Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Tale of...Two Towns...and One City

Once last weekend's graduation-palooza reached its satisfying conclusion, my sister was luckily able to stick around a while longer and hang out with us. So it seemed like a no-brainer that we'd get out and about for some essential touristy-type activities, exploring at least the Chapel Hill/Durham 2/3 of the Triangle.

We hit the ground running on Sunday morning, with a much-needed excursion to obtain iced, caffeinated refreshments. (Which proved the perfect antidote to even a non-alcoholic-celebration-hangover...yummm!) Since our local Starbucks is conveniently situated in the heart of Tarheel-nation, I parked the car and we set off on foot to meander Franklin Street and take in the sights. I took the opportunity to point out various Chapel Hill institutions (such as Top of the Hill, the Carolina Coffee Shop, Sugarland Bakery, and Sutton's Drugstore, to name a few) as well as several souvenir emporiums that proudly offer not only supportive and tasteful UNC gear of all kinds...but also hilarious anti-Duke apparel that ranges from the mildly obnoxious to the wildly inappropriate. (My Blue-Devils-fan sibling accepted this graciously...especially knowing that I'd already promised her a jaunt to Durham at a later point, so she could get her...collegiate rival revenge...or whatever...)

And obviously, we couldn't leave the scene without strolling onto the grounds of UNC, to admire its canopy of majestic shade trees, stately, serene red brick buildings (quiet and still now that the students are gone for the Summer, at least), and of course one of its iconic landmarks, the Old Well. No doubt fortified by the Frappuccino, she survived the experience (and even managed to look happy about it!).

Perhaps that's due to the fact that she was already looking forward to the next field trip, to that other Blue Blood bastion of higher learning just a few miles away. Now it was MY turn to smile politely while patiently enduring a visit to the wrong side of the tracks--er "Triangle". (Totally kidding--I  stop by the gardens on campus on a regular basis...but I tend to avoid the Krzyzewski-ville section like the plague that it is...to Carolina supporters.)

After taking care of the first order of business--the fangirl spending gobs of moolah on Duke-themed apparel and whatnot in the university store--we wandered through the cool, hushed, elegant chapel, with its towering organ and soaring stained glass windows; the always-gorgeous botanical displays; and, finally, the mecca for any Dooook...ie (snickers immaturely), the stadium complex, where my sister was unfortunately only able to pay her respects to the outside of Cameron (home of the basketball teams, if you're wondering), rather than being allowed to wander freely through its halls, oohing and ahhing at every turn. (Seriously, did we neglect to tell them we were coming so they could roll out the red carpet...or at least leave the doors unlocked? Doh!)

Having completed our dual-collegiate tour on a warm, steamy day, we finished our regional tribute by settling in for dinner at yet another beloved local destination: Elmo's Diner in Carrboro. From pancakes to a burger to a sweet potato and bean burrito, that place never disappoints! Thus fortified,  we needed to rest up for the continuing antics the following day, which would include a whirlwind outing through our neighbor to the slightly-east, Durm (spelling intentional--it's an affectionate nickname thing, apparently).

Wonder of wonders, we actually got the teenagers to consent to accompany us on our adventures--which actually isn't that surprising, considering we would be making a pilgrimage to one of their favorite spots: the DBAP (pronounced Dee-Bap, and shorthand for the Durham Bulls Athletic Park). Although the website proved uninformative, we happily discovered when we arrived that the ballpark store was open...allowing mi hermana to add to her collection of travel mementos. Then we played sightseers for a while, circling the field, reading the commemorative plaques around the exterior, soaking in the baseball atmosphere, and paying homage to the famous outfield bull

Finally we headed back to the Subaru, to drive around and see some more of the city. Downtown, the Warehouse District, Brightleaf, the 9th Street corridor--somehow...sheerly by winging it, I tell ya...I managed to hit all of these without having to resort to the GPS. Therefore, we got a nice glimpse of some of Durham's character--what I tend to think of as a mixture of lovingly preserved history...a dash of gritty urban decay...and a good dose of newly-renovated upscale chic

I feel like we squeezed in as much entertainment as we possibly could on this sister-sojourn, but it was time to say farewell and let her return to her life in the northern Mid-Atlantic. There are many more things to see and do the next time she makes her way to NC...in the meantime, Team WestEnders will be making our Summer journey to MD in just a few weeks, so we'll get to do the whole thing in reverse. In fact, I just realized that there's plenty of time for me to pick up something with a Tarheels logo for her upcoming birthday...since she seems to have somehow...forgotten...to acquire anything fitting that description while she was here...ha! Here's to more future family fun!



Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Diploma-cy (Ha! Sorry...)

Team WestEnders--along with some of their key supporters--came together this past weekend to mark a huuuge milestone for one of our members. Although he will be continuing on to college, by far the longest stretch of Derek's educational journey, which began in Kindergarten at age 5, culminated in him walking across the stage at UNC's Dean Smith Center to receive his High School diploma.

On hand were his favorite aunt (okay, technically his only one--but she's earned her top ranking in any case), who also happens to be my sister. It was her first time visiting us in NC, so she came down early to spend some extra extended-family-bonding-time. (Yay!) Then his godparents (whom we affectionately call Fairy (godmother) and Don (as in Corleone...the OG godfather) and their kids (who are like bonus cousins) arrived, and the Celebration Squad was officially complete.

Once everyone was on-hand, we kicked things off in style--with a pizza and movie night. (Hey, it was the end of a loooong week, so it seemed like the thing to do...) For our cinematic selection, we chose an iconic baseball movie: Bull Durham. Now, my family happens to be enormous baseball fans, so this is a beloved film...which we've watched so many times that we frequently throw random quotes from the script into casual conversation, and crack ourselves us...even if no one else quite catches on to what the heck is so funny.

