Sunday, August 20, 2017

Smiling all the way to the bank...

So, Derek's about 2 months into his first employment gig, and I'd say that overall it seems to be going fine...or, you know, as well as can be expected for a part-time High School fast food position, anyway. When he began this journey, he naturally had NO idea about what was involved, procedurally, to become a member of the Working Class. For example, Husband and I asked if he'd filled out any official-looking paperwork, or provided banking information to the manager, so he could get paid at some point. Derek gave us a blank stare and shrugged, "Um...I don't think so." Oh-kay....so we backed up a bit and inquired as to whether he even knew when--or how often--he'd be...ahem..."reaping the rewards of his labor". Again, he professed to have nary a clue. "I assume it'll happen sometime," he helpfully offered, when I sighed in exasperation. (Oh, thanks, sweetie--that's such useful information! Grrr....)

Well, it took a while, but apparently the manager did eventually get around to filing the requisite forms, because one evening, Derek came home after his shift, and waved...something...triumphantly in my direction. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be one of those waxy paper bags they put the cookies in for customers, so my first thought was that he'd brought me a treat. Alas, this was not the case, as he informed me that this was the standard delivery measure not only for baked goods, but also for...his every-other-week PAYCHECK. (Oh, fine--I guess that's also exciting....)

"Well, how much is it?" I demanded. He shook his head, "I waited to open it until I got home!" Aww, that's sweet--so we could share this momentous occasion of your very first payday. I absolutely appreciate that...now let's see it, already! He ceremonially extracted the paper and excitedly read out the total...which, while not "professional sports star money" or anything, represented a decent amount. Especially since it was a bigger chunk of dough than he'd ever been given at one time, before! I took a closer look, however, and had to burst his bubble just a little bit. "Er, honey? Let me teach you a little bit really quickly about....TAXES. You noticed that number on the paystub? Now compare it to the actual portion that you'll be keeping. Yeah, those minor things called "deductions"--they're your government's piece...sorry." 

Fortunately, the realities of living in--and having to contribute to--a well-established society failed to dampen his enthusiasm for his newly acquired...wealth. I chuckled a bit at his glee...but also took a moment to reinforce that THIS was the reason we'd been so adamant that he get a job, so he could acquire his own pocket cash...that he, himself worked to earn. "You know when your friends are able to buy something they want, and they say it's because they have 'Subway money'? This is what they've been talking about!" I could see the wheels turning in his teenage brain as he slyly replied, "Yeeeaaaah, I already have enough to get season tickets (to the Carolina Courage, the local women's pro soccer team)...so now...I can QUIT!"

Uh...nooooo, son, that's not how it works (Ha!). He grinned mischievously, "I know...just thought I'd give it a shot." Hmm...nice try...moving on. The next step, of course, was to actually get the virtual moolah into his bank account, where it could actually benefit him. Since he'd never had any reason to make a deposit before, he and I took a little Life Skills Field Trip to the ATM to walk through the steps: insert card, type in PIN number, endorse check. He stopped me there, “What the heck does that mean?” I clarified, “Sign the back.” “Well, why didn’t you just say that?” Dude, you should know the lingo, just in case!

I mean, you never know when it might come in handy...such as, for instance, the very next time we attempted to use the machine, and it couldn’t read the check, because whatever electronic process had produced it had printed the numbers on top of something else, making it difficult for a non-human to decipher. We actually had to do something totally primitive—go inside the building during business hours, and talk to a teller...who just might use that kind of language, since it’s part of their daily activities, and all. Do you want to appear ignorant to the staff, or do you want to know what you’re doing, and smoothly handle your financial transactions? (Gasp! Yet another educational experience in this whole Late High School chapter of an adolescent’s life, yeah? Even though, to be perfectly honest, Derek probably couldn’t care less what anyone thinks of him…but I’d still like him to be informed...)

When we had completed the exchange and had the receipt in hand, I instructed him to look at his new available balance, just to drive the point home a little more firmly. “See how much is in there…after just one payday?” He was practically giddy when he saw the amount that first time...but of course now that he’s been at this a while he has realized that it’s not all fun and games…or incentives. One night he came home from a particularly trying shift and threw himself into a chair, groaning, “I’ve only been working a month…and I already need a vacation!”

This is equal parts amusing and ridiculous, since I’ve discovered that Derek takes it upon himself to mark his availability for shifts….“very...judiciously”. As in, not only does he note legitimate conflicts, like when we left the country for a week, or when he’s attending other events with his family...but he also chooses random days he doesn’t want to be scheduled….such as...“Saturday”. When I queried him about this he breezily explained, “I deserve a day off—it’s a weekend!” (Ay yi yi...forehead, meet palm…)

Then again, the subject did come up today in a more serious fashion, as he and I discussed--one week out from the start of the academic term--how his work hours might have to be modified, in order to make sure that his homework (which with 3 AP courses might be considerable this year) continues to get top priority. He and I share this concern, especially given what happened the other night, when the shop closed at 10, and he didn't get home until 11:30 due to some kind of "technological difficulties" that prevented him and his co-workers from completing their duties in a timely fashion. I assured him that I was totally cool with pulling the Mom Card and allowing him to tell his manager that his parents wouldn't permit him to work until closing--at least during the school week.

He seemed relieved, although--perhaps because we were having such a pleasant, candid chat--he also couldn't seem to stop himself from admitting, "I don't really WANT to work on Fridays, because it's the end of the week, and I'd rather take it easy." Then he added, musingly, "Or Saturdays...because college football." Before I had a chance to deliver a snarky comment, he hastened to add, "But I get that it's part of the whole 'growing up and taking responsibility' thing!" (Yes, THAT. And nice save, honey...)

Anyway, I suppose I’ll just let this go, since he is making enough of an effort that it actually keeps a steady stream of...well, maybe not "Benjamins", but at least some of the other notable (Ha!) presidents...rolling into his Checking account. However much he jokes about it, I know that he does, in fact, now really understand the value of having a job, and is greatly enjoying the taste of independence it offers him. And, of course, he’ll never forget these important details, since I’m here to remind him--say, whenever he uses his own debit card to purchase something online that's caught his eye. Yep, that’s me….just doing MY job! (And for the record, willing to accept my hard-earned pay...in COOKIES!)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Again with Virginia!

