Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Can I call a time-out?

Well, friends, it was a wild weekend of sporting….shenanigans….for Team WestEnders, let me tell ya! I mean, there was the obvious NCAA mayhem, which we couldn’t seem to tear ourselves away from--although to me, the atmosphere of upsets and unpredictability created an uncomfortable feeling...sort of like rubbernecking on the highway,as you drive past an accident.

I mean, c’mon...first the overall #1 seed falls in spectacular fashion to a scrappy 16 from Baltimore that no one (except perhaps those of us who attended school across town in Charm City) had ever heard of, and whose mascot is a friendly, hardworking family pooch. And then, speaking of spunky...and alma maters (yeah, yeah, a different Loyola, but still the same saint, right?...how about the Ramblers from Chicago, and their adorable chaplain, Sister Jean? But could you please do me a huge favor, and NOT mention the hometown crew, the reigning champs, who got embarrassingly bounced out of the Round of 32…’cuz it’s just too soon

Moving on to a more personal note, Riley and I ran our traditional “first race of the season”, the 5K for Education. We like this one because it takes place in downtown Chapel Hill, and the route winds mostly through UNC’s lovely campus. However, I will say that--although the path is always exactly the same--it somehow manages to feel hillier to me every year. Eh, it’s all good, though--anything under a half-hour, I’ll take for the win! Riley, of course, cruised in 9 minutes ahead of me, and finished just out of the medal contention, 11th overall, and 4 SECONDS behind the guy who beat him out in his age group. (Rats--so close!) Regardless, we were both content with the results, especially having just started back up after our self-imposed “off season” (which in NC consists of...only January and February….)

Then we could go home and chill for the rest of the day…whoops...I mean “get cleaned up, grab a snack, and drive an hour to an early afternoon soccer game”. Now, I realize this is nothing unusual for our family...however, the match itself turned out to be quite the drama-filled affair. The first half actually progressed fairly routinely--a goal was scored on either end of the pitch, making it even when the whistle blew to signal the end of the 35 minutes. Early in the second period, though, was when things got a bit...chaotic. You see, the spectators rooting for Riley’s black-clad team felt that the referee had been regularly calling fouls that just...weren’t...with all of them going against the visitors. On one of these questionable whistles, he granted the opposing team an indirect kick in front of the goal.

It’s what happened next that began to send things careening off the rails: on the free kick, several of the other squad’s players appeared to fall to the ground. The ref promptly decided that they’d been pushed, or tripped, and awarded a penalty kick...which they converted, to put them up 2-1. But here’s where it goes to  crazytown: our goalie’s father was recording the sequence, presumably for analysis and instructional purposes later. Obviously, we don’t have the benefit of instant replay, or multiple camera angles, or ESPN-quality film...but his short video seems to show the players in question throwing themselves to the ground under our guys’ feet, to draw the ref’s attention, and the foul call.

Soooo….at this point, our normally soft-spoken, calm, understated coach...went ballistic. Not in a profane or disrespectful fashion, mind you, but...let’s just say, “loudly stating his opinion on the quality of the officiating”, and leave it at that. The ref immediately issued him a red card, essentially ejecting him from the field. We heard later that this was ostensibly done because he’d “stepped out of the coach’s box”...which I’ve never seen enforced, in all the years I’ve been attending soccer events, by the way.

For good measure, he also red-carded one of our players, and sent him off as well. (In this case, I assume he was making...inappropriate and/or uncomplimentary remarks...within the ref’s earshot.) Finally, in a stunning coup de grace, while we were all milling about, talking amongst ourselves about this shocking turn of events, the ref blew his whistle with an air of finality...and declared that the game was OVER.

I’m sorry...what now? According to our team manager (a player’s mother), since her name wasn’t written on the official roster, she wasn’t allowed to take over for our ousted coach and finish the match. (I will restrain myself with great difficulty from commenting, here....except to say that it sounds like something that rhymes with wool...spit.) Much furious discussion ensued, but to no avail, so we had no choice but to pack up and drive an hour back home, after a supremely unsatisfying interlude in Sanford, NC. Apparently, an appeal will be filed with the league, requesting to replay the game at a neutral site...WITHOUT the services of that particular referee, one would hope.