And we've been saying to Derek--oh, since he was about 8, if you believe HIM--that he reeeaallyyy has to see it...once he's old enough. So the other day when I mentioned that it's one of the things I want to do with him before he goes away to college in the Fall, he exasperatedly replied, "Ya know, Mom, I'm above the age to get into R-rated movies. And I'm 18 now, so I'm technically an adult. So when is it going to be okay with you?"

I'm not gonna say he didn't have a valid point...so the answer was "how about NOW!?" and we all settled in to pay our respects to "the church of baseball" At various points during the show, he'd turn to us with a mega-grin and nod his head, saying, "Yep, I finally understand why you say that!" Introducing a new generation to a classic flick...while enjoying some extra-special family togetherness...CHECK!

Then it was on to the Main Event--which began on Saturday with a period of carefully orchestrated...semi-controlled chaos. Of course, this is to be expected when one High School Senior, 5 other adults, and 3 related minors need to get themselves properly attired and...for the females among us, at least, otherwise gussied up...loaded into various vehicles at several different times...and transported to the ceremony. Yeah, it was kind of a circus, I tell ya. But we all made it (on time, even, which is a miracle of no small magnitude), and prepared ourselves for the moment when the first strains of the inevitable Pomp and Circumstance played over the sound system.

To be honest, I was expecting that to be my cue for waterworks, but it just seemed so...surreal...that I was able to keep it together. Observing as the 325 soon-to-be-former-students processed in and took their seats felt like watching another movie...until I spotted Derek in the back row. Seeing my own kid in his black robe, gold sash, and mortarboard made the situation at least a little bit more concrete. We, along with the rest of the Peanut Gallery--I mean "friends, relatives, and honored guests"--endured the usual graduation...stuff...like the opening remarks from the Principal, recognition of (30-ish!) Valedictorians, speeches from (multiple) students...until finally the much-anticipated moment arrived when the graduates-to-be heard their names, strolled across the stage, and received their get-out-of-school-free papers.

And in the space of a few heartbeats, 13 years' worth of numbers flashed before my eyes--like the repeated cycle of 10 months, 4 quarters, and 180 days; the 6 years in Elementary, 3 in Middle, and 4 in High school; the endless pattern of 4 core classes and countless electives--and then came to an end. The class of 2018 exited in an orderly fashion...into a massive swarm of waiting loved ones, all of whom were attempting to reunite with their one special alum (and get the heck outta Dodge--er, "campus"). Once we had located our Derek, we bid the university farewell and headed back to Casa WestEnders to kick off the relaxation and fiesta portion of our weekend.

In our case, this involved food and--because we'd started a theme the previous night, apparently--yet another movie about America's pastime: Major League. We just managed to squeeze this in before we wished Derek good night and godspeed...since he planned to attend the free, all-night party known as Project Graduation (an event designed to provide an entertaining, social shindig to keep the Seniors safe, amused...and off the streets... after their commencement). The rest of us, meanwhile, collapsed in relief on the sofas, worn out from the rewarding and memorable--but also emotionally draining--day of...hoopla.

But in all seriousness, I don't think it's quite sunk in yet...that my oldest child is now a High School graduate. I think it's going to be more of a...process...coming to grips with this whole concept. Because don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not going to miss the daily grind, any more than Derek will. Yet...once I accept the fact that his High School career is over, I'm going to have to start dealing with a whole lot more...monumental...changes that are coming right around the bend--and I'm just not there yet. For now, I'm going to treasure the quality time we'll get to share this Summer...and sloooowly work on getting ready to drop him off at college in August. Baby. Steps!

Monday, June 4, 2018

The beginning of the end...

Well, another "end of the academic year" is upon us, bringing with it all the utterly delightful chaos and upheaval we've come to expect. I was reminded of this when Derek recounted a conversation he'd had with--oddly enough--one of Riley's Freshman friends the other day. It seems that--let's call him "Cody"--was both concerned and confused by the whole exam schedule...rigmarole...and sought reassurance from the experienced Senior, to make sure he was doing the right thing.

According to Derek, the poor kid was just finding it impossible to believe that if, for example, your first period class won't be having a final, you're not supposed to show up during the block of time set aside for that purpose. "You mean, I just...don't have to come? And I won't get in trouble?" Aaahhh, this really takes me back: I remember having this exact same chat when Derek was in 9th grade, and it sounded mighty suspicious that you were just...permitted...to stay home. I didn't think he was lying to me, by any means, but I nevertheless questioned Derek pretty rigorously at the time, before I finally accepted that he was giving me the correct information. So I totally get it, Cody--"sanctioned skipping" just seems bizarre...but you can take his word for it...and let me just say, "Welcome to the magical world of High School!"

So this year Team WestEnders has TWO people dealing with this phenomenon, making the daily agenda a bit...wacky. Let's see...on Monday, Derek got to remain at home all day, since he already wrapped up his 1st period (AP Stat) and had a study hall 2nd period. But Riley had to be at school in the morning, for his 1st period math exam, before getting to walk home at lunch time, because he'd already completed his 2nd period PE fitness test. Continuing...on Tuesday, Derek will spend a leisurely morning en casa, having taken the AP Environmental Science exam last month. Then he'll finally have to grace campus with his presence in the afternoon--although I confess I'm not entirely certain why his AP Lit class has another test, which seems like total overkill, if you ask me...but whatever. Meanwhile, Riley will need to be in the hallowed halls of learning all day, for (amusingly) both Spanish and English exams. (And here's hoping his brain doesn't get them mixed up, yeah?)

Then--what are we up to? Wednesday? Okay, Derek will hang out at la escuela for both the a.m. (5th period Graphic Design) and p.m. (6th period U.S. History) slots. Riley will enjoy an unencumbered morning, (since his Drafting teacher gave students the option of taking either a final exam, or a software certification test, and Riley opted for the latter), then stroll in for his post-lunch World History final. Finally, both boys will finish their 7th period exams during the early Thursday block (a science-y duo of BioMedical Interventions for Derek, and straight-up Biology for Riley)...after which they'll be D-O-N-E with tests, classes, the 2017-18 school year...basically, the whole kit-and-caboodle.