As I mentioned in the last post, after our entertaining, enlightening…and lengthy experience at James Madison, Derek and I still had another college drop-in on the roster, before finishing our day. In hindsight, this MIGHT have been, I don’t know….”ambitious” is the nice way to phrase it….”idiotic” would be less kind, but more accurate. You see, I didn’t check the distance between the two cities, before we traveled. (Confession: because I didn’t actually want to know, since it would be a deterrent to the Trip Agenda if I’d had this information. Call it denial, or stubbornness, or whatever—I was determined that we could Get. This. Done. Don’t get in the way of Mom on a Mission, folks…)

As it turned out, GPS helpfully told us that Harrisonburg and Blacksburg are separated by 136 miles, which we were projected to cover in about 2 hours. Alrighty, then…to the Subaru! (Groan…) Now, keep in mind that by the time we found a mutually-acceptable lunch spot near JMU, sat down for a while, and enjoyed our well-earned repast, it was about 2:45. This obviously meant that we wouldn’t be rolling into Virginia Tech until maybe 5 or so—fortunately, Derek checked while we were on the road, and the Visitor’s Center stays open until 6 (which seemed extremely generous, given that it was a Friday, in the SUMMER, no less. Score one for Tech!).

However…we had some bothersome rain to contend with, which might have contributed to the excursion taking longer than the optimistic Google Maps estimate. Thus we pulled up to the Visitor’s Center around 5:30, in the midst of a shower, making us less-than-upbeat about the self-guided walkabout we’d hoped to take around campus. Nevertheless, we ducked inside, hoping to talk to a representative of the university and pick up any materials they’d be willing to share about their fine institution (including the all-important map of the surroundings, so we’d be able to figure out what the heck we were looking out, without a handy student ambassador at our beck and call).

I have to say, the lady we met was super-friendly and full of useful information. She not only handed us a brochure about the school, she reviewed the map in detail with us--demonstrating the driving route she recommended we follow, indicating the buildings we should be sure to see, showing us where it was safe to park without getting a ticket, and even suggesting local restaurants (tailored to our specific food preferences—she was GOOD, I tell ya) where we could have a meal before heading home. 

By the time we finished chatting with her, we felt fully prepared to take on the Hokie Nation.
As an incredible bonus, while we were inside loading up on valuable intel, the downpour slowed to a trickle, then stopped, and the late-afternoon sun valiantly attempted to poke through the clouds. A positive omen, if I ever saw one! Therefore, while we’d almost resigned ourselves to staying in the car and having to be satisfied with catching glimpses of structures through the droplet-streaked windows as we passed, we were able to revise our scheme back to “wander through as much of the university grounds as possible on foot”.

So that’s exactly what we did—acquainting ourselves with at least the layout of the campus, and getting an impression of what the architecture looked like, without the benefit of an assigned co-ed to dispense facts, tell stories, and usher us inside the various classroom and residential halls. We took a peek inside the Student Center and a recreation facility, which were still open at that hour. And we had a great opportunity to admire the vast grassy area known as the Drill Field, which lies in the center of everything, and which I could easily imagine covered with students…studying and frolicking…during the academic term.

When we felt we’d done what we could on our solo-jaunt, Derek and I agreed that all-in-all, while it was undoubtedly a scenic, attractive place, we couldn’t really get a true sense of it without participating in an official presentation and student-led program. Therefore, in the hypothetical event that Derek does apply…is accepted…and seriously considers attending Virginia Tech…we would have to return for the full…Open House hoopla.

Still, it was enough of a taste for him to keep it on The List of institutions he’s interested in, so the time was definitely well-spent. Before getting back in the car for our final 3+ hours of commuting (about 600 miles in 2 days, if anyone’s counting) we strolled around downtown Blacksburg to sightsee a bit and grab dinner. Admittedly we didn’t have a whole lot of leisure time to perform an in-depth analysis, but on the surface it seems like an appealing, friendly little ‘burb. Again, we’ll do a better job on our next recon excursion!


But for now, our heads were stuffed with all the details we could handle for the moment. It was time to return to Casa WestEnders, process everything we’d learned…and get started on those applications, yeah? I mean, those babies aren’t filling themselves out, ya know? (Says Type-A-Mom….whom Derek is going to come to L-O-V-E during the next, oh, 6 months or so…mwah hah hah!)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A long day in Virginia: Part 1!

In an attempt to give the whole "figure out what you're doing with the next part of your life" endeavor a wee nudge forward, Type-A-Mom proposed an exploratory field trip into the hinterlands--I mean "rural-ish-Virginia"--to check out the two schools in that state that Derek has proclaimed to be registering at least a blip on his Interest Meter.

Only one of them, however, offered an official tour at this point in the Summer: James Madison, located in Harrisonburg. (I can hear you asking, "Where the HECK is that?" In a nutshell, it's in the far west part of Virginia, about 2/3 of the way up, if you're driving from NC as we were. Geographically satisfied? Excellent, moving on...) I'd scheduled a visit for 10:30 on Friday morning, but according to the good old GPS, it would take around 4 hours for us to get there. Soooo, doing the prerequisite Sleep Math calculations, this clearly indicated "book a hotel nearby", NOT "drive at the crack of 'why am I even awake right now?'".

(As a random aside, they should totally teach this in school, right? Much more applicable than, say, that ridiculous subject known as "Calculus"! I mean, who actually uses that in their real life? Yeah, yeah--the Engineers and Astronauts can put their hands down. Rhetorical question, scientists--sheesh! But I--literary person-- digress...as my Poetic License permits me to do...)

Anyway, I found us a room on the outskirts of Harrisonburg, in a little venue that bills itself as a "local institution"...and crossed my fingers that the description wasn't some secret code for "sketchy". Next up in the preparations, I checked our route...which proved to be...less straightforward...than I'd expected. You see, there were several options, the supposed shortest of which incorporated a myriad of turns, tiny local roads...and potential for disaster, frankly. The less complex highway path, however, was supposed to take 20 minutes longer...so I decided to try the crazy convoluted way. "Hey," I figured, "I have a navigator. What could possibly go wrong?"

Fortunately, nothing did go wildly amiss--although Derek and I wholeheartedly agreed that we would NEVER, in a million years, be able to reproduce these particular directions to return to JMU if we wanted to do so in the future. Also, at one point as we were driving through the center of what resembled a tunnel of towering trees, on a winding, hilly rural road in--oh, I don't even know where we were, to be honest--I turned to him and commented, "I'm so very, VERY glad we're not doing this in the dark!" Also, because we still had some daylight, we did get to appreciate that we passed Shenandoah National Park...and we also had the opportunity to ooh and aah over the mountainous scenery all around us (as we would do many times over the course of the next day, but I don't want to get ahead of myself...).

When we finally arrived at our inn-for-the-evening, somewhat frazzled, moderately tired, and ravenously hungry, we dropped our bags and headed back out to find sustenance. Aaaannnd, about that...on the plus side, we discovered that if you continued on the road we'd taken to get to our hotel, it would lead you directly into the heart of Harrisonburg. So--even though it was after sunset by now--we did get to see a little bit of the university, as well as the cute downtown area. As for the latter, it made such a positive first impression that it prompted Derek to exclaim, "We definitely need to come back and look around during the day tomorrow before we leave!" But it was already pushing 10:00, so nothing appeared to be open, eating-wise. Oh, well...Sheetz dinner, anyone? (The perils of travel, I tell ya...)

