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 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. 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 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 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?) 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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) 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 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 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's worth a shot, yeah?) 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....

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Boats, bridges, and battlefields (oh my!)

While Day 1 in New Bern had proved both enlightening and entertaining, the sun hadn’t made an appearance to grace my travels. So when I awoke on Saturday to a bright blue sky and copious rays, I knew I’d be exploring a bit more before taking my leave. First up: a stroll across the bridge that leads into town, for some scenic riverscapes. Although it was super-windy and slightly on the cool-ish side, the excursion proved just as lovely as I’d hoped. What is it about bodies of water that invokes such a deep-seated sense of peace, causing one’s breathing to calm and mind to cease racing? Seriously, if someone could identify and bottle that stuff, they’d make millions, I tell ya.

And of course there were the rows upon rows of cheerful sailboats to behold, gently bobbing on the waves. Now, I don’t love to be, you know. ON small crafts, in general….but I do absolutely enjoy gazing upon--and photographing--them. (What can I say? I’m a woman of many complicated contradictions...or whatever…)

Then came the huge unexpected BONUS of my walkabout...I began to hear a repeated clanging sound, like a signal for something. I suddenly remembered the signs I’d seen while driving in the previous day, giving instructions for “Pedestrians (to) stop here when bell sounds”. At the time I’d given it a curious moment of thought, but hadn’t really stopped to try to figure out what it actually meant. Now, however, it dawned on me that it must be a drawbridge, and they were warning you to remain in the safe zone if the structure needed to be raised.

Which it did, apparently. I joined the line of cars waiting behind the lowered barriers and watched, utterly fascinated, as a portion of the roadway tilted up, up, up towards us, to allow a tall-masted schooner to scoot through unobstructed. (Is that an appropriate term? I could totally be using my ignorance to take liberties with the nautical lingo. But I liked the way it sounded, so I'm just gonna go with it...and I apologize in the unlikely event that any this...) I’m not sure exactly why that struck me as so cool...but it definitely counted as my silly thrill for the morning.

After that, it was back to the car for a short jaunt over to the New Bern Battlefield Park...which turned out to be a long, fancy name for...a small plot of nondescript forest that didn't contain much of interest, actually. I got the basic gist--the town was desirable because of its waterway access, and therefore potential for shipping goods and people during the Civil War. Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside successfully defeated the Confederate forces to gain control of New Bern, and it remained in the Union’s hands for the rest of the conflict. (Because even though it wasn’t very impressive, as historical sites go, I couldn’t help but read the plaques, you know? C’mon, there might be a quiz! If so, I’m prepared…)

Finally--on a related note--I made my way to the New Bern National Cemetery, which was established in 1867 and now serves as the final resting place for soldiers from that time forward. It reminded me of a mini-Arlington, with white marble markers in orderly rows, amidst a bucolic setting. I swear, even the birds, who have been joyfully warbling away now that the weather has at long last decided to become Spring-like, seemed to confine their singing to a respectful, reverent volume within the boundaries of the burial grounds.

It was a soothing way to end my pleasant sojourn in the Coastal Plains...and when I’d had my fill of reading headstones and soaking up the solar energy, I turned the Subaru westward to make my way back to the Triangle, and reunite with the also-returning Male Posse. Another successful field trip...and also one more spot checked off on my “Tour North Carolina” list. Yep, I'm gonna have to call that...a Win!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Biding Time in New Bern

Well, we've arrived at another Spring Break, so Team WestEnders followed the usual drill: the Male Trio geared up for their annual Easter visit with Husband's parents in South Carolina, and I orchestrate some kind of daytrip for myself while they're away. This time I had to put some extra thought into where to go, since we've been having such an unusually chilly March, and I definitely didn't want to travel anywhere colder. This unfortunately ruled out the mountains to our west, which although it was my first choice, I had to hastily discard when I looked up the forecast for that part of the state...and the temperature numbers in the forecast began with "4s". No. Thank. You.

So I regrouped, and turned my attention in the exact opposite direction, towards the coast. While I didn't quite feel like trekking all the way to the beach (my apologies, Mother Ocean--another time, for sure), I could make it to the Coastal Plain region in a little over 2 hours, which sounded perfect. Once I had identified my compass point, I selected the town I'd be exploring: New Bern, North Carolina. It sounded like it'd be entertaining, with an interesting mix of history, scenery, and maybe a little quirkiness thrown in for good measure.

To start off on the right note, it certainly turned out to be an easy drive. Yep, flat, open highways...for 145 miles. Seriously, the only mildly negative factor was the extreme windiness, which kept buffeting the Subaru as if we were under some kind of...I don't know...Interstate Small Craft Warning, or something. Otherwise. as long as I paid attention and kept a tight grip on the steering wheel, I enjoyed...smooth sailing--ha! (Sorry...)