However, while Riley will undoubtedly revel in the hard-won freedom he has earned...to sleep in on Friday while Elementary and Middle schoolers slog through their last day...Derek will be required not only to get up extra-early, but also to participate in a graduation run-through with his classmates, on UNC's campus. Oh, well--at least I'm pretty sure he doesn't have to wear the robe for it. Which leads me to one more story, regarding the wardrobe requirements for the upcoming ceremony. The correspondence we received from school stated that students should wear "business casual" attire.
Now, Derek--with his "all t-shirt and shorts, all the time" nature--understandably wasn't clear on what this meant, so I told him I'd recommend dress pants, a button-down shirt, and a tie.

When Husband heard about it, he commented mildly, "Business casual doesn't usually include a tie." Derek quickly swiveled his head to me, his expression quizzical, as if awaiting the final verdict. And after a moment's consideration I responded, "Hmm...if you don't mind, I'd prefer you wear one anyway." That seemed to settle it to his satisfaction (especially when I offered to take him shopping for his OWN shirt and tie, so he wouldn't have to keep raiding Husband's closet in the event of any... formal...ish occasions arising...which after all, he wouldn't be able to do from South Carolina, anyway, right?)

Of course, this opened up the discussion for the rest of the goofballs--I mean "Male Trio", with Riley asking hesitantly, "Um...what do you want ME to wear?" This one was easy: "Eh, you're not the one on stage, so nice shorts and a polo is fine." He looked quite relieved, and endorsed this plan immediately. On the other hand, Husband still seemed to be pondering just how...work-like...he would be expected to appear. At this point my attention must have drifted a smidge, otherwise I never would have offhandedly remarked, "If it helps, I'll be in a skirt, blouse, and sandals." I can't imagine what I was thinking, but his instantaneous, earnest reply was an entirely unsurprising, "Oh, I'm not wearing a SKIRT!" Siiighhhh...I suppose I'll count myself lucky if everyone abides by the "mandatory shirt and trousers rule"...which I just made up, by SHHHHH, don't tell them, okay? Trust me, it's in everyone's best interest...

And there you have it...graduation...and SUMMER, here we come! Wheeeee!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Family History: the study-guide condensed version....

You may have noticed that Team WestEnders traditionally enjoys a whole lotta hoopla squeezed into April, May, and June. Just for starters, we celebrate 3/4 of our birthdays, Mother's Day, and Father's Day in that period! So it's not really surprising that Husband's and my anniversary, which is smack dab in the middle of all the fiesta...ing...often gets overlooked.

And this year, with the additional...Bonus Chaos...surrounding the end of the academic term...and some kid graduating from High School, or whatever...was no exception. Now, don't get me wrong, it wasn't completely ignored--there were cards exchanged, and flowers bestowed (Good job, Husband!). However, I feel the need to circle back a bit and give this particular milestone some attention...since after all, it marked 20 YEARS of marriage for us.

First of all: yikes, right? While trying to wrap my head around two decades of togetherness, I found my thoughts drifting to certain...significant markers....along the highway of our shared journey--which I was then inspired to find hard evidence of, by paging nostalgically back through shelves full of family photo albums, naturally! So without further ado, here are just a couple of high points in the WestEnders saga:

First of all, of course, there was a wedding. In which the goofball groom was forever immortalized while making Mickey Mouse ears out of fine china, before (somewhat) settling down for the (marginally) more dignified "official cake cutting ceremony". And yep, just in case you were wondering, this represents 100% typical behavior from the man of the house, both way back when, and now. Hey, this just goes to show that he takes his job--as the lightener...upper...in this partnership--verrry seriously (which I realize is an oxymoron, but just go with it, okay? You know what I mean...)


Next up in the Timeline of Us that he and I had concocted, sometime during the planning stages in the year or so before our nuptials, there was the edict: Buy a House. It still seemed like a logical step, since we were renting a condo in a costly area at the time, so we got right to work on it, once our regularly scheduled activities resumed after the honeymoon trip. In the research phase of the operation, Husband took it upon himself to narrow down our areas of interest, to keep our excitement in check and prevent us from going off willy-nilly with an agent, scouring the whole countryside for available abodes.

And you know what? I think it speaks volumes about both of us that 1) He approached this task with his typical degree of organization, logic, and thoroughness, presenting me with rationales for the towns he chose, which included such items as "good schools", and "proximity to necessities such as supermarkets and drugstores"; and 2) The method he used to focus our house search was to designate a starting point and draw a circle outwards, with a radius of 1.5 miles or so. The epicenter: Starbucks. And the distance approximated how far I could be expected to walk...to get my coffee fix. Not. Even. Kidding.

So, after about 5 months of house tours, we ended up purchasing a home on a quiet cul-de-sac...from which I made the mile-and-a-half stroll to java heaven many, MANY times over the next decade-plus. Just one example of how teamwork makes the dream work, baby! (Or some such nonsense...he can't always be the silly one, right?)

Whew, with that out of the way, it was time to sit back and revel in a calm, peaceful time, at the start of our union, yeah? Um...nope. You see, it just so happened that Husband and I were entering our 30s when we tied the knot, and you know what that means...if your Couple Agenda involves trying to add a bambino or two to the mix, you might want to start thinking along those lines.

Aaaand--funny story--we figured out later why I felt soooo tired on the day we moved into the new digs...when a pregnancy test a few weeks later revealed that I'd been just-barely-expecting...while hauling boxes, unpacking, and arranging furniture! (Cutting it close...but sticking to the Grand Scheme!) Eventually Derek made his appearance, bringing our merry little band to a total of 3...and allowing the munchkin to almost immediately join in the nuttiness of his new tribe, as shown by the chic farm motif we adopted for his first Halloween.