Anyway, it certainly gave Riley and me plenty to talk about on the long return trip. And by now, he had definitely earned his relaxation time, yeah? Suuuuuure...right up until Sunday morning, that is, when he and Husband had to get back in the car and travel TWO hours this time for another game...in which the team would be instructed by an alternative leader, and playing without the boy who’d been tossed, since a red card essentially amounts to a one-game suspension.

As for me, I was just happy I got to sit that one out, having paid my dues on Saturday. And that, my friends, is entirely enough athletic commotion for one weekend, thankyouverymuch! And now, it’s Monday…..siiighhhh…. Hey, is there any way I can get myself penalized...and sit on the bench until Tuesday? Hmm...

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Road to College...or, "Are we there yet?"

Over the course of the past 6 months or so, Team WestEnders learned that the College Notification Season, if you will, means enduring a prolonged state of heightened excitement... mixed with no small amount of trepidation. While I believe that, technically, this period can last all the way until April 1st, it’s over for us, since Derek heard from his final school last week. (For the record: Virginia Tech, weighing in with an acceptance envelope that read “What’s a Hokie? You are!”) While it was undoubtedly pleasing to close the proverbial book on that whole experience, it didn’t change Derek’s firm Top 2 preferred universities, which have been South Carolina and JMU ever since he got into both of them, some time ago.

So for a while now, it’s just been a waiting game...to find out what--if any--scholarships and/or financial aid either of the contenders was going to offer...crunch the numbers once we have all the available information...and determine who’s going to pay for how much, basically. With both of his faves being out-of-state options, obviously their tuition was much higher than it would have been for a resident...or, say, if he'd prioritized any one of those lovely North Carolina schools that start with the letters U-N-C.

And Derek, of course, didn’t inherit his mother’s innate impatience (thank goodness), so he’s just been biding his time, calmly holding out for the day that he gets any kind of news through the...higher education grapevine...or whatever. Then, one afternoon in late February, he came...the only way I can describe it is “bounding” into the room where I was sitting, gesturing at me wildly, and stumbling over his words as he tried to rapidly say, “Mom...mom...just...come here, you’ve gotta c’mere right now!”

Whoa...you have to understand that this is an exorbitant amount of animation and...near-hysteria...from my typically low-key kid. But I was reassured by the fact that he seemed gleeful, rather than upset or scared, so I just got up from my chair and followed him into his bedroom, to get to the bottom of the commotion.Then, with an enormous grin on his face, he pointed to his own laptop and commanded, “There--read THAT!”

A quick glance revealed that it appeared to be an official letter of some kind, with the logo identifying the sender as the University of South Carolina. Congratulations on your acceptance, blah blah blah--yeah, we know all that. Scanning down a few sentences, though, I finally arrived at the important part... where it stated that they were prepared to provide Derek an academic scholarship...that would make his tuition equal to that of an in-state student. Ohhh….kaaay. NOW I could totally see why he was so hyped!

I must admit...I did some jumping around of my own, after reading the happy correspondence. And hugging, of course. And giving props for a job well done (with the irresistible, unspoken parental subtext of “See? We told you that hard work would pay off!”). It goes without saying that Derek was utterly delighted--to the point that he declared “This puts South Carolina back on top of the list!” (If you can even use that term….for a group of 2…) Of course, this is with the caveat that James Madison has yet to make its presence known, which we still assume will happen around April Fool’s Day (but hopefully NOT be a joke…).

Once that happens, one of two scenarios will unfold: either SC will win the money game outright, and Derek will declare himself a Gamecock and be perfectly content. Or...JMU will come up with a comparable package, putting the institutions back on level ground, and Derek will have some serious soul-searching to do, to choose one over the other. He’s set a tentative deadline of his birthday (in mid April) to decide, one way or the other--purple or “garnet”...Duke dog or...fighting...chicken? Either way, it’s a pleasant position to be in, at this point in his Senior year, yeah?

In the meantime, he’s also reached the conclusion that, since he attended an actual Admitted Students’ Day at J-Mad, he should do the same with USC...you know, just to feel like he can compare them head-to-head, and give each of them the same consideration when making his final selection. Therefore we’re headed down in a few weeks to spend a Saturday in Columbia, taking one final tour, wandering amongst the coeds...soaking in the southern hospitality....and drinking sweet tea. (Just kidding about that last part, but it sounded like it fit the image…)

As I keep telling myself, “Hang in there--the finish line is almost in sight!” (I mean, maybe if you close one eye, and squint the other, and tilt your head just so, and hold your breath, you’ll catch a glimpse of it…but it’s there, I swear!) In any case, stay tuned for a report...from the OTHER Carolina!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Teenage biology...and chemistry...