I cruised into town and stopped by the Visitor's Center first for a handy-dandy street map, which would prove particularly useful, since the friendly, helpful employee assured me that the entire small city was completely walkable. (My fave--park once, then meander for hours. So far, so good...) Even better, when I inquired about where I could legally leave my vehicle--since I'd already stationed it in a lot with a green Parking sign--she looked briefly perplexed before chuckling gently, lowering her voice confidentially, and replying in the sweetest Southern drawl, "Well, I've never known anyone to just...get a ticket right away." I must have appeared skeptical, because she added, "They'll leave a note first, kind of like a warning, so you can move and avoid a fine." (Can I just say: Wooooow. Loving this place already, y'all.)

Armed with all of this knowledge, I set off on foot to get the lay of the land. One of the first things I noticed was the prevalence of...bear statues. I mean, EVERYWHERE. Ursine specimens included  plain wooden, sculpted metal, and brightly painted costumed ones. Over the course of the day, by reading the enchanting informational signs scattered throughout the city, I pieced together a theory: New Bern was founded by a Swiss man (which in retrospect should have been obvious, yeah? Berne...Switzerland? What can I say, it escaped me for a while...). So I wondered if, perhaps, the word bern translates to bear--and Google later assured me that it does, in fact. So that's one mystery solved.

Anyway, I had a lovely time wandering around the Riverwalk, directly next to the water, and admiring people's docked sailboats (as it was much too breezy for anyone to actually be out on the river, as I might have mentioned...). I eventually made my way to Tryon Palace (a very lofty word for the house, in my opinion....mansion would have sufficed), which served as the royal governor's home, when New Bern was the original capital of NC in British-ruled, pre-American-Revolutionary times. From there, I meandered to the Cedar Grove cemetery--because graveyards inexplicably fascinate me.

After that, I ambled the downtown streets--filled with boutiques, restaurants, MANY churches, and historical buildings galore. In case you think I'm exaggerating--just about every structure has a wooden plaque attached to it, stating the date it was erected, and most of them are from the 17-or-1800s. Eventually I was drawn--magnetically, you may suspect--to Bradham's Drugstore...which proudly proclaims itself (wait for it) the Birthplace of Pepsi (or, you know, "soft drink nirvana" to some of us). It seems that Caleb Bradham (who incidentally attended both UNC and the University of Maryland) invented the drink right there in his shop in 1898. The rest, as they say, is...pure refreshment. (Okay, they probably don't say that...but they should!)

At this point I was getting a bit weary--and hungry...and thirsty--so I decided to go find my Air Bnb, where I could rest and recover a bit. Now, about that...the apartment I'd attempted to rent fell through, since the host never responded to confirm the booking. Plan B, selected for its similar cost and location, was a room in someone's house. To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure about this, but it was only one night, and just me, so I figured I'd give it a shot. I found the home tucked back into a large, attractive neighborhood, and when I pulled up, all of the windows and doors were open, presumably to allow the balmy air to circulate indoors. I rang the doorbell several times, but it didn't seem to work, so I knocked...and called "Hello"...and then proceeded to repeat these steps, feeling increasingly ridiculous, until the retired gentleman who owns the property finally saw me and came out. Awk...ward.

But once we introduced ourselves, he was perfectly pleasant, and hospitable...and chatty. He showed me around, told me his life story, introduced me to his cat (Benny), and probably would still be talking my ear off if I hadn't asserted my need for a quick nap. Don't get me wrong, he's quite nice, but it's a wee bit more...interaction....than I was perhaps looking for in terms of sleeping arrangements. (Which explains why I'm currently ensconced at a Starbucks, writing this.) We're just gonna go ahead and chalk this one up to a "Lesson Learned". 

But all in all, it was as lovely a sojourn as I'd hoped, when I embarked on Friday morning. Bonus: I stumbled upon a Panera where I could get my favorite salad for dinner...and in doing so, I passed by a Dunkin' Donuts, which will allow me to get my hands on some java in the morning to fuel a couple more hours of tourist-ing before heading back to the Triangle. For now, I need to sneak back into "my room" to relax for a couple of hours before bed...okay, maybe after petting the kitty one more time...shhh!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Whirlwind tour through the "other Carolina"

Well, here we are in late March--a time that brings with it several significant milestones for Team WestEnders. First, Derek has just one grading quarter remaining in his High School career. (Gulp...) And on a related note, we're just over a month out from official Decision Day, by which point he'll have to choose once-and-for-all where he wants to attend college in the Fall. With this in mind, Derek wanted to revisit both of his favorites one more time--to get a fresh look at each of them, to gauge whether his feelings shifted with another in-depth campus...research excursion...and to judge them based on the criteria he’s developed and refined during this whole process.