Okay, I'm not gonna lie--the whole "parenting thing" ...took a little getting used to?...Was no bed of roses for a while? (Let's go with that...) But eventually, you start getting a regular amount of sleep again, and the tiny, helpless 'round-the-clock-needy baby grows a bit and gains some independence. And then, wild and crazy thoughts sneakily begin to creep up on you...such as "Hey, should we try to have another one?" And rather than squash this madness, you go ahead and entertain the notion...until one day you throw caution to the wind, and recklessly decide to go ahead and give it a shot...and are incredibly fortunate to welcome another healthy son to round out the clan...in our case, the same year we commemorated our 5th anniversary.

(Tangential note: those utterly adorkable sweaters were gifts from one of Husband's aunts. While I would never in a million years have purchased them myself, I made sure to dress the boys in them as often as possible while they still fit...probably because I already sensed it would be the only time in their lives I would manage to coerce them into matching holiday outfits. Totally worth it...)

Then, moment by moment, day by day, life keeps rolling along...until you wake up one morning and realize that those wedding festivities...happened 10 years ago. What the WHAT? While it seemed improbable to Husband and me that so much time had passed, we couldn't refute the cold hard facts of...calendar math...which showed that 5-year old Riley was entering Kindergarten...and therefore, it must be true. But I swear, seemingly no sooner had we accepted this and moved on, than ANOTHER 5 YEARS flew by (if someone can offer an explanation for this phenomenon of the...space/time continuum...or something....I'd be most grateful. And no, "You're just getting old" is not good enough, thankyouverymuch...)

Along the way we dealt with the usual things that make up one's daily existence--work, and school activities, and kids' sports seasons, and visits with extended family, and vacations...and a million other normal, everyday things. Somewhere around Year 15 of the WestEnders history, however, we encountered a slight speed bump in our path...when one of us (yeeaahhh....that would be "me") reached the end of her never-very-high tolerance for the annual bane of the great outdoors known as...Winter. I therefore announced my desire to relocate to someplace with more temperate weather...and informed everyone else that they had better prepare themselves to come along with me.

That's how it came to pass that the Team WestEnders franchise abandoned their northern...ish headquarters to transplant their roots in North Carolina...and with a relatively brief period of fairly minimal upheaval, we got ourselves situated, figured out the new work/school/soccer/etc. details, and got back to doing what we do.

At this point you might be thinking that I surely had plenty of warning that we were about to be collecting congratulations on 20 years of...being hitched. And I suppose that's true...and yet somehow it still managed to take me by surprise a little bit. Obviously, we've undergone quite a bit of...evolution...over a score of years. But just to demonstrate how some things never change, you'll notice the card that Husband picked out to present to me for this auspicious occasion...admirably non-sappy...and complete with an original, groan-inducing message. Yep, that's the man I married, all those years ago! Siiighhhh...

All I can say is: here's to loads more adventures (even if it means we have to wear unattractive headgear)...plenty of unbridled goofiness (especially if it's captured forever on film)...but perhaps fewer terrible puns (not bloody likely, but it never hurts to ask, right?)! Cheers to us!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Oh, well--nobody's perfect, right?

Continuing our habit of repeating 5Ks that we've enjoyed in the past, 3/4 of Team WestEnders was ready to rock the DNA Day race in Chapel Hill this weekend. Because we've participated before, I'm already on the mailing list, so I'd efficiently signed us up a few months ago when they notified me that registration was open. Now, here's where I'm not quite sure what occurred. I could swear that when I completed the process and wrote it down on our family calendar, the details were exactly the same as the last two times we've done the event--beginning and ending at the Old Well on UNC's campus, at 9 a.m.--so that's the information I dutifully noted.

And believe me, I check carefully for these particulars, 'cuz it's an accepted fact that when we're searching among the many options available for 5Ks in our area, we strongly prefer the reasonable 9:00 kickoff, over the myriad of 8 (ugh) or even 7:30 (are you freakin' kidding me?) choices. (Aaannnnd, by now I'm sure you've picked up on the not-so-subtle foreshadowing, yeah? Stay tuned...)

To be honest, Riley and I were looking forward to it...while Derek was coming along because we sort of...guilted him into it...with the "but we all do it TOGETHER" aspect. And with the morning of the run being overcast (as per the yooszh, these days), warm, rainforest-level sticky, and threatening showers, none of us felt especially....let's say super-motivated...to get out there and pound the pavement. To sum up: there was definitely more yawning and half-hearted attempts at manufactured enthusiasm...than actual excitement.

Nevertheless, we mustered what energy we could--to pile into the car, make the short jaunt into town, secure a parking spot, and meander over to the starting line. I was actually pleased that we were so bang-on-time, for once, that we didn't have to practically sprint to make the official kickoff. And at first glance, nothing seemed out of the ordinary--for example, we spotted lots of other people in the general vicinity sporting the instantly recognizable bibs pinned to their workout shirts. However...as we approached the university's iconic landmark, I noticed that a great many of the other folks seemed to be...extremely red-faced and drippy. "Wow, they must have quite a warm-up routine," I thought to myself...obliviously. But then as we rounded the corner and came upon the course itself, I saw the crowds of bystanders...milling about....EATING.

I was suddenly overcome by a rush of confused thoughts, such as "Wait a minute...that can't be right! Why would they do that? It's a terrible idea to put all that food in your stomach before exercising!" And then it struck me...oooohhhhh....I pulled up sharply with the sinking sensation that something had gone very, very awry with the best laid plans of....mice and me. So I marched up to the friendly, helpful woman at the information table and politely inquired, "Um...did the race start at 8, by any chance?" She cheerfully assured me that it had, "Why yes! They changed the time this year!" Ohhh...kay...and do you have any idea when THAT memo was supposed to have been sent? This caused her perkiness to slip just a bit, as she admitted that she wasn't sure. Well, I'm here to tell you that I'm relatively certain it was AFTER I had already signed up--but unfortunately there didn't appear to be anything we could do about it at the moment, as the proverbial ship had obviously sailed on this particular activity.