We both suffered a fairly lousy night of slumber--it turned out that our quaint, charming throwback one-story-motel-thingie was situated RIGHT on the main road, with what sounded like semis and...I don't know, tanks, maybe?...and stuff barreling by at all hours of the night. So yeah, it was pretty dang LOUD and disturbing to those of us accustomed to a peaceful residential area. (Siiighhhh....Memo to Me: if we ever visit the area again, reserve a room in a TALL building...) There was no time to dwell on our weariness, though, as James Madison awaited.

Once there, we sat through the usual information session, getting an overview of the institution and blah blah blah. One thing that stood out for me--and which would be reinforced by everyone we talked to during the day, as well as any alumni I've queried--is that while JMU is a "medium-sized school" (about 19,000 undergrads), it cultivates a smaller, more personal feel on campus, by placing an emphasis on community, relationships between teachers and students, individual attention, etc. In other words, the atmosphere felt very "homey" and welcoming, which immediately appealed to me.

Then the real fun began, as the Student Guides stood up and introduced themselves. Unlike at other places we've visited so far, once the young men and women tell you who they are, what year they're in, and what they're studying, you get to select the one with whom you want to spend your next 1-1/2 hours. Well, let me tell ya, when they got down the line to  "My name is Justin, and I'm from Chapel Hill, North Carolina", our choice was made for us. What a quirky twist of fate, yeah? Even more amusing, although this guy attended a different High School than Derek, once they began chatting, they figured out numerous people they both know. And obviously, it was super-helpful to get the specialized perspective of someone who both 1) came from our home environment and 2) absolutely LOVES a university that Derek might want to apply to! (That's what we call a...collegiate Win-Win, y'all...)

During the chaperoned portion of our campus experience, we made all the stops you'd expect: a sample dorm room, an academic building, the Student Union, the library. Also, although we didn't actually go in them with Justin, we were encouraged to also seek out the Bookstore and the brand-new, state-of-the-art Recreation Center on our own wanderings when the guided walk ended. We also strolled by the stadium (a hypothetically important location for my extremely-sports-minded son), and the new Dining Hall under construction--which is scheduled to open in the Fall of 2018, just in time for Derek to (theoretically) arrive and chow down, incidentally. We ended at "The Quad", an inviting grassy field surrounded by picturesque stone buildings, where during the academic year Justin assures us students congregate and socialize on every spare inch of turf, making it a central part of JMU life.

Everything was lovely; we were definitely getting those friendly vibes everyone talks about...there was only one tiny thing that could be...problematic, really. During the formal presentation, the speaker let us in on a tradition practiced among JMU's students: whenever someone yells "J-M-U", everyone else within hearing distance is supposed to stop what they're doing, slide their arms out to the side (exactly like the "Safe" call in baseball, if that helps you picture it) and respond with a cry of "Dooooooks!" (The mascot, obviously.) Now...coming from the home of UNC, that just sounds uncomfortably, awkwardly like..."that other rival school 9 miles away whose name we don't EVER mention". When we made this comment to Justin, of course he totally understood, but he shrugged philosophically and replied, "Eh, you get used to it...you just have to learn to reeeaaallly emphasize the 'S'!" (Ha! We might have to work on that...)

Whew! Trust me when I say, it was a LOT to take in...but we weren't even done. In order to get the fullest picture we could, Derek and I still wanted to meander over to the Rec Center and the East Side of campus, where the Science classrooms are evidently clustered. We were glad we did, since I can sum up the new fitness building in one word: WOW. It's 4 floors, including several pools, courts for every game imaginable, group workout rooms for classes, a yoga studio, enough weight training and cardio equipment to keep a league's worth of professional players in shape, a jogging track...and probably some other cool stuff we missed...all in a light, airy, glass-enclosed structure with vistas of the mountains and forests for you to gaze upon while exercising. It was...um..."impressive".

At this juncture--hot, footsore, and starving again--we chose to end our exploration of what had been a very well-liked university by both of us. Naturally, whenever the vegetarian's involved, this becomes more of an "odyssey" than a simple "pick up lunch" activity. This time was no exception, but it worked out well in the end, since we had to drive around to find something that fit my dietary restrictions...which led us to stumble--by happy accident rather than any brilliant planning on our part, mind you--into the retail sector of Harrisonburg. There we encountered such useful vendors as Target, Best Buy, Staples, Kohl's, and even a mall, all of which lay just off campus, so if students require pretty much anything at all, it's within easy reach. Derek seemed pleased that the stores he's familiar with would be available in this setting, relieving any residual fears he might have had about JMU being "in the middle of nowhere" as the Blue Ridge Mountain setting might lead you to believe at first glance.

While we dined (at a Panera, of all places...So, yay, we've pinpointed at least one Johna-approved eatery in Harrisonburg already, without too much deep research!), Derek and I discussed not only our time at JMU, but also the overall College Tour Experience thus far. I was pleasantly surprised that, for the first time, he seems to be actively comparing and contrasting the schools he's seen, identifying the pros and cons for him, and beginning to form opinions about how they rank in his mind in terms of desirability.  He admitted that, while it might be due to the fact that it was the most recent, and therefore freshest in his mind...or perhaps a function of the thorough, educational, and entertaining tour that Justin provided us...JMU "might be the front-runner now".

Alrighty, then! Our day was FAR from finished, as we still had to drive 2.5 hours south to Virginia Tech and conduct our own site visit (since they weren't scheduling any, right before the students return for the Fall semester...rats!), but at least we'd had a successful journey up to this point. Next up: more time in the car...and Blacksburg!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

High School Challenge #1: Complete

When Team WestEnders returned from our vacation, most of us got to enjoy a “buffer” Sunday--to unwind, rest, and recuperate at home before tackling the chores of the new week on Monday. The one exception was Riley. You see, I’d booked our little tropical getaway based on the availability of the room we wanted—which makes sense, right? But the schedule situation always becomes tricky at the end of July, as we’ve learned that we have to balance our precious family time with the onset of school soccer season (Yes, THAT early!)

For example, it’s a good idea for prospective players (if they are aware of it, as we are) to attend the Team Camp held on UNC’s campus, which happens in the couple of days right before tryouts. The coaches from the High School watch the participants as they perform in drills and scrimmages, essentially doing some preliminary scouting for their team selection. Thus, if you’re there, the coaches get an extra chance to take a nice long look at you in a smaller setting, before the chaos of having to put dozens of kids through the paces at tryouts.

So, as it turned out, the Team Camp started…the same Saturday night we got back from Belize…which I of course discovered AFTER planning our trip. (Not that it would have mattered anyway…because a non-negotiable Rule of Life is: Beach Trumps Sports…or maybe that’s just me…but whatever, I make the plans around here!) When I broke the news to Riley, he took it stoically…but also insisted that he’d like to make it to the Sunday and Monday sessions anyway, if that was feasible. Fortunately, I was able to correspond with the (ever-so-helpful, pleasant, and responsive) Camp Director, who advised me that in his opinion it would definitely be worth it for Riley to show up for as much of the action as he could. (And as a bonus, they’d only charge me a pro-rated fee. See, I told you he was great!)