So to recap, we did James Madison last month, on a cold, gray, drizzly day. And when we’d finished shivering our way through many hours of tromping around the grounds, making sure we explored every inch of the place...he declared that he hadn’t changed his mind, and that it was still a strong contender. So, that brings us up-to-date...and now University of South Carolina would take its turn in the spotlight. I was particularly excited about this one, since I hadn’t been involved in the initial foray into Gamecock territory, and would therefore be experiencing the school for the first time.

We prepared for our...storming of the South, if you registering for the Admitted Students Day program...securing a place to sleep...confirming the driving packing, I guess. As getaways go, this one seemed super-easy...until we hit a hellish construction fiasco on I-85 around Charlotte, which slapped an extra hour onto our travel time. Grr…

Nevertheless, we eventually arrived, and found ourselves pleasantly well-situated for a short jaunt over to campus the following morning. And I’ve gotta say, although Derek would tell you the activities kicked off faaaaaar too early for his taste (that would be “9:15 a.m.”, if you’re wondering….which to be honest is probably equivalent to “the bum-crack of dawn” on the teenage clock), from the moment he strolled up to the check-in table, he seemed very happy to be there. (Did it have anything to do with the swag bag he received, which contained a coupon he could use to buy a souvenir in the bookstore, PLUS earbuds with the mascot's logo? Perhaps…)

Since we’d actually arrived about 30 minutes before our information session was set to begin (I know, right? GASP! Statistically, I suppose it's bound to happen once in a while…), we had plenty of extra time to wander around and...look at stuff. Derek pointed out the Visitor’s Center, the library, and some dorms--all of which he remembered from his first visit, which is pretty impressive. He reported with amusement that he’d spotted several people that he knew from his High School, walking in the distance ahead of us. But the weirdest coincidence had to be when we were approached by a family that we knew...from our previous hometown in Maryland! We had lived down the street from them, and our sons had gone to school together from pre-k until we moved...and then we ran into them in a whole other state. Small. World.

Anyway, our meeting took us to one of the far edges of campus, which was a good starting point to then meander back through the rest of USC's extensive territory. Of course, our agenda did have priorities...such as allowing ample time for Derek to pick out (yet another) t-shirt from the bookstore's extensive collection of gear. While we were there, we also made sure to walk through the rest of the Student Union, to get an idea of what food and other offerings there were. Finally, at the opposite extreme of campus, lay the Wellness Center, which Derek particularly wanted me to see...and admire. Admittedly, it IS a beautiful structure, filled with an array of equipment and a plethora of spaces to play and work out.

More importantly, though, as Derek and I chatted--and pounded the pavement--through the morning and afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice the way he kept referring to the university, its sports teams, and its denizens as “WE”--as in “I can’t wait for when we play Georgia in Week 2 (of the college football season) next year!” Tired as he was, his perpetual smile never dimmed, and he just seemed...utterly content. So I finally commented/queried, “It sounds like you’ve pretty much made up your mind?” Faced with such directness , he (not surprisingly) hemmed and hawed a bit, “Well...I’m not declaring just yet." Then he relented, "’s my #1.” When I pressed him to elaborate, he replied, “I’m not sure I can explain it.” Then he laughed ruefully and added, “Okay, I’m gonna pull a ‘you’, here, and say that it just...feels right.” (Oh, I GET you, son. And that totally does sound like me…) I tried to clarify for him, “You mean you’re comfortable here, and feel like you belong?” “YES--that’s it! he  agreed.

Alrighty, then--that was (eventually) illuminating! And then, with the deep discussion out of the way, we made our final stop for the day: Williams Brice stadium, since Derek didn’t feel he could leave town without paying paying his respects to the football team's home field. It lies 2 miles off campus, so we drove in the general direction, then snuck into a parking spot at a Bojangles next door (Shhhh!), so we could get out and do a pedestrian lap around it. Then, having satisfied his inner fan boy, Derek proclaimed that his goals had been met, and he was ready to head for home...using the alternative, straight-line route that skips the highway nonsense altogether, that is.

And yes, the back roads on a Saturday afternoon did prove to be traffic-free and smoothly moving--albeit severely...depressing. I mean, they take you through some rural areas of South Carolina whose ramshackle houses, crumbling trailer parks, and shuttered, decaying buildings all combine to give off an aura of crushing poverty. It’s NOT what you might call a "scenic drive", I’m telling ya. However, it did make us that much more grateful to get back to Chapel Hill, to be sure. that all of the data-gathering has been done, this just leaves us waiting for Derek to make whatever kind of formal announcement he intends to spring on us (and his public...such as it is) we can then send a deposit to one of those venerable institutions, and reserve his spot in the Class of 2022. If you wanna hang out with me, I’ll be over here...holding my breath… (Just kidding! More like “drinking tea”...or “eating chocolate”--you’re still welcome to come, though. And just think, we only have to bide our time until...oh yeah, May 1st. Hmm, could you bring some more Lipton...and Ghirardelli?)

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Can I call a time-out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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