Humph! This left Riley and me quite disgruntled...since after all, we'd gone through the whole "wake up; don running gear; consume light, healthy snack" sequence...and we were therefore prepped and ready to cruise for 3 miles or so. Derek, on the other hand, declared that he would be quite delighted to return home and head back to bed. So I made an Executive Decision to drop the older teenager back at the house, and take Riley to a local trail where the two of us could go ahead and run our own makeshift 5K.

And you know what? It did commence sprinkling at some point, so we got a little wet. And there were no medals at the end for our performance. Or free edibles donated by neighborhood businesses. But we each had a satisfying trek at a comfortable pace of our choosing...thereby checking off our sweat session for the day. And as a bonus, this venue happens to be right down the street from a Dunkin' Donuts, so we made our way over there afterwards and put together a lovely recovery nosh from the menu. (Hey, iced coffee counts, y'all!) Add to that the fact that we had already gotten our t-shirts from the official race-that-we-missed anyway, and I'm just gonna go ahead and call this a Win...ish...and move on to the next one...where I'll be sure to TRIPLE check the start time!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mamma Mia!

Mother's Day is generally pretty low-key around Casa WestEnders, for a couple of reasons...not the least of which is the fact that it comes only a couple of weeks after my birthday, making it feel somewhat redundant, in the "How many flowers/presents/chocolates does one really NEED in a month?" kind of way. (Well, except for chocolate, of course, but that goes without saying, doesn't it?)

And then there's the fact that UNC and the other-school-that-shall-not-be-named in Durham--in all their infinite, yet also inexplicable wisdom--both choose to hold their commencement ceremonies every year on the Dia de Madres. (Raise your hand if you'd like your special occasion overshadowed by your offspring's graduation from college. No? Me, neither! I mean, we can thoroughly recognize and celebrate our kids' accomplishments another day, for heaven's sake! But I digress...) This means that we locals can expect LOTS of out-of-town visitors for the entire weekend, bringing added traffic, as well as extra-crowded eating establishments.

So yeah, we've accepted that it's just easier to stay close to home and enjoy some quality R&R, rather than...venture out and, you know...battle the rampaging hordes....or whatever. As it turned out, given how eventful and exciting the past year has been for our family, I found myself using my abundant spare time to contemplate the ways this holiday has changed for me since I first joined the ranks of those called "Mom".

For example--and I'm not gonna sugarcoat it, here--that FIRST one was just...rough. Derek had made a dramatic entrance, unexpectedly and 3 weeks early, catching Husband and me completely off-guard. (Sure, we knew it would happen eventually...just not quite so SOON...) And then the...fun...reeeaalllly began--let's see, there was the jaundice, for which we had to use a light-therapy blanket at home for a few weeks until it cleared up; the feeding difficulties, which required us to make frequent trips to the pediatrician for weight checks; oh, yeah, and the constant screaming, which we initially thought was colic, but turned out to be a medical condition for which he'd need (fortunately minor) surgery at the tender age of 8 weeks.

Sheesh...looking back on it, I'm honestly shocked that I didn't run away from home before marking my first Mother's Day...or find some gypsies to take the baby off our hands, as Husband and I used to--mostly jokingly--remark after a long day of trying to soothe the little monster--ahem, I mean "beloved firstborn son".

But obviously it all worked itself out, and when enough time had passed for us to forget the early trauma, we even talked ourselves into the bold move of having yet another child. (Parental Memory Loss apparently being a Very. Real. Thing.) Due to his late-Summer birthday, by the time I experienced Mother's Day with two munchkins, Riley was around 9 months old, with big sibling Derek having just turned 4. Yes, they were a perfectly normal, rambunctious, exhausting handful o'boys...but c'mon, aren't they also just precious? (And clearly, we'd already begun travel-training with them, since this photo was taken in Florida, after Riley's first, and Derek's probably third (ish) plane ride. Hey, I firmly believe that it's best to learn early: when the beach beckons, one must heed the call...)

And now, skipping forward to the present...there have been quite a few impactful events in the life of Team WestEnders over the past year...such as Derek's 18th birthday, and his impending transition to college, Riley beginning his High School journey, and signing up for Driver's Ed classes, to name just a few. It suddenly felt more important than ever before to spend time doing things we love, together, and make the moments count. (Sorry, I realize that sounds like a particularly lame Hallmark card...I promise I'll stop right here, before it gets any worse!)

Sooooo, we went exploring











And took road trips



And ran 5K races...and did all sorts of other adventurous...and also ordinary-but-meaningful to us, anyway...stuff.











All-in-all, I reflected that there were frequent reminders that--even though they don't demand quite as much hands-on care as they did in those early, intense days, and they've grown into young men before my very eyes--they're still, and forever will be, my "babies".  And finally, lest I (or you) think for one hot minute that they're aging--or (heaven forbid) maturing--out of their status as my favorite...big honking gooberheads...I leave you with the card that the two of them went to the store, totally unsupervised, to purchase for me:

The inside reads "Trust me, Mom, what you don't know won't hurt you. Happy Mother's Day". Ha! THAT'S MY BOYS!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

One day I'll have a normal birthday (nah, probably not...)

Having barely recovered sufficiently (ish) from my oldest child reaching the age of adulthood, I had to turn right around and steel myself to face my own impending birthday. Eh, while adding a digit to the increasing total might not seem like such a....joyous...thing at this point in one's journey, the bottom line is that there's no doubt I'm abundantly grateful to be gifted with another year on Earth...and the time to appreciate my many blessings!