Whattya say we cover something a little different today, hmm? Such as, for instance, the murky, intriguing realm of..."Medical Mysteries"--which is one that Team WestEnders rarely has occasion to venture into, fortunately. I mean, we counted ourselves super-lucky and grateful that we escaped the Great Pertussis Outbreak of 2018 unscathed. And (so far) none of us have fallen victim to this year's particularly nasty flu virus (excuse me for one second while I knock on wood...and offer thanks to the....I don't know, Patron Saint of Immunity? Sure, we'll go with that...)

So yeah, we've been enjoying a lovely reprieve from the usual seasonal maladies. However, before we could celebrate being out of the proverbial...Winter woods, if you will...Riley suddenly began complaining about his legs feeling exhausted. Now, this is somewhat to be expected, with his busy, demanding soccer schedule of 90-minute practices 3 times a week, and 1 or 2 matches on weekends. But he explained that he felt more fatigued than he considered "normal", or than he should be. Then I remembered that for a month or so, he'd also been mentioning how cold he feels, and how difficult it's been for him to get--and stay--warm.

This detail by itself might not trigger any alarm bells on the Maternal Scale of Concern...except that this is the kid we always used to call our part-polar-bear. The one who--regardless of the current weather conditions--was comfortable at all times, and dressed accordingly in the least possible amount of lightweight clothing. Now he expressed irritation at the fact that he felt chilly more often than not, and couldn't seem to keep his hands from freezing at his team workouts.

Let's see....tired during exercise...unable to maintain body heat...this was starting to sound suspiciously familiar...taking me back to around 2010, when I was experiencing similar symptoms... and subsequent testing revealed that I had extremely low iron. This wasn't a huge surprise to me, since it was true of my own mother as well. Add to that Husband's side of the family...where he and his mom also have a tendency toward anemia....and I figured poor Riley was pretty much screwed on both genetic sides of the Fe-front.

All of this amounted to mere speculation and quasi-educated guessing, of course, until we got professional confirmation. So we made an appointment to talk with the boys' physician and gather his thoughts about the whole situation. Dr. W listened intently to the entire saga, asked probing questions, and eventually agreed that taking a blood sample and ordering some labs would be the logical next step to figuring out what was happening.

(Side note: one of his queries was "Have you done any traveling lately?" delivered with what seemed like almost feigned nonchalance. I laughed and replied, "I know where you're going with this, but we did NOT visit any exotic places over the holidays, so while I'm sure you're secretly hoping for another thrilling botfly incident, you can just forget about it, thankyouverymuch!" He grinned and admitted, "I felt like I needed to be thorough and ask about African Sleeping Sickness...just in case!" Oh, good grief...nothing like being a weird medical celebrity at your pediatrician's practice, yeah? Siiighhhhh...)

Next, a semi-traumatic...phlebotomy event...ensued, involving 3 nurses, 1 of whom seemed to know exactly what she was doing, but was using Riley as a guinea pig to teach the others, resulting in the necessity for multiple jabs with the needle, in order to obtain the required vials of blood. Then there was nothing left to do but go home and wait for the doctor to contact us and explain the magic numbers from the test results, which would hopefully illuminate what was causing Riley's discomfort and give us a course of action to remedy it.

Sure enough, I received an email a couple of days later, with a full report....containing what, to me, appeared as a list of random acronyms with no explanations, and corresponding numerical values that meant absolutely nothing to me. Um...yay? Happily, before I applied myself to Googling each and every item for clarification, Dr. W followed up with a much more helpful phone call, in which he indicated that Riley's iron is, in fact, completely within normal limits (Excellent!)...but his liver enzymes and thyroid hormones were low, for some reason. (What the WHAT?) He hypothesized that sometime recently, Riley may have been exposed to a virus, which didn't even cause him noticeable symptoms, but which prompted his system to fight it off, nonetheless.