Therefore we arrived home around 10 p.m…after an 11-hour travel odyssey and a 2-hour time zone change…for Riley to turn around and get up at 6:30 the next morning for a FULL day of soccer-palooza. (Ah, to have the boundless energy of an almost-14-year-old. Actually, he was pretty wiped, but he was also a trooper about it all—so maybe it’s his dedication we should be applauding instead…yeah, we’ll go with that…)

Then on Monday there was another 2 hours of running, kicking, and…stuff, before they ended at around 11 a.m.--freeing them to come home, eat, and collapse for the rest of the afternoon. Whew, that sounds exhausting, yeah? Good thing it was over, so they could chill for a while before the stress and exertion of their actual school tryouts, yeah? Whoops, just kidding! Tuesday morning, bright and early, Riley and his friends were on the field again, this time with the goal (Ha! Sorry…) of securing a coveted position on the JV team. That’s right, 8-10 a.m. AAAANNNND 6:30-8 p.m. for the entire week! Whoo hoo!

What we also know from past years is that the coaches at Chapel Hill High School are blessed with an embarrassment of riches in terms of athletic talent that shows up at the stadium, hoping to be chosen for one of the 20 or so open spots. It understandably requires significant time and effort to evaluate each and every player and decide whether or not they fit into the big picture of the 2017 JV or Varsity team. I can’t even imagine how the process feels to a young athlete, out there working their buns off on the pitch and wondering how they’re doing…but even though I’m not putting in the physical effort, as a parent, it’s still emotionally grueling as your kid goes through it, let me tell ya!

Riley came home after each training tired, dripping, and hungry, but pretty positive about how things were going—although he didn’t seem to have a whole lot of information to share about, you know, those pesky little things called “details”. (Teenagers…what can ya do?) One funny story he did relay: at one point he revealed to the Head Coach that he’s Derek’s sibling…which apparently made its way around to the Upperclassmen…leading to Riley irrevocably being dubbed “D-money’s brother”. (Oh, boy…maybe he’ll get his own nickname someday? It could have been worse, I suppose—at least Derek is remembered and well-liked!)

Anyway, he first time he actually had anything IMPORTANT to report was Wednesday night, when he informed us that he’s survived the first cuts (as did all of his pals—extra yippee!). We were thrilled for him, naturally…but even more so because this gave us hope…dare we even allow ourselves to dream that the coaches would make their final selections by Friday, instead of dragging this out for 2 or even three weeks, as has been known to happen in the past?

In this case the answer was: YES, they did wrap this whole shebang by announcing the rosters on Friday morning after practice…and Riley texted me (very nonchalantly, I thought) that he’d made the JV team. Yaaaayyyy! Also great: his buddies from his club squad also pulled through, so he’ll be playing with lots of people he knows, and with whom he already shares a soccer bond. Best of all, besides obviously congratulating him on his achievement, we, his loving family, can take a moment to be 1) extremely proud of his all-out effort and perseverance…and 2) incredibly relieved that the ordeal is over!


And we’re also looking forward to dialing it back a bit—let’s say, to reasonable one-a-day workouts—not to mention a full season of upcoming matches, local rivalries, and whatnot. Go, Tigers!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The long way home...

Sooo…remember how I described my family’s recent trip to Belize as the most “wild and remote” we’d ever taken? Well, I think it’s safe to say that I officially reached the Travel Tolerance Level of the two youngest members of Team WestEnders. By the end of the week, it seemed to be a combination of factors that played into their…discomfort. For example, the early morning wake-ups for excursions. Not to mention, the rich restaurant fare for every meal—which probably also contributed to each of them experiencing unfortunate…”tummy troubles” the last few days of our vacation.
I, of course, felt nothing but sympathy for them while they were under-the-weather, but it was still amusing to hear them rhapsodize about what they were going to snack on when they had recovered, and returned to their usual routine in the good old U.S. of A. You might wonder what they missed while they were temporarily living in a fabulous resort with world-class cuisine? “Squeezy tubes of applesauce”…milk flavored with chocolate Nesquik powderNature Valley protein bars…and (my favorite example) “packaged ham with Velveeta cheddar slices on white bread”! 

Derek actually was heard to utter the words, “Mmmm…processed food!” when asked what he was looking forward to eating. (Oy. They really DO eat very healthy at home, I swear. I guess it’s just not as easy to get all poetic and whatnot about their nightly dinner salad and several-times-a-day fruit servings…)

I think he also summed it up best for me when he solemnly declared, “Mom, we’re really more…buffet guys…than we are cut out for fine dining.” (Oh, you mean like the last two all-inclusives we’ve visited? Duly noted, son. Memo to me: dial it back on the “swanky” factor next time we choose an international location. Exotic locale? YES! Fancy food? Clearly a big “No, thank you!”)
We got a crystal clear indication that it was indeed time to go home when Derek turned to me on the last evening and declared, “I’ve had enough of this…eco-friendly DEATH TRAP!” Oh-kaaaay, that might have been a wee bit dramatic, but I took it with a grain of salt. After all, we were facing another 5-leg, 10-hour travel day before we’d finally be back at our own house. The odyssey began at 9 a.m., when we settled into the resort’s van for the ride to the airstrip. We then boarded the 10-seater plane that would take us to the Belize City airport, where we’d eventually catch our Southwest flight back to the States.

And this is where the whole journey began to slowly slide off the rails. We checked in at the counter, to get our boarding passes. Then we showed our passports and forms a second time, to be allowed into the Security line…which was super-long…so an airport…guy…directed half of the queue to walk a few hundred yards to another…eerily similar…line. Security involved the typical stuff and nonsense—shoes off, purses/laptops/phones/cameras/liquids in buckets, suitcases on the belt.
We already knew we were facing a 2-hour wait…which was then increased by an added half-hour delay in our takeoff time. To give you a picture of the delightful environment in which we’d be spending our…Bonus Travel Time…Derek, looking around critically, suddenly exclaimed, “Hey, Mom—this place is no bigger than…a Sheetz!” And tragically...he was so very right

However, a Sheetz—or for that matter ANY well-stocked convenience store, would have offered so much more in terms of “amenities” than the tiny Belizean outpost. We managed to scare up some Gatorades, sodas, pretzels, and trail mix to tide us over until we’d hopefully be able to forage with more success in Ft. Lauderdale. At the appointed time (finally) we endured a chaotic boarding mess to be herded onto our packed plane, where none of us was able to sit together, and the lady next to me overflowed the armrest into my minuscule amount of personal space. Yippee!