But--funny story--here's how NOT focusing on celebrating I was: when my new physician suggested I consider the updated shingles vaccine, which is now recommended for a younger group of patients (including me...rats!), I dutifully went ahead and scheduled it...for 3 days before my birthday...and then put it out of my mind completely. In fact, it wasn't until the day before my appointment that I even thought to check out the specifics of this particular medicine, to find out what, exactly, I had gotten myself into. According to my intensive research--um, "Googling"--it turns out that it is not egg-based (huge relief), so I didn't have to worry on that account. However, the CDC was admirably transparent about describing some fairly-innocuous-but-nevertheless-unpleasant possible side effects, such as headaches, digestive issues, and generally feeling slightly ill for up to 3-5 days after the shot. Oh...FABULOUS.

So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I presented myself for the needle...but the happy ending to the tale is that the worst symptoms for me were an achy arm (pretty severe for one day, less so the next, then more or less back to normal), and one morning of a mildly upset stomach.Which was quite a relief, since I'd also been invited out for a cousin-birthday-lunch the day following my inoculation, and I naturally wanted to be able to enjoy the company--and yummy food! (Both of which were utterly delightful...)

Then on my actual bday, we went with a non-traditional outing...to the movie theater, so see Avengers: Infinity War. (Hey, superheroes, popcorn, and soda from the FreeStyle machine constitute quite a treat for me, what can I say?) Yeeeaahhhh....in retrospect, this might not have been the best idea....since neither the boys nor I were aware ahead of time that it's such a dark film...with a bleak, (dare I say) emotionally devastating ending. (If you're overly invested in the Marvel Universe and its characters, that is. Like I totally am...siiiighhhhh...) Definitely not the most...uplifting...activity we could have chosen...but at least we had LOTS to discuss on the way home? (Suuurrre, let's go with that...)

At least when we returned to the house there were presents to open--because even though I asked for very specific items and therefore already knew what I would be receiving, it still counts, right? There was the extra-thick exercise mat, to cushion me from the hard, uneven ground during outdoor bootcamp class. (Yay! No more bruises from lying on rocks while doing crunches and whatnot!) And the new Kindle I'd asked for--smaller, lighter, faster...and with Alexa! (Because yes, I AM Just. That. Dorky.) So--stick with me, here, this gets a little convoluted--in playing around with my new toy, it suddenly struck me that, since we have Amazon Prime (of course we do, impatient souls that we are...or, you know, "I" am....) I also have the Amazon music app on my phone...with Alexa, who I've not been utilizing because...well, I'm not really sure why, to be honest.

But then Husband recorded a documentary about the Ramones, for some reason, and watching it made me all nostalgic about the time a girlfriend and I, waaaaayyy back in the 90s, actually saw the band live, at a semi-scary venue called Hammerjacks. (Yep, just as...ahem...tough as it sounds!) As I remember it, we showed up in our denim mini-skirts and preppy t-shirts and tried our best to nonchalantly "blend" with the pierced, tattooed, leather-clad, foot-high-electric-blue-mohawk (this was my personal fave--I couldn't tear my eyes off this dude. That hair was spec-tac-ular, I tell ya...) crowd standing in line with us, waiting to be admitted. (And don't even get me started on the mesmerizing spectacle known as a "mosh pit"--albeit observed from a safe distance in the balcony, so as not to get trampled...or worse. Suffice it to say, we sheltered suburban chicks had ourselves quite the experience...)

Anyway, after hearing 30 minutes or so of early American punk's greatest hits, I was pretty psyched to head out for my evening run...and rather than stand around for 15 minutes and dither over playlists like I usually do, for once it seemed clear what music should accompany my workout. So in a flash of inspiration, I woke up my virtual assistant and politely requested that she "play the Ramones". She promptly responded "shuffling songs by the Ramones".

And in that gratifying moment I marveled that--no matter which birthday has come and gone, or how I'm "not getting any younger" (read this in a cranky old lady voice, if you will) I must be at a very lucky place in my life, regardless. After all, I have wonderful memories from my youth...that I can still recall with great clarity (for now!)...and as a bonus, I can relive them whenever I want, with the help of the modern era's impressive artificial intelligence! All that, AND gluten-free cake? I think that's what we call WINNING, my friends!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Getting a little bit...cocky (Sorry!)

I can't decide if it seems like a million years ago...or just yesterday...that the first piece of marketing mail from an institution of higher learning showed up in our box, touting their advantages and encouraging Derek to apply. I do remember that it caused quite a stir--okay, okay, while Derek may have viewed it with his habitual air of detached bemusement, I was pretty gleeful.

And in keeping with my hyper-organized persona--not to mention my "Must! Chronicle! Every! Last! Milestone!" mission--I promptly began numbering them in the order in which they were received, and piling them neatly in a box. They ranged from the "local--but no, thank you" (Campbell University, I'm looking at you. And seriously, you can STOP SENDING STUFF NOW, for crying out loud!) to the "schools of potential interest" (Your broader contingent-of-the-Carolinas) to the "improbable but we appreciate you asking" (University of Chicago? Um...uh-uh...) to the "Are you kidding me? How did you even get my name? Please lose my info, immediately!" (Lynchburg College...just say ix-nay to middle-of-the-wilderness Virginia...)

When I finally stopped counting--and some of them had begun to repeat themselves, with what seemed to me like increasing desperation--the total had far surpassed 100 assorted colorful postcards, glossy brochures, and (much more boring) letters. But by that time, Derek had actually already heard back from all the schools to which he'd applied, and had in fact narrowed it down to his original top two choices, University of South Carolina and James Madison University.