Huh. Well, as a parent, I've gotta say, I find the uncertainty and murkiness of this news...partially fascinating...while also a wee bit terrifying. Soooo anyway, how do we treat it? Dr. W assured me that sometimes thyroids "just get a little bit out of whack" (which I'm sure is the most up-to-date technical term used by respected physicians everywhere), and we may not ever be able to ascertain the specific reason, but we can give Riley a low dose of thyroid hormone for a month, and see if it makes him feel better.

Alrighty, then. Operation Thyroid Kick-Start has commenced. We're about halfway in, and Riley reports that he's doing better, and already noticing a marked improvement in his energy levels. Furthermore, he's still managing his full sports schedule, without having to miss any team....stuff, which is important to him as well. Sometime in the next 2-4 weeks, we'll have another face-to-face with Dr. W...and a hopefully smooth-and-painless repeat blood draw...and find out that all of the rebellious hormones and enzymes and whatnot have just as paradoxically decided to leap back into the optimum range.

In the meantime, what do you think the Patron Saint of Immunity would like as a tribute? Perhaps a nice big jar of...Nyquil? Ooooh, or to make it more challenging, and therefore meaningful, maybe something with pseudoephedrine, since you have to show your license and get that from behind the pharmacy counter these days? Ha! To remain in their continued good graces, I'm willing to give it a shot...

Monday, March 5, 2018

A hair-raising incident...or...not...(Sorry!)

So, to wrap up our February antics--wait, what's that you say? It's March? Holy time-slip, Batman, how the HECK did that happen? I mean, I get that it's a short month and all, but Jeez Louise, that went by fast. Okay, then, to kick off the 3rd month of 2018, how about we start with an amusing Derek anecdote, hmm?

Let me just lead off with: If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: I'm grateful in many ways to be parenting boys. Meaning absolutely no disrespect to girls--seeing as how I am one, after all--or their mothers, but there are just some things that seem...easier...and less complicated...with guys. Take, oh...haircuts, for example. Here's how they typically transpire for Team WestEnders: about every 8 weeks or so, Derek will say, "Man, my hair is getting on my nerves! Can we go to Great Clips soon?" Then we usually do the online check-in thing, and swing by after church, since the salon that's most convenient is our the way home. Approximately 15 minutes later, the teenagers are freshly shorn, and bada bing, bada boom, we're good to go for another couple of months.

Now, when the kids were younger, I'd speak with whomever was going to be grooming them, to explain how they'd like it cut. But with the wonders of modern technology these days, the salon can save the details of customers' preferences in the computer, so whichever stylist you happen to get can just pull it up and follow the exact same instructions at every visit, if that's what you want. And this has always worked out wonderfully...until our most recent encounter, that is. Both sons went back and sat down at the same time, but Derek emerged much sooner than I anticipated...wearing a shell-shocked expression...and sporting an unexpected buzz cut.

"Um...is that what you wanted?" I whispered, so only he could hear me. He shook his head vehemently, running a hand over his prickly 'do, looking quite agitated. Right behind him, the lady who'd administered this...surprise...perhaps seeing our less-than-enthusiastic reactions...hustled over and claimed that "He thought he wanted the #4 all over!" But I'm here to tell you that can't be true, due to the aforementioned electronic record of what he always gets, which I can assure you does NOT involve clippers being used all over his head.

Clearly there was a serious communication breakdown, but as they say, "What's done is done" (no matter how...unfortunate). And also, speaking as a female who has definitely lived through this scenario multiple times during her life (Okay, not that I ever ended up looking like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, or anything, but you get my drift...)...and who's inherently much more sensitive to the potential trauma it might entail, I could offer the following comfort: "Don't worry--it'll grow back quickly!" Furthermore, the lesson to be learned from this--the hard way--is that, no matter how many times you've patronized a certain establishment, even knowing that they should have proof of what you've asked for in the past, ALWAYS confirm the details with the stylist BEFORE they pick up the tools and start snipping...or...mowing...away.

Derek--being the generally undramatic dude that he is--didn't suffer any kind of emotional meltdown over his bad hair experience...but he did emphatically declare that he would be wearing a baseball cap...at all times...until it gets long enough for him to feel comfortable uncovering it to display to the world at large...or, you know, everyone at his High School. Speaking as his mother, I can objectively report that it's not by any means horrible...it just doesn't...look like the Derek we know and love.