The upshot of all this was that, by the time we landed in Florida, we had less than an hour to catch our connecting flight. Shouldn’t be a problem, right? Except the backup at the self-service kiosks (the only option, by the way) at Customs…and then the next traffic jam to show our passports and forms to actual agents. And then, wait—we have to go through Security AGAIN? Somehow we’d forgotten that we had to complete this obnoxious extra step, so Husband and I had filled our souvenir water bottles from the resort, to bring with us on the next flight.

Of course, these showed up on the scanners and got pulled out for inspection…and the only choices they gave us were to throw them in the garbage or leave the area, empty them out, and GO BACK THROUGH THE FREAKIN’ LINE. Since it was now 10 minutes until our plane was scheduled to take off (not board, mind you, which had already happened, but actually “leave the ground”) we told them to shove the bottles...I mean “dispose of them” and let us proceed on our (not at all merry, to put it mildly) way.

As we sprinted to the gate, I heard Derek proclaiming emphatically, “I am Never. Leaving. the U.S. Again!” “That’s fine,” I breezily retorted, “Next Summer’s our domestic year, anyway!” To which he responded, even more firmly, “Nope. We’re done. No airplanes. We may not even leave the HOUSE!” Honestly, at that moment, dragging our luggage at breakneck pace through crowds of people, frantically trying to catch a plane that had probably already left us behind, without having been able to obtain more snacks or drinks…I really couldn’t fault him for this sentiment. (BUT…they held the flight—hallelujah! And we weren’t even the last ones on, by a long shot! Maybe just the most out-of-breath…but hey, if Airport Olympics ever becomes a thing, Team WestEnders has a fabulous head-start on training…)

Wouldn’t you know it: we then had to sit around while being cleared for departure, since there were other planes ahead of us on the runway. But this one wasn’t a full plane, so I actually had an empty seat in between me and the lady by the window…for her tiny dog to occupy. Whatever—the canine was completely silent and no bother at all during the entire flight….and I wasn’t forced to sit with my elbows squashed to my sides, so I’ll take it! From there, it was a brief walk to the parking lot to retrieve the Subaru, followed by a short drive to Casa WestEnders…where we all collapsed gratefully…after raiding the fridge, of course! (Trust me, it had been a looooong time since “munchies in Belize”!)


It was a trying, troublesome travel day, to be sure…but despite Derek’s protestations, once the fatigue wears off, we’ll be left with awesome memories of hiking in the rainforest, snorkeling the reef, enjoying the ocean, experiencing a one-of-a-kind beachside resort…and for some of us, even savoring delicious meals. And now, we can get back into our daily lives and habits…and start dreaming of next year’s (much less “out there”) adventure!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Son of a...Sailor (Eh, sort of...)

 One final adventure of our Belizean vacation awaited us on the last full day of our stay: snorkeling the barrier reef that lies just off the coastline. Team WestEnders' mission began after breakfast, when we picked up our fins and masks and convened with the rest of our fellow seafarers on the dock, for the resort's boat to ferry us out to where all the fun and fishes awaited (we fervently hoped!).

Although it would only be a 20-minute journey, Riley was a bit nervous, given his...ahem..."negative reaction"...to his previous boating experience in Seattle last year. However, the ocean proved calm and agreeable this morning, which certainly helped encourage his stomach to remain so as well. When we arrived at the dive site, he and I were among a handful of...ever-so-slightly less intrepid?...explorers to request life vests for extra security during our time in the water. He feels he's not a terribly strong swimmer, and as for me...it's probably more psychological than anything else, but I just like the sense of safety it gives me, knowing I don't have to rely on just myself to stay afloat, in a spot where they told us the surf would be 18-20 feet deep. (Gulp!) I'd much rather focus on watching the marine life, and putting the waterproof camera to the test by snapping photos at will, without worrying about sinking down to join them!

With that all arranged, we slid off the boat into the Caribbean, and cruised away from it, following our guide, Neal. He brought a long blue pole to point out creatures of interest, then would name and describe them for us. Most of these, I'll admit, I don't remember anything about...but they were fascinating at the time, I promise! Some of those that DID stick with me were the tarpons (impressively LARGE!), barracudas (surprisingly innocuous-looking...perhaps because we weren't close enough to see their teeth? That's probably for the best, of course!), a moray eel and various lobsters hiding under rock formations (which Neal obligingly poked at, until they showed themselves...which begs the question: is this entirely ethical eco-friendly tour guide behavior? Whatever--I'm not gonna tattle on him!), and a delightful school of...blue thingies (I TOLD you the details didn't stick, right? But they were lovely, nonetheless...)

But, as entertaining as all of these species were, none of them compared to the Big Three that we considered the stars of the Main Event. First, a lionfish, its brown, black, and white coloring and spiky quills making it instantly recognizable. It was also notable because we'd been educated about this specific beastie in our week at the resort. You see, it's an invasive species, with no predators, and therefore is multiplying out of control and throwing off the reef's ecosystem. Thus, hunting them is condoned--even applauded--in an effort to control their numbers. (In case you're wondering, spearfishing is the method of choice...and no, we were NOT issued spear guns as part of our equipment for the day. Can you imagine Derek and Riley being given that kind of deadly weapon...and permission to use it? Oy, the possibilities--all of them DIRE--are practically endless....)

Okay, that was pretty darn cool. But the next sighting blew it out of the water (Sorry!). Directly below us, clearly visible as it lay on the sand, was a stingray. Now, I'm not a great judge of size, but I'd say it was probably several feet across, if I had to guess. Then, as we watched, captivated, it slowly lifted from the ocean floor and gracefully glided off. Yippee! And then, for the Grand Finale (as far as Team WestEnders' Bucket List o'the Sea, anyway) Neal found us...a sea turtle! It was calmly munching on grass near the bottom as we approached (as quietly as possible...yeeeaaah, for landlubbers, so in all fairness, we probably sounded like the...underwater cavalry...charging in to capture it. What can ya do? We're only tourists in the watery realms, with add-on flippers made of rubber rather than the real thing...but still, we tried our best not to scare it...)

It stuck around for a short time, then calmly rose from its snacking spot (probably sensing our presence) and swam away, still appearing as though it were in no particular hurry. Seriously, if I witnessed nothing at all for the rest of the time, or even called it a day and returned to the resort, my snorkeling needs would have been met. I'd have to say, being that close to an animal--in its own habitat--that you've only admired on TV nature documentaries was possibly one of the most awesome experiences of my life.