Then the Southern Carolina tipped the balance strongly in their favor by coming through with a scholarship offer that suddenly made their out-of-state rates muuuuuch more affordable and appealing...and there was abundant rejoicing amongst Team WestEnders. So all that remained at that point was for us to wait until J-Mad spoke up. What ensued was a whole lotta crickets...radio silence...continued twiddling of thumbs...until I finally emailed their Financial Aid department, and was enlightened with some very useful--albeit surprising and disappointing--information. It seems that at this particular institution, LESS THAN 5% of incoming Freshmen are awarded scholarships. Huh. Alrighty, then...file that under "good to know"...aaannnnd, moving on...

This obviously crystallized Derek's choice for him, and he was quite content to declare himself a future Gamecock...at least to his family. He held off on making a public announcement, however, due to the fact that USC had invited him to be a Capstone Scholar, and he felt that he wanted more details before committing to the program. Well, this sounded entirely reasonable to me--heck, to be honest, I was thrilled (and more than a little astonished) that he'd even consider it. So we attended the Capstone presentation at Admitted Students Day, and everything sounded absolutely GREAT...to me, that is. Derek was still a bit unsure about the demands on his time, and the requirements he'd have to satisfy, and therefore needed a couple of questions answered, to firm up his decision.

So naturally, he implemented the High School Senior Procrastination Plan, and held off until ONE WEEK before the deadline to pay his deposit and secure his spot for the Fall, to contact a Capstone representative and make his inquiries. Luckily they're totally on the ball, and responded to him almost immediately...PLUS alleviated his concerns...so he agreed that it would be beneficial to participate in the program. (One second.....yaaaayyyyyy! Ecstatic Nerd Mom cheer!)

After that, we could get down to taking care of some administrative business...most of which involved shelling out loads of moolah. (Ahhhh, post-secondary education...) There was the aforementioned "Yes, I'm really coming!" fee. Then the "please save me a room on campus" charge. And finally, the cost of the 2-day Orientation..for him and his accompanying parental unit. Holy credit card workout, Batman, can you say: CHA-CHING?

But once the piles of virtual cash had been transmitted, we were all set for a late-July session, for the kid and....well, ME, of course. I mean, Husband tried to be like, "I have all these vacation days, and I never use them, so don't worry, I can do the Orientation so you don't have to arrange for time off." And I went, "Aww, that's adorable. But let's be real, here: I've shown up for every Back to School Night, Parent Information Meeting, and Open House since Derek was in preschool (and you've been to...wait, let me think....oh, right, that would be ZERO). So I'm curious...in what universe do you imagine me NOT accompanying him to this event?" Yeah, glad we got that settled...

Besides, he sheepishly admitted that he'd probably just sit in the library with his laptop and log into work anyway. While I, of course, will be at every seminar, with a notebook and pen, paying close attention to presentations and diligently jotting down important...stuff. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: both Derek and I get to stay on campus for the in-between night--yippee! So you can totally see why this has "my kinda trip" written all over it, can't you?

And there you have it: we've checked off the early items on the Pre-College To Do List...my next task is to seriously focus on coming to grips with the fact that my beloved child will be spending the next 4 years of his life at a university represented by...a fighting chicken. No, really--I must be at peace with this concept before the next time we visit, so I can plunder the bookstore for USC swag! However, trust me when I assure you my new t-shirt will NOT display any variation of the very popular shortened nickname....you can guess what that is...that's right: "Cocks". (Yep, the possibilities for obnoxious sayings are practically endless...siiighhhh...) Perhaps I'll select one with a tasteful, understated logo, without any mention of the mascot whatsoever. That's the ticket: Go, GARNET!


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Welcome to the Club...

Well, I suppose it had to happen, eventually. I mean, in some ways, it certainly was a long time coming...yet nevertheless it managed to sneak up on me somehow. (Oh, riiiiiight--we call that "denial"...) After years of infancy, toddlerhood, preschooldom, elementaryness, tweenageism, and adolescence, my oldest child can now be called...an ADULT. (You know, at least in the legal sense--we're all aware that the brain doesn't finish developing until around age 25, blah blah blah. But we're gonna go with the "metaphorical age of maturity" for dramatic purposes, 'kay?)

Although Derek approached his impending...grown-up status...with his usual nonchalant air, Husband and I thought it was kind of a Big Deal. In fact, I even tried--for months beforehand, mind you--to entice Derek with the offer of a trip to commemorate his special milestone. But the only thing he could come up with was...Milwaukee (believe it or not)...to see an NBA playoff game. (Which is a strange tale in and of itself, but suffice it to say, he's inexplicably turned into a Bucks fan in the past several years. No one has a clue why...) Unfortunately, the professional basketball schedule didn't coincide in any way with a convenient school holiday, so that turned out to be impossible.

And when I switched tactics, and attempted to pin him down to something ELSE he might want as a gift? I got a whole lotta...nothin'. That is, until about a week before the anniversary of his birth, when he finally compiled a very short list for me--all of which involved clothing, amusingly enough. So I scrambled to place some hasty online orders, one of which resulted in the pictured (Malcolm) Brogdon tee that pleased him very much. (Wait a minute--WHO? I know, it's ridiculous. Apparently this kid was last season's Rookie of the Year....that no one outside of Wisconsin...besides my son...has ever heard of...). I also surprised him with a Greensboro Grasshoppers shirt (his alleged "favorite minor league baseball team)--an item he'd mentioned several times, but didn't expect me to actually purchase for him. (Mom, FTW!)
Meanwhile, his brother went straight to heart...by way of the stomach,...and supplied some tasty snack foods that he thought Derek would enjoy. (Seriously, Cheez Its...and M&Ms? I can't decide if it's pure genius, or utterly disgusting...but Derek polished off the box in a couple of sittings, making his vote crystal clear.)

Hoooooowever...we're still waiting for the Dylan Bundy replica jersey...which the site where I found it failed to mention is being shipped from CHINA. So who honestly knows when it'll arrive--but hopefully sometime before the end of the Orioles' season. (And that, my beloved offspring, is why you make your wishes known more than 7 days in advance! Just sayin'....)