His friends, naturally, weighed in with various opinions, from the helpful and supportive, to the...not so much. Let's see, according to Derek's report...the baseball player shrugged and commented, "Yeah, I've been there." (Since the team has a tradition of shaving their heads each year...I believe before the playoffs? For...solidarity...and good luck? Or some such nonsense...) The one I think of as the...gentlest musketeer in the group...lent his sympathy in a predictably kind fashion. The...um..."class clown" of the bunch--who went through an extended "hat phase" himself, and isn't used to seeing Derek in one, noticed the headgear immediately and wanted to know what was up. And the last amigo? Well, Derek ruefully said that he "cracked up" and thought it was utterly hilarious. (Pffttt....BOYS! Amiright?)

Along the way, Derek has to endure--and deflect--the inevitable entreaties to remove his camouflage cap. Such as last week when another friend, who happens to be a girl, made a deal with him. It seems that she had to wear her glasses in school that day, rather than her contacts, so in Derek's words, she told him that, "If I have to look like a librarian, you can look like an army recruit."

So yeah, Derek is undoubtedly receiving a valuable education in...surviving a Bad Hair...Month? I'm sure in some way it's character building...or whatever. All I can say is, I'm extremely grateful at the timing of this particular snafu....long after Senior portraits, and still waaaay before Graduation photo ops! Eh, and I suppose I'll save a bunch of money by not having to return to the haircut emporium for a while, right? (Whew! While not technically a Win, we'll go ahead and call that a Silver Lining...and send hair-growing vibes...ha!)

Monday, February 26, 2018

Notes from the Team WestEnders branch of AAA...

Well, folks, we've come to that special time in the midst of the cold, dark season...when I aim to lighten the Winter mood by putting together the Summer agenda for our merry little band of wanderers. (Except that Mother Nature has been having, I don't know, hot flashes or something, causing February temps in the 70s, along with a delightful bombardment of pollen, from all the confused plant life blooming so early. But yeah, VACATION PLAN, WHOO HOO!)

So you might recall that on our drive back from Maryland over the December holidays, I queried the car full of males for help in choosing this year's destination. The very first reaction, predictably and inevitably, was a gleeful shout of "Cleveland!"...which has been Husband's standard response to ANY geographical question, for all of the 23 years I've known him. (To this day, I still Don't. Know. Why. But I've become quite adept at ignoring it, and moving on...) The rest of the vehicle's occupants--otherwise known as "the sons"--remained mute...aside from some incoherent mumbling...as they either tried to figure out a viable suggestion...or a way to avoid the question altogether. (Yeeeahhh, probably that LAST one...)

Waking up and remembering who I was working with, I helpfully jumped into the silence to remind them that it's our "domestic trip" year...which still got me nothing useful out of them. So I gave up and just started tossing out options, figuring I'd keep going until they indicated that they approved of one. I honestly didn't have to come up with too many choices, though, because all 3 of them stopped me at "Colorado", and expressed their enthusiasm at the notion of paying a visit to the wild, wild West...or what have you.

Now, Husband and I have been to the lovely Centennial State on several occasions...but not for a looooong time...and the kids never have, so it's pretty exciting for all of us. And then, because it'll be a relatively short--and close...ish--excursion, I mentioned that we could possibly do another little jaunt, like a 4-day-weekend road trip, perhaps. "Where might you like to go for that?" I asked. The answer came almost instantaneously from the back seat, where both of the kids simultaneously yelled, "Atlanta!" Alrighty, then...I think we've found our 2 winners! (With a minimum of threats, pulling teeth, and/or chucking things at them to force their cooperation--yay!)

With that decided, now all that was left was...oh, right, "the hard part". That would be me, acting as our Travel Agent, tidying up all of the logistical details to make the dreams a reality, as it were. I began with our southern neighbor, since the only moving parts that had to be nailed down ahead of time were a place to sleep...and baseball tickets (natch....). Although Derek had also decreed that he wanted to stay "in the exact same hotel we did last time" because "I fear change" (which is a load of hooey, by the way, but he enjoys being faux dramatic from time to time, since it cracks him up. Gooberhead...), I had to reject that particular institution, because the quoted price at the time we wanted to go was outrageously beyond my comfort level. I did manage to find something reasonable, about a mile away, so we're gonna call that a Win, and the teenager can get over it. A quick selection of seats at SunTrust Park for the Braves vs...the ORIOLES...and the advance booking for Hot-lanta was D-O-N-E.