All of that happened in the first 45-ish-minute part of our session. Then we rejoined the boat as instructed, to motor over to a small island for refreshments, rest, and reapplying sunblock. In an unexpected, unfortunate turn of events, I'd discovered that being rocked by the motion of the water during our swim-time...makes me extremely queasy. (Husband pointed out that this may have been the life jacket's fault, since it made me bob around on the surface more? Who knows...whatever the reason, my stomach was waaaay unhappy.) There was a solution, though: Husband gets migraines (unluckily) and thus is prescribed anti-nausea medication (luckily)...that he carries with him in...non-car-travel...kinds of situations, just in case. The scenario he's preparing for doesn't usually involve ME needing a pill, but I certainly wasn't going to turn it down, that's for sure!

Aaaaand...it did the trick. Enough that I was able to participate in the second half of our underwater extravaganza, tolerate the return boat ride...and even eat lunch after I'd had my feet back on dry land for about 30 minutes. Altogether, a wildly successful and profoundly satisfying day...although I have to conclude that, no matter how much I might enjoy the music of Jimmy Buffett, I think I can ease any of my family's concerns (you know, in case this might have occurred to them...ever...) about me taking off and sailing away to live out any pirate fantasies...at least, not without packing a whole....shipload...of DRAMAMINE--ha!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Lots of Belizean nature on display...

Okay, day...whatever it is...at the beach in Belize began at a ridiculous hour again, (that would be "5:45" in case you're wondering) which was unfortunate but necessary, to allow us to scarf some breakfast and pile into the resort's van at 7. The purpose, however, was worthwhile: a trip to the Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve for another jungle hike. (Because Team Westenders’ motto has apparently become “The more rainforest, the better”…)

The good news/bad news of this fact is that if you've gotta drag yourself out of bed that early, at least you get to witness the lovely sunrise...and the dining room is already open and prepared to ply you with delicacies like fresh tropical fruit, homemade passionfruit yogurt...and of course COFFEE. (Bonus treat for me, brought to the table as soon as I appeared: specially made gluten-free carrot muffins—yummmmm. I’m starting to enjoy being treated like royalty…this is getting seriously dangerous).  


Thus fortified, we slathered up with sunscreen and got settled into our ride, along with our driver and guide for the day, Hartfield. Aaaannnd, about that little expedition…at the outset there was the bumpy, unpaved village road—which at least we expected and are somewhat used to tolerating. This was followed by a stretch of smooth highway for a few minutes. Then we turned off onto the path leading to the park—a rutted, rocky, muddy affair which was also so spine-jarringly bumpy that my Fitbit recorded almost 5,000 steps while we were sitting down, bouncing along for 6 miles. (No one ever said the Great Outdoors had to be easy all the time, right? Ay yi yi…)

When we arrived, we added copious amounts of insect repellent to our skin’s coating, to hopefully avoid being a juicy meal for the many flying, crawling bugs we were sure to encounter. (Even so, I still got nibbled a few times—but at least I didn’t end up as one gigantic bite, so that’s a win, as far as I’m concerned.) Then we headed off into the dense greenery for an up-close-and personal glimpse into the native flora and fauna.

Once again, the rainforest did not disappoint. It wasn’t long before Hatfield spotted an anteater scurrying up a tree—either hot on the trail of his preferred snack, or seeking a place to hang out and rest, which he eventually did when he reached a high branch. There were colorful butterflies galore, including the Blue Morpho, which is absolutely stunning--an electric, shimmering shade of cerulean—but which refuses to land on anything, or even hold still long enough to capture it on film. (I swear they were taunting us after a while, “Nyah nyah, can’t catch me!” Oh well, at least we saw them in the wild, even if we have no photographic evidence to prove it. You believe us, right?)

Hatfield pointed out various types of birds and lizards for us when he glimpsed them, and shared information about some of the plant life as well, especially the medicinal properties of the many that are still used by the Mayan people’s shamans for healing. And, like Lorenzo the other day, he coaxed a tarantula out of its hole—but this one actually emerged all the way and stayed for a while. Plenty of time to admire it…feel appropriately terrified…and snap lots of photos. (Mission accomplished! Thanks for that! Now how about you just crawl back into your nice den, that’s a good…massive…spider…)

Eventually our sweaty band of walkers came to the payoff for all of our work: another waterfall and chilly pool (fed by an underground spring) in which to refresh ourselves and rinse off before returning to the Visitor’s Center. Surprisingly, it was almost too cold to be comfortable…but we mustered the resolve to dunk ourselves anyway, and were glad we did. Aaaahhh…

 From there it was a short trek back to where we began, for a picnic lunch that the resort’s kitchen had packed for Hatfield to bring along. Sandwiches, chips and salsa, more fresh fruit, juice, and cookies—and it’s amazing how much tastier your meal is when you’ve earned it, isn’t it? Then we reversed the whole brain-rattling driveway-to-highway-to-local thoroughfare journey to enjoy the rest of the day pondering nothing more perplexing or strenuous than “Do I feel like swimming in the sea or the pool?” Or “Can I muster the energy to stroll the 20 steps to the bar and ask for some iced tea?” Or, perhaps most crucially “Would I prefer to snooze in a hammock on the porch, or a chaise lounge under a palm tree?”

Yes, I think it’s safe to say that our wild vacation is wearing us out…but our experiences so far have been priceless, so we’ll keep going…at least for one more day of Belizean fun, that is! Now, one last burning question for the day: I wonder what delectable dishes they’re offering on the dinner menu?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Resort Life

Well, it's midweek here in paradise--um..."Belize"--and Team WestEnders chose to take a "rest at the resort" day in between all our scheduled outings, tromping through the rainforest, snorkeling with the fishes and whatnot. What this meant, first of all, was that we didn't have to set an alarm...although Derek still needed to be rousted from bed before he woke up on his own, in order not to sleep through the breakfast hours...and for some reason my eyes keep opening at 5:30 anyway (which is 7:30 at home, and apparently my body just doesn't want to bother adjusting. What can you do--at least I'm waking up at the BEACH, yeah?).

We've been at our little vacation home-away-from-home for two days now, long enough for us to fully appreciate how very different it is from anyplace else we've ever visited. For one thing, there are a total of 25 rooms on the property, so it's small and cozy. This might explain why, from the moment you arrive, the staff go out of their way to learn your names and engage with you on a personal basis. I'll be honest, it takes a little getting used to--for example, at mealtimes, when your server already knows (from when I reserved the accommodations...in March!) that I'm a vegetarian. And this morning, when another employee brought over a basket with gluten-free banana muffins just for ME, so I could partake of the special baked good of the day.

It's also an eco-friendly place (I know, right? Totally up my alley!), so the "welcome gift" they provided was a stainless steel water bottle for each of us, that we can use during our stay and take home when we leave. And speaking of hydration, each day there's a dispenser of infused water in the lobby of the Great House, like today's offering of watermelon/ginger, or yesterday's pineapple/mint. And we found out--from wandering through one day and stumbling upon it--that there's a garden on-site where they grow some of the ingredients they use in the cuisine, so those fruits and herbs might not only be fresh and tasty, but also "backyard-to-table"!