Anyway, to finish the fashion-palooza, we took a jaunt to Kohl's, to replenish Derek's supply of shorts...since he pointed out that he's pretty much been wearing the same ones since Middle School. So, to put it mildly, it's high time we replace some of those pairs...before they start disintegrating and causing unfortunate wardrobe malfunctions that lead to public embarrassment...or being sent home from class for violating the dress code.

Having successfully exercised the credit card, we then continued the festivities with (drum roll) CAKE, of course! Now, I usually throw together whatever flavor the honoree wants--from a boxed mix, given my tendency toward culinary...laziness. But this year, I'd seen a super-cool tie dye creation on Food Network's The Kitchen....and I threatened--I mean "offered"--to make it for Derek. He agreed that would be fine (After all, why wouldn't he--it's dessert, right?), so I whisked and food colored and swirled and stacked and frosted and decorated...and while it definitely wasn't as pretty as the professional one on TV, everyone agreed it could be called a success. (Because yeah: no matter what, you end up with a sweet treat. And frankly, we're not that picky...)

Although we haven't yet gone out for the traditional "family restaurant dinner" that each member of Team WestEnders gets to choose for their birthday (due to "homework", that dreaded nemesis of fun), I'd have to say we feted the new 18-year old pretty thoroughly. When I inquired as to whether he felt older, or different--or anything at all, for that matter--Derek gave one of his patented shrugs and replied, "Eh, not really. People keep asking me that, but (here he paused to reflect a moment) 18 is one of those deceptive birthdays. It seems important, but you don't get any special privileges, like driving at 16, or drinking at 21. It's just...over-rated."


I restrained myself from pointing out that he can now participate in the democratic process--whoo hoo!--because I do get what he's saying. Perhaps this particular age means more to the parents, who at this point are feeling a whole host of emotions...from the inevitable disbelief ("Are you kidding me? How is it possible that our baby is 18 already?"); to relief, for have shepherded him through his tender childhood era, and delivered him safely to the realm of adulthood; to pride, for the young man he's become; to excitement, for what awaits him on the horizon in the next stage of his life. Now before I collapse into a teary-eyed puddle of goo, I believe I'll drown my melancholy with a nice, strong drink (of tea)...and some leftover baked goods! Cheers to Derek!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Bits of April...

I realized it had been a while since I'd sat down to chronicle anything in the ongoing saga of Team WestEnders--because (contrary to the usual state of...controlled chaos) things have honestly been pretty quiet around here lately, and there hasn't been any kind of big, exciting story to tell. But then it occurred to me that April has brought with it a collection of...let's call them "little milestones"...that are worth noting.

For example, the boys have skated into their 4th and final quarter of the current academic term. For Riley, this means that he's almost finished with his first year of High School--which is nerve-wracking enough...at least for his mother, who's having a great deal of difficulty wrapping her head around this concept. Even more mind-boggling, however, is the fact that Derek is now entrenched in the very last 2 months of his K-12 career (and I just....I can't even...never mind, I'll get back to you on this...). The reality of this situation was abruptly brought into sharp focus last week, when he got the notice that his graduation gear had arrived and was ready for pickup during lunch period. (Nope, not dealing...maybe later...)

On a related note, only 2 weeks remain until he'll have to announce a formal decision about where he plans to attend college in the Fall, so we can pay his deposit and secure his spot in the Class of 2022. (I apologize for repeating myself, but I figure if I say it often enough, maybe I'll eventually become desensitized to this information, and therefore possibly decrease the frequency and severity of the episodes of watery eyes and hyperventilating...it's worth a shot, yeah?) Well...in truth he's actually already made his choice, but he has a few questions he needs answered about financial and scholarship topics, before he can officially declare (and allow his mother to post it to his adoring public on social media, of course...)

Moving on to something less traumatic...oh, or NOT...we've been attempting to get Riley into a Driver's Ed class, so that when his birthday rolls around in August, he'll be all ready to go in and obtain his permit. (Give me a second....aaaahhhhhh! My BABY! How is this happening? Okay, I'm good....ish...) Because he's on the younger side for his grade, he got bumped the first couple of times we tried, for students with earlier birthdays--which is understandable. However, in a head-shaking coincidence, all 3 of the sessions offered at his High School during the Summer directly conflict with either our family trips (in 2 cases), or soccer tryouts (the last one). What're the odds? So we're keeping our fingers crossed that he'll be allowed to register for--and that space will be available in--an option held at a neighboring...crosstown rival....but it'll be okay, since this isn't a sporting event, per se, no one's keeping score, and they're all winners...right? (Sure, let's go with that...)

Finally, one more entry in the gosh-darn-it-they're-growing-up-too-fast department: Riley also recently found a volunteer opportunity that appealed to him, working with kids at a camp program held at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. This wasn't something you just put your name in for, either--he had to fill out an application listing his qualifications and experience...request 2 letters of recommendation (hopefully highlighting his character, maturity, and leadership abilities)...and INTERVIEW with someone from the museum, responding to a list of questions that were provided ahead of time so he could prepare appropriately. Holy Real Deal, Batman...that's pretty heady stuff for a 14-year old! So, he's had his meeting, and now we just wait to find out if he's offered one of the positions--and if so, which weeks he's slated to serve...which had better not overlap with Driver's Ed, since we determined his free time for camp when we mistakenly still believed he'd be completing the car training course during the school year. Ay yi yi...

Aaaannd that's it for the first-half-of-April updates. Yep, time to relax and enjoy the weekend...or, you know, organize the celebration for one particular member of the fam, who will be turning the big 1-8 on Monday. (Here we go again....aaahhhhhh!) But of course, that's a whole 'nother tale for a different day, y'all! Now if you'll excuse me, I've gotta go have an attack of Mom-stalgia...oh, and buy ingredients for a cake....