Then I tackled Colorado--or at least the parts we intended to visit. We'd be flying into Denver, so I needed to find us lodging...to which I quickly added, once I started searching, "that doesn't cost an arm, leg, or any other body part". Easier said than done, as it turn out, partially because we are, at this point, 4 full-sized humans who need adequate bed space to get a good night's rest. (One side note: this was the very first time I'd ever had to enter "3 adults" into a search engine, because we'll be traveling after Derek's 18th birthday...which caused me a moment of shock...and then a sniffle...)

Once I'd successfully handled that particular puzzle--and obtained our tickets to the Rockies game (Seriously, is anyone surprised? Didn't think so...)--I turned my attention to the other city we'd be exploring: Boulder. You see, we knew we wanted to tour Rocky Mountain National Park, and Boulder happens to be smack dab between it and the capital, so it seemed to be a logical place to spend the middle days of our adventure. Besides, Boulder looks like a hip, happening town, with lots of stuff to do and see, so why not, right?

Umm...did I also forget to mention "popular"? Oh, and its less-desirable cousin, "pricey"? Researching hotels in the entire surrounding area quickly gave me a case of sticker-shock...so in desperation, I tried an alternative method, with which I admit that I have less experience, and more trepidation: the home sharing/rental industry. I went in gingerly, but I was reassured by the fact that I encountered what appeared to be clean, well-maintained, lovely houses/apartments/condos and the like--nothing sketchy, or scary, or seedy. After wading through a boatload of properties until my head was swimming with information (Okay, I promise I'm done with the water metaphor--I'm not really sure where that came from, anyway...sorry?), I FINALLY mustered my courage and just picked one, already.

And in as clear a case of "OMG, are you KIDDING me with this" as I've ever run into, the owner promptly emailed to let me know that she had 1) grown up in Maryland and 2) attended UNC. Holy "It's a Small World" Batman, that's crazy stuff! (And now you've probably got that infernal Disney ditty stuck in your head, as I do. And I'm totally not apologizing for that, because misery loves company...)

So I'm going to interpret this as a sign that the Travel Gods have put their preliminary Stamp of Approval on our Summer of 2018 itinerary so far. To continue to court their favor, I'll be sure to make regular sacrifices between now and when we depart. Hmmm....an offering of peaches for Atlanta is a given, yeah? And...maybe raise a few glasses of Coors for our friends to the west? (As long as it's more of a "symbolic gesture", and I don't have to actually, you know, DRINK it, I can certainly do that!) Now I just have to commune with the sometimes temperamental spirits of "airline travel" and "rental cars", and we'll be all set! Wish me luck...

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

College...Victory Tour? (Part 1)

Naturally, Derek was super-stoked to receive acceptance letters from his top two college choices. However, they remained, as he put it, "exactly equal" in terms of his desire to enroll in either one of them as an undergrad. He'd enjoyed both of his initial tours of the campuses, and there was nothing that stood out to him that would set either one above the other at this point. So, he proposed a plan to revisit each one, to refresh them in his mind and try to view them with a critical eye...and see if anything came out in the wash, as they say. (Actually, DO they say that? I might have mangled the actual idiom...or just flat-out made it up. Eh, whattya say we just go with it, and move on...)

Lo and behold, the Founding Father came through with a convenient Admitted Students Day, scheduled for February 17th. Thus we made a date with Mr. Madison, and planned our attack--um, make that "Friday Field Trip...The Higher Education Version". Since Harrisonburg is about 4 hours away, I even granted verrrry rare permission for Derek to miss his afternoon of High School classes, so we could get on the road early, drive up the night before, and be well-positioned for a running start on Saturday's full slate of activities.

Now, we'd only done this trip once before, trusting the GPS directions--which led us on what seemed at the time like a wild goose chase, with a plethora of easy-to-miss turns, tiny rural roads, and even a brief period in what appeared to be neighborhoods. In short, it struck us as a ridiculously convoluted method of travel, so we determined to figure out our own--preferably highway--route this time. Aaaannnd, about that...oh, we stuck to major interstates, all right...but guess what? We discovered that doing so adds about a HUNDRED miles to the delightful trek...and 90 minutes in the car. Ugh. Lesson learned: take the crazy-ass roundabout way, and Suck. It. Up.