But the attentiveness goes even further: last night one of the managers stopped me as I was heading off to bed and asked, "I see that you and your family have a free day tomorrow, is that right? I just wanted to confirm with you, because we recommend to our guests to take a day off to relax!" Aww, how sweet--they're looking out for our well-being! Then this morning--I'm not kidding--she greeted me with, "How are you, Johna? Did you sleep well?" Okay, let's not take it too far...I'm likely to start feeling guilty about all the pampering! (But...not just yet...I think I can take it for a little longer!)

So, how to spend one's leisure time? Well, there were big storms last night, mostly while we slept--thunder, lightning, wind, heavy rain...the whole nine yards. When we woke up today it had cleared up and was brilliantly sunny...but also extraordinarily muggy. Still, the ocean breeze keeps it bearable, meaning that I began our "take it easy day" with a long walk on the sand, taking a million photos of the scenery, like I tend to do. Meanwhile the Male Trio took advantage of the free kayaks and tried their hand at paddling around in the surf for a while. Then we all convened at the POOL to cool off before lunch. So far, so good...

Later, because evidently we need a refresher (Ha! Sorry...) on the definition of the term "lounge", we borrowed bikes from the Adventure Center and pedaled the sandy, gravelly, potholed "road", into the nearby village, called Hopkins, to see what there was to see. The short answer is: not a whole heck of a lot. A couple of shacks with handwritten chalk menus out front, marking them as restaurants of sorts...a few larger establishments with a general-store-vibe to them...and several tiny souvenir shops that boasted handmade crafts from local artisans. One of them, "Alex's" beckoned us--literally, since the man sitting out front was its namesake, who entreated us to come explore his wares.

We decided to take him up on the invitation, and therefore got a very specialized tour of his unique jewelry, bowls, and decorative knick knacks--all made by him and his children, with natural materials found in the coastal environment. Alex obviously took great pride in his work, and even told me that if I didn't see a design I liked, I could draw something for him and he'd customize it for me. I ended up selecting a necklace and earrings made from conch shells, pleased that I'd be taking home a unique piece of the country, created by a native whom I'd actually met. Super-cool!

Whew, that was quite enough exercise...and tourist...ing...for one day, so we returned to the resort to clean up for dinner. Funny how our low-key Wednesday left us so worn out...but that's okay, since we should get to bed early anyway, to prepare for our next excursion...the van leaves for the Cockscomb Wildlife Reserve at 7 a.m. tomorrow, after all! Zzzzzzz........

Wandering in Nature

On our first full day visiting the lovely country of Belize, how did Team WestEnders choose to mark the occasion? Why, wake the teenagers early (again) for a half-day excursion...in which they'd be required to wear HELMETS, of course! ('Cuz that's just the kind of parents we are...and our sons are very well aware of this by now, fortunately, so there are no ugly surprises when our vacations aren't actually, you know, what you'd call "relaxing".)

Luckily, we didn't have to convince them to repeat any of that 4 a.m. nonsense--we got to sleep in until...5:45! (Siiighhh...) After a brief-but-yummy continental breakfast at the Great House (and JAVA, it goes without saying, right?) we convened at the front porch to meet our guide for the day, load our gear into the van, and hit the road. Our little gang included just the four of us and a very friendly young married couple (both teachers) from Connecticut. We chatted (well, the grown-ups did--the boys were mute and snoozy) and watched the Belizean scenery go by for about 40 minutes, until we arrived at Bocawina National Park, the site for our Rainforest and Waterfall hike.

After being issued the aforementioned protective headgear, refilling our water bottles, and getting a quick-yet-thorough orientation regarding what we'd be attempting, we forged ahead...into the wild. Now, let me back up a second and explain that when I signed us up for this...walk in the woods...we noted that, on a scale of 1-3, it was rated "3++" for intensity, and if that weren't enough to inspire the proper amount of fear, they gave it a "double red" designation as well (for extra-extra notice of "be careful what you get yourselves into", we could only assume). So suffice it to say, we were advised, we were cautioned, and ultimately we were outright WARNED about the potential dangers...and strenuousness of what we were about to undertake.

Team WestEnders, however, remained undaunted. We figured, "Pffftt--we're super-active, we're fit, and we can totally handle this...no matter how many pluses they throw on there!" With this attitude, we began our adventure on the flat, easy portion of the trail. Lorenzo, our fearless leader, stopped periodically to point out interesting flora and fauna, like the leaf-cutter ants hard at work on the ground below us, and the footprint of a tapir--although we didn't see the creature itself...which might have been a good thing, since that sucker's paw was easily as big as my hand! Lorenzo also informed us that these beasts can be 600 to even 1,000 pounds. (And their nickname is the "mountain pig", which is sooooo not flattering, so I wouldn't want to meet a ticked-off tapir looking to avenge his disparaging moniker...just sayin'...) Lorenzo even--after asking if we were okay with it--poked a stick into a hole to encourage a TARANTULA to emerge for a second. We got a good peek at it, but were not disappointed when the 8-legged creepy-crawlie opted to scuttle back into his shelter after coming out to see what all the fuss was about.

Aaaannnnd onward we marched. It wasn't actually raining, but the air was so humid it might as well have been, as we trudged along the muddy path. One positive: although insects buzzed around us constantly, we'd been instructed to lather up with repellent, so no one got eaten alive. Then we came to the "steps" part of our journey, which involved climbing upward on primitive wooden footholds, really--while definitely lung pumping, heart-rate-elevating work, still not TOO difficult yet. That is...until we reached the "grab hold of roots and nylon guide-ropes placed there to help you haul yourself straight uphill over boulders, on a narrow strip of land with a sheer drop a few inches to the left at all times "...section.

Holy scare-the-pants-off-ya, Batman, that was so far out of my Comfort Zone that I couldn't even catch a glimpse of it in the rearview mirror as we zipped past, and came to a screeching halt at "just this side of abject terror"! (Was that dramatic? Trust me, I was thinking all of that and more while convincing myself to keep going...) Thankfully, this was one of those rare times when an innate, deep-seated trait of sheer stubbornness won the day, and I pushed myself to get through it. (After all, the BOYS were doing it, and there was NO WAY I was missing out on this precious family death-defying bonding experience...or whatever...) Seriously, this ranked right up there among the most challenging things I, personally, have ever done, and you'll forgive me if I take moment to pat myself on the back for persisting and seeing it through. Okay, thanks! Moving on...

At last, the reward for all this toil was: a spectacular waterfall and icy, utterly refreshing pool in which to splash, float, rinse off the dirt and sweat, and rest the tired muscles for a while. TOTALLY worth it! Oh, and lest I forget, we were now so high up that we were looking DOWN on the rainforest canopy. Breathtaking! (Metaphorically, as well as literally, since were still panting a bit--ha!) Right...the flip side of the stunning vista...we then we had to slip and slide all the way back from whence we came, with weary legs. Lorenzo came through with some homemade peanut butter cookies before we began our descent, though, which was a very welcome physical pick-me-up for grumbling stomachs...and also a moral boost to our flagging energy. (And they were scrumptious--that man not only conquers the jungle...he brings a mean baked good!)

