leaves 4 unique submissions he's going to have to manage. (Bottom Line: more work. Yaaayyyy....)

Then there's the fact that he neglected to ask for recommendations...until 2 weeks before they were due. "Um, honey? It would probably be in your best interest to give your very busy teachers more of a cushion...to come up with and write down complimentary things about you." (Since it's your future, and all....just sayin'...) Aaaannnnd, the transcript requests, which the Guidance Department would process and send out...with the properly completed form, an address (email or physical), an envelope if the particular university demanded a paper copy rather than an electronic version...and the designated fee, of course.

But before we could even turn in those "please send my transcript to X, Y, and Z institution" papers, Derek informed me we had to sign...the FERPA. I'm sorry, the what, now? (All I could think of when he told me was the Disney cartoon, Phineas and Ferb, and I couldn't imagine what they had to do with higher education. In my defense, it was nearing midnight in the midst of a grueling session of college...stuff...and I was a little loopy at the time....) Anyway...I would say that both of us are intelligent, computer literate, and sensible people...and I'm here to tell you that it nevertheless took our combined efforts, 2 different attempts, and about 30 minutes of precious time to locate that stupid FERPA thingie, nestled deeeeeep within the Common App's endless pages of data. Aaaaarghhhhhh!

But with that having been digitally accepted--by simply typing your name into the box, thank goodness--we could once again move forward. Um...where were we? Oh, yeah: checking to see whether Derek's test scores had already been sent to the various schools...which at least for the ones due this weekend, was a "yes". (Whew! We'll order those other ones...soon....) And then, I kid you not, Derek finally faced the writing portion of his job. You heard me: the day before the deadline, he composed 2 short answer responses and modified a longer autobiographical essay his AP English teacher had assigned at the beginning of the term...for just such an emergency. (Wise man, that one...remind me to thank him profusely...)

He then asked me to proofread/edit/make suggestions--which I was quite willing to do, of course. However, he was probably...less pleased...with my actual comments, since they involved such things as, oh, reworking entire sections, adding more personal examples, and in one case....starting over from scratch. (Yeeeahhh, it was a loooong afternoon o'fun, I tell ya...) Oh, and let's not forget the crucial step of--how shall I put this? "Cutting the fluff and tightening things up" to meet the strict word-count requirements of those unforgiving boxes in the online applications. Oy. I'm pretty sure it's the left side of my brain that hurts at the moment. (So what am I doing in my free time? Yep, writing about it...that's it, I've officially lost my marbles, y'all...)

Finally, at long last, there was only one step left: pay the piper...er "Admissions Office". Could it possibly be as easy as entering the credit card number and clicking "Submit"? Hahahahaha--of course not! The Common App caused us a bit of panic, since after we'd dutifully, thoroughly "Reviewed" the details...no magic "Continue" button appeared to guide us along our way. Derek and I each tried...multiple times...even clearing the browsing history and closing down Chrome to see if it could be a random glitch in cyberspace. When even those drastic measures failed to solve the problem, we abandoned Derek's computer to try another machine...which for whatever reason cooperated beautifully and allowed us to finish the process. ("I don't know, honey--maybe it's something in your security settings....you know....cookies...or whatever." Yeah, they don't call me Tech Support for nothing...snicker...)

Derek and I looked at each other--somewhat weary and shell-shocked--and suddenly broke into huge grins, and high-fived. "Whoo hoo! Two down, buddy! Doesn't that feel great?" He agreed that it did, indeed...and what he tactfully DIDN'T say was that it was also a huuuuuge relief that now his mother could quit nagging him about it for a while...or at least until the next 2 are due...at the end of October. GAH! But for the moment, he's earned some video game time, and I'm gonna spend a quality evening with whatever light and cheerful TV programming I can find. And just maybe...do some preliminary testing of the Halloween chocolate...all with the goal of resting up and mentally preparing for Round 2, naturally!