We weren't exactly aided by the weather this time, either. You see, when we left Chapel Hill, we'd been basking in a glorious (albeit somewhat freakish) 75-degree, sunny day. I mean, even I was able to don shorts and a t-shirt for the beginning of our outing, so you KNOW it was warm. However, as we headed north, we encountered an array of factors--variable amounts of rain, from a drizzle to a downpour...intermittent high winds that were strong enough to buffet even the stalwart Subaru...and possibly my favorite, visibility-killing FOG--all of which conspired to drop the temperature by about 25 degrees in Virginia...and prompted me to make a desperate wardrobe change in a nasty gas station bathroom when we stopped for fuel and snacks.

Anyway, we did eventually arrive, check into our hotel, and get situated. I'd done some homework to find a dinner spot that included gluten-free and vegetarian options on the menu...and as a bonus, it turned out to be located in the heart of downtown Harrisonburg. Thus Derek and I had a light meal at the Golden Pony, where our waiter was a charming probably-college-student and our food was simple, but also yummy...and inexpensive. (Win!)

Then we got down to the business of figuring out our agenda for JMU, Take 2. Of course, there were some official presentations being offered, but Derek really only wanted to try and attend the 3rd (Biology/Biotechnology) and 4th (General Ed) ones. Other than that, his Must Do List included walking every nook and cranny of the entire campus, popping into the bookstore, exploring the student union, reacquainting himself with the rec center...and researching the proximity of off-campus necessities, such as a drugstore, supermarket, and/or Target (to determine whether they were easily accessible to a vehicle-less college student). We also kept in mind that it would be in our best interest to get our butts in gear in the a.m., since there was an ominous prediction for a "wintry mix" to arrive by 4:00...and ideally, we wanted to satisfy all of our own personal requirements for the Open House, and then vamoose before that happened.

That's why we happened to be up, reasonably awake, and out the door headed for the university by 8:25 on Saturday morning. Yeeeahhh...make that "us, and about a thousand other potential incoming Freshmen"...which made for a big old gridlock situation, crawling onto campus and toward the designated parking lot. So we missed a few minute of the introduction--no harm, no foul (we definitely weren't the last to meander in, after all). It was a gloomy, chilly day, meteorologically speaking...but the mood couldn't have been more cheerful, from the upbeat comments given by faculty and staff, to the brightly-clad student ambassadors posted at regular intervals to answer questions, direct people, hand out JMU swag...or just chat about how much they loved the place, presumably.

(When we arrived, there was even a group of them stationed outside the building to welcome visitors to the day's events. They were cheering and greeting people as they passed, which was sweet...but then they spontaneously broke into what I imagine must have been the alma mater song, which Derek and I felt was a bit...over-the-top...for first thing in the morning. Nevertheless, I applaud their enthusiasm...)

But Derek and I were on a...pedestrian mission, if you will...so we put the sneakers to the sidewalks and got moving. The first amusing thing that we noticed was that when we hoofed it from one corner of the grounds, diagonally to the far opposite side, it took us all of...7 minutes. We were so amazed by this that we did a full lap around, just to check and see if this was a fluke--and it still didn't take that long. This was useful information, because to us it meant that it's a compact campus that's easy to manage on foot..and yet it somehow manages to feel spacious at the same time, so that you never feel overrun by crowds.

After that, we scoped out the bookstore, which proved to be filled with a pleasingly extensive and tempting selection of purple merchandise (which we restrained ourselves from buying...at least until he decides once and for all where he's going to spend his next 4 years!). The rec center remained as impressive and enticing as we remembered it, with different types of courts (basketball, racquetball, volleyball), oodles of machines (weights, ellipticals, treadmills, bikes), various workout rooms (for yoga and other group classes), multiple pools (separated for "fun swimming", and laps), a track, and extras, like ping pong tables, several rock climbing stations, and a shop where you could purchase a healthy nosh before or after your exercise session.