By the time we strolled triumphantly out of the trees, Team WestEnders had already ranked this among the best tours we've ever taken. As we re-hydrated and ate some fruit that Lorenzo had brought (from his garden, no less. The dude's talent apparently knows no bounds...) I reflected on the fact that we'd already enjoyed quite a full day of natural beauty, exercise of both the cardio and strength variety, and appreciation for the endless wonders of the Great Outdoors...and it was only 11 a.m.! Whoo boy...it MUST be nap time, yeah?

So we weren't at all dismayed when it began to rain on the ride back to the resort--one of those pleasant tropical downpours that provides warm drops and a fresh breeze...making it absolutely perfect for a well-earned afternoon snooze! (Again, for the adults--the youthful crowd reportedly spent a delightful couple of hours trying out hammocks in various spots on the property, horsing around in the swimming pool, and--contrary to the usual plan--taking some downtime to chill in their own way. Now all that's left to do for the day...is EAT a few more times! Yaaaayyyy!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Bound for Belize, baby!

Today Team WestEnders set off on their Summer 2017 adventure…reeeeaaally early--as in, the alarm went off at 4:20 a.m. If that wasn’t shocking enough, we rolled out of the house at 4:50, which has to be some kind of family record…although in retrospect, it might have been at least in part due to the fact that the boys weren’t even truly awake, just blindly following simple orders like “Put on your shoes” and “Get in the car”. Then on the ride to the airport, suddenly everyone (except me, it goes without saying) wanted to TALK. Seriously, people? It’s still dark outside--can we all just agree to be calm, quiet and mildly disgruntled for a while?

Fortunately, at that beastly hour we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, so at least there was no “stress” element to complicate our weary journey. Riley did have a small bit of excitement in the Security line, as they arbitrarily assigned him a TSA Pre-Check pass, allowing him the benefit of leaving his shoes on…and whatnot. In his fragile low-blood-sugar state, however, he decided to take umbrage with this decision, ranting that, “They’d better not pick me because they think I’m 12!” Um…nooooo, honey, I don’t think anyone will look at your 5-foot-9 frame--and whiskers--and mistake you for a tween anymore. After that he changed his mind and milked it for a while, answering every question—whether appropriate or not—with “Well, you know, I AM TSA Pre-Check.” (Until I whacked him with his passport enough times to discourage this behavior.)

Anyway, I would characterize flight #1, a packed plane to Ft. Lauderdale, as smooth (little turbulence), silent (not even a peep from any munchkins who might have been on board), and sleepy (for the obvious reasons)…with Starbucks (which I’d brought with me). Once we landed and scoped out the airport, the top priority was (not surprisingly) FOOD, since it was finally a decent hour to eat. However, we were disappointed to find the terminal pretty small, offering only what we deemed to be a lame selection of dining options. Nevertheless, we made do, since we had a hefty layover until commencing the next leg of our excursion.

Even though I pointed out that we had now successfully left home, the boys firmly declared that we weren’t “on vacation” yet, just “traveling”. (The biggest laugh of this portion of our trip came when I turned to Derek and asked, “Hey, is it time for you to get up yet?” To which he laughingly-but-vehemently replied, “NO, it’s NOT!” Sorry, teenager—being an international jet-setter means hauling your butt out of bed for the cause!) 

From there, we (at last) boarded our next airplane, headed for Belize. Again, the airtime was uneventful…until I looked out the window when the Captain announced our “final approach” and saw…lots of green below us. Excuse me, I don’t want to be a bother, but is there some kind of, you know, “runway-type-thingie” we’re headed towards? At the last minute, a tiny airport appeared, and we did, in fact, land on a strip of concrete, rather than a hiking path, which was reassuring. We disembarked via a staircase, instead of a tunnel, and were herded into Customs—which proved to be the usual delightful experience. Especially because Southwest had given us misinformation, telling us that only one form per family was needed…when really they wanted EACH of us to have our own. So we, and the rest of the people who’d been on our flight, spent some minutes standing around and filling out the requisite number of papers to fulfill the regulation.

Then we showed our passports no fewer than 3 times, once for each new line we were instructed to queue up in, until we ultimately ended up in a packed waiting room with wooden benches. “No problem,” we thought, “since it’ll only be about a half-hour until our next jaunt.” Yeeeaaah, about that…from the resort’s website, I’d gathered that Belize lies in the Central Time Zone (a one-hour difference)…when it actually is TWO hours behind the East Coast. So we had more time than we’d anticipated…to sit around some more. Oh well—it was definitely feeling like a substantial trek, at this point (for better or worse…).

This was borne out when we were led outside to our next mode of transportation…a 10-SEATER PROP PLANE, for crying out loud. Holy guacamole, folks, I’m not sure how I feel about this…not that I had a choice in the matter, of course. Honestly, though, it was fascinating--once we got safely in the air--to peer out the windows at the ground, not so very far below. You could certainly appreciate the terrain from that vantage point—forests and rivers and the coastline and eventually clusters of buildings that marked the small pocket of civilization at which we were apparently aiming.

But wait, we weren’t quite done yet! (Siiiiigh…even though we’d been up for almost 12 hours, but who was counting? Oh yeah: all of us…) We had one more piece of the travel puzzle to complete: a 45-minute van ride to the resort. Our driver did his best to make this interesting, regaling us with facts about Belize, such as “it’s similar in size to Vermont, with only about 370,000 people” and “they grow lots of oranges, but export the juice in concentrate form, to prevent spoilage” and “English and Creole are both spoken, along with Spanish and some Mayan dialects”. (Yes, I was listening—you never know when there’ll be some kind of, I don’t know…Pop Vacation Quiz? It’s best to be prepared, I always say…or whatever…)

At long last (drumroll) we arrived! Whoo hoo! We were greeted with a cold lime-y drink (I have no idea what it was, but it was delicious) and told that, although the kitchen was officially closed at that time, they’d make us something anyway, because they didn’t want their honored guests to starve. Well, I’m liking this place already! After some super-tasty nachos, we were free to explore the grounds—the pool, the ocean, the rooftop deck…so much to see! Before we crash from exhaustion! We wandered around, checked in with the Adventure Center to confirm our tours for the week, and most importantly, stuck our toes in the sand and (Caribbean) surf.

Now our last order of “business” for the day is to wander over to dinner, and see what’s on the menu this evening. Then we’ll most likely go the heck to BED, since we’ve been moving for a loooooong time, and our Rainforest and Waterfall Hike leaves at 7 a.m. tomorrow…sooooo, peace out for now from Belize!