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Day in Durham

Friday was a gorgeous October day--warm but not scorching, brightly sunny, lightly breezy--that just screamed, "Get outside, spend some time in the fresh air, and enjoy this weather!" But first, there were things to do, of course...a physical therapy session...unavoidable Target and grocery store excursions (darn my family's insatiable demands for food...and personal hygiene products! Wait a minute, scratch that last one--it's true that the Male Trio doesn't require many toiletries, but I'll happily purchase them...for obvious reasons...). By the time I finished with the Must Do list, it was already noon, so I didn't want to venture too far afield for my entertainment.

Hmm....where to go that's relatively close by...offers an opportunity to walk around and sightsee a bit...and most importantly, provides lunch options, since by now I was starving? Well, when you put it that way, our friendly neighbor known as Durham seemed to fit the bill. Besides, I feel like I almost never go there, which is ridiculous, since it's right next door, so to speak. So I grabbed my camera and saddled up--um, "hopped in the Subaru""--for a short drive to the Bull City.

I used my phone's navigation app to direct me to an address "downtown", because the only place Team WestEnders goes on a regular basis is the DBAP for baseball games...but I needn't have bothered, as the parking deck where I left my car turned out to be within sight of the ballpark anyway. (Yeah, it turns out that "downtown" isn't all that big--file that useful little tidbit away for future jaunts!) Therefore I recognized where I was, for sure, but still hadn't actually strolled the sidewalks of that particular area before--so off I went.

Aaaaannnnd, Durham did not disappoint. I think what I appreciated most about it was the charming mix of history--as evidenced by the well-preserved buildings and commemorative statues sprinkled throughout the center of the city--and modern cool, with a seemingly endless variety of hip coffee shops, trendy boutiques, and unique restaurants.

In fact, it was while I was snapping pictures in front of one of the former (a grand, stately post office) that an intriguing sign for one of the latter caught my eye. From a distance, it appeared to show a..blue...chicken?...and I stood there for a moment, pondering out loud several things that were running through my mind. Such as, "Why is the poultry blue?" "Why isn't there a name of any kind on the banner, which might explain...anything at all about it?" And finally, "I wonder what kind of establishment that actually is?"

Clearly, I had to find out! (And I also figured it would be best to move on, before people started looking at me funny, since I was standing in the middle of the sidewalk...essentially having a conversation with myself. If I'm being honest, I do this probably more often than is strictly, you know, "normal" One of these days it's probably gonna come around to bite me in the butt. Until then, I'll make the most of my freedom to be out and about in the big, wide world...without appointed supervision...)

Anyway, the answer was: a small cafe called Scratch (which was helpfully noted on the OTHER side of the sign), serving what appeared from the menu to be delicious organic, farm-to-table types of dishes. Um...yes, please--this has ME written all over it! The chili-roasted sweet potato salad (on a bed of local lettuces, with bleu cheese vinaigrette and pecan cornbread croutons) called my name...and it was deeee-licious. (Bonus: my children would have been utterly horrified by the...let's call it "crunchy granola tree-hugger nature" of this place, so the fact that I got to savor a meal here on my own was hugely satisfying...)


And for the icing on the cake, if you will, when I emerged back into the sunlight from my lunchtime rest and refresh and took a good look around, I instantly knew where I was...a mere block or so away from an awesome venue called 9th Street Bakery...where past (scrumptious) experience reminds me that they sell a mouth-watering vegan, gluten free pumpkin bar. But since they make everything in-house, it remained to be seen whether they'd be stocking those fabulous sweets on this given day. Sure enough, when I walked in the front door, holding my breath, I immediately spotted them in the display case...and BOOM, my Durham adventure was...sweetly complete.

Suffice it to say that I was one happy camper as I headed back to my car. Photos, food, and fun...on a free Friday--what more could I ask for...except maybe another pumpkin bar? (Man...next time I'm buying TWO of those things...) Thanks, Durham--and peace out, for now!