On a related note, Derek wanted to see what the football, baseball, and soccer stadiums looked like--and, I suppose, judge whether they were up to his standards or not. (Hey, everyone has their own criteria for what's important for their collegiate satisfaction, right? Or whatever...I was just along for the moral support...) Honestly, the only thing that he found slightly...underwhelming...was the student union--but even that improved when we ascertained that there are 2 of them, one each for the East and West sides of campus. Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all of this...traipsing...we made it to one of the dining facilities to grab a drink...and a second one to actually sit down and eat lunch. (Also things that count as near and dear to a young adult male's heart...or, you know, "stomach"...) Suffice it to say, there were myriad options, most of which you could walk up and serve yourself--salad, sandwiches, pizza, waffles, other hot breakfast items, tacos, pasta, a bakery, ice cream, plus some that I probably missed in all the chaos (since it was afternoon by this point, and the late-starting coeds had now awoken and joined the fray).

However, I think I made Derek's day when I pointed out--of all things--the dispenser of milk, which proclaimed that it was obtained from a local farm, and boasted separate taps for whole, skim...and CHOCOLATE. (That's right--we began giving Derek Quik-flavored moo-juice when he was an underweight toddler and the pediatrician was encouraging us to pack as many calories as possible into the little guy. And to this day, the now-almost-6-foot dude is completely unable/unwilling to drink plain milk. I'm not even kidding--if it comes down to a tie-breaker between the 2 universities, this might be what tips it toward JMU.) And the look of child-like joy on his face when he took a big gulp? It was downright priceless, y'all.

However, due to the circus atmosphere occurring in the hallowed halls of college eating, it took us a while to get in, obtain edibles, and scarf them down, which caused us to unfortunately miss most of Session 3. (Rats! But I consoled myself with the thought that he'll have plenty of time to talk to these folks if he ends up at J-Mad...and commits to a science major of some sort. So yeah, there are still a lot of unknowns, which is why we didn't sweat it too much...).

While we were regrouping and considering how to kill a few minute until the next presentation, we happened to glance out one of the large windows in the Convocation Center...at the suddenly snowy scene outside. Well, harrumph! I simply hate it when Old Man Winter blows into town 3 hours early! Derek and I scrambled to rewrite our carefully orchestrated playbook, to prioritize what he most wanted to accomplish before we got the heck outta Dodge--er, "Harrisonburg". Luckily, since we'd been so diligent about using our morning hours wisely, he really felt that he'd gotten the full campus experience that he was seeking on this jaunt. (Yay, us!) Furthermore, as the flakes swirled around us and tiny shards of ice pelted our heads, he mused that "It's good to know that a dreary, cold, bad weather day doesn't change how much I still like it here!"

The only thing he still wanted to examine was the aforementioned retail piece of the puzzle, so we retrieved the car and set out to find the nearest shopping mecca. The verdict was: while there was nothing within walking distance, it would be about a 5-minute bus ride to a strip that contains everything from CVS to Food Lion to Target, Kohl's, and Dick's Sporting Goods. So, done...and DONE!
Before the mercury started falling and the roads got slippery, we hightailed it back to the interstate and commenced our southbound journey--resigning ourselves to using the preposterous GPS instructions and hoping for the best. (If you think for even a moment that I might be exaggerating...as I admit I am wont to do on occasion...here's a summary of the nonsense: I-81 (So far, so good, right? Wait for it...); I-64 (Still okay...); US 250; (aaannnd, now it goes off the rails) VA 151, 6, and 29; NC 86; Forest Avenue (What? Yes, that's just a small rural street...); Mt. Willing Road (Ditto); I-40 (Hallelujah, we're almost home!); Old NC 86. Now do you see what I mean? And that, my friends, is the quickest way to get there. At least it's...somewhat picturesque? Ay yi yi...)

It was definitely a whirlwind 28-ish hour undertaking--which both of us agreed was exhausting, but also thoroughly enjoyable, productive, and successful. Mind you, NOT that it helped Derek rule out one of his contenders; quite the contrary, he remained just as enamored of the university after spending another whole day there, during an actual semester, with campus life in full swing, wandering amongst the collegiate denizens.

But that's only half of our fact-gathering, of course. So in a couple more weeks we're doing it all over again with the University of South Carolina...where we most assuredly will not have to contend with any icy precipitation...and where we will be on the lookout for dairy-fresh chocolate milk, just in case it's needed when decision-time looms in April! To be continued...wish us luck...

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….