Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Disney Date with Derek

The convoluted tale of how the boys and I saw the original Frozen...on an appropriately frigid day in January of 2014...during a rare miss of a historical field trip to Winchester, VA (whose alleged "battlefield" failed us mightily in terms of both size and sites of interest, I tell ya)...as a desperate Plan B activity to fill time and wring something worthwhile out of the excursion...oh, and with one kid beginning to show signs of illness, which would turn out to be bronchitis, for crying out loud...is nevertheless now a treasured part of WestEnders family lore. As they like to tell it, I "dragged them there" under protest and forced them to sit through a movie about one of their least favorite things on planet Earth: singing princesses.

But don't you believe a word of it, my friends, because the truth is that they LOVED it. How do I know this? Well, Derek to this day can throw random quotes (mostly Olaf's greatest hits) into conversation. Even his college gang found out about his not-so-secret Disney proclivity...and gifted him with a Frozen pinata for his birthday last year. So you can imagine that there was Not. Any. Universe. in which I wasn't going to purchase the preposterous breakfast cereal tie-in for when he came home at Thanksgiving. (Yes, of course I texted him a photo while clutching the box in the aisle at Costco. He wasn't quite as gleeful as I was, but he did appreciate it, nonetheless...)

Needless to say, when the inevitable hysteria started mounting in advance of the hugely anticipated, long awaited sequel, you can bet we jumped right on that glittery, snowflake fueled bandwagon. In fact, I think we began talking about it as early as Summer, when the first short teasers were released. Then during one of our recent Sunday afternoon phone calls, Derek suddenly asked me, in a tone of barely contained enthusiasm, "Do you know what happens in 2 weeks?" Momentarily stumped, I glanced at the calendar and stalled..."Um...you'll be here for the holiday?" Fortunately he bailed me out with the correct answer: Frozen II opens! Oh, yeah--how could I forget? (A brief lapse, I assure you. There will be no need to alert the...I don't know...Mouseketeer Police? And don't even THINK about trying to take away my Honorary Princess card, 'cuz that's just not happening...)

Now, there's a bit of a...minor dispute...about what transpired next. You see, the way I recall the conversation, Derek said, "You're gonna wait until I get home to see it, right?" I assured him that was the plan. I even graciously agreed--given that he naturally wanted to spend time with his neighborhood buddies, and also would be going back to Columbia early for the big football game--that we might have to wait until the end of the semester when he'd be home for several weeks, rather than attempting to cram it in over TG.

And so, I prepared myself to (impatiently) hold out until I could share the experience with my precious child...you can guess where this is going, hmm? I received a text on 11/23 (that would be "the day after it premiered") that read "The lads and I pulled up to the 10:30 primetime showing of Frozen. I feel bad, so I'm ok with seeing it over break if you want." I...I just...let's say I was..."miffed" and leave it at that. I thought it best in this instance NOT to reply, so I maintained radio silence (and stewed), and would you believe he had the sheer nerve to add, at 1:31 a.m. "Great movie btw". Grrrr! He was definitely holding the position of least favorite son at that moment (which is really saying something, in a pool of only 2).

By the time he strolled through the door on Sunday night, though, he'd been forgiven. I told him I understand that if his whole posse decides to do something together, he can't very well be the one that bows out because "he promised his Mom". Besides, now that he was back in town, we were able to hash out the details of our own agenda...buy our tickets...and get ready for the magic (again, for some of us, but whatever)! It turned out that the best day for us would be Friday...also known as "the most chaotic shopping day of the year"...AND our preferred theater happens to be at a mall...what could possibly go wrong?

This called for a carefully constructed, strategic course of action, so I went ahead and reserved the passes online to avoid any box office madness, and we settled on a departure time that would allow us plenty of leeway for traffic and...whatnot. Part of me felt like our behavior might be a bit...paranoid, or at least dramatic...and we were probably overreacting, blah blah blah. But ay ay yi, it was a dang good thing we thought this through, because simply navigating the parking lot ended up being like how I imagine the 9th Circle of Hell--with minivans. Piloted by drivers weaving erratically, stopping unexpectedly, and crawling up and down the rows seeking nonexistent empty spots. Every single space was occupied, but thank heavens for the bankrupt Sears Auto Shop at the far end of the property, which afforded a few extra, precious yards of crumbling asphalt for those of us lucky--and early--enough to snag some.

Image may contain: 1 person, eyeglassesAfter that--and the subsequent HIKE from our vehicle to the theater--it was fortuitous smooth sailing all the way. We cruised through the entrance, the snack line, the preemptive restroom break, and into our pre-selected assigned chairs...which incidentally include "recline", "footrest"...and even "seat warmer" at the push of a button! (Hey, it's a flick that features lots of ICE, so why not counteract that by toasting the tushie? Ha!) And then...we were transported to Arendelle, swept away with Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven once more. No spoilers, but the music was stunning, the story amazing, the animation gorgeous, and the whole package added up to yet another enchanting Disney triumph. In short: four very passionate thumbs-up from the WestEnders contingent.

On top of that, it was a delightful interlude of Mother/Son bonding before Derek had to hit the road. And when you think about it, we didn't have to suffer through Winchester for our entertainment payoff...no one came down with a nasty ailment...we survived a retail center during holiday pandemonium...and WARM. BUTTS. Absolutely no doubt about it, this was a W-I-N! (And really, go catch the film; it's awesome. Heck, if you let me know, I'd totally tag along and see it again! I'll even try to sing only under my breath....but I make no promises. Consider yourself warned...)

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Frolicking and Feasting!

In the theme of "gratitude", one thing Team WestEnders really appreciates about living in Chapel Hill is the robust health culture and Great Outdoors vibe that's constantly on display throughout the area. For a relevant seasonal example, there's not just ONE turkey-trot-type event to participate in, but rather a whole array from which you can choose, if you're inclined to start your Day of Thanks by pre-burning some of the inevitable calories to be consumed later.

Alas, the one located geographically closest to me comprises an 8K course...which is just a tad ambitious for this recreational runner. However, a couple of years ago our bootcamp leader (K) informed me of an alternate race that includes a much friendlier 5K option...and a new tradition was born. Now, in 2018 I got the whole fam to come along with me (to my slight surprise, due to the "waking up early and, you know, exercising on a day dedicated pretty much to eating...and lounging on the couch watching sports"). But this year, Riley said he didn't want to do it...Husband is still experiencing residual pain from the ankle bone he broke several months ago...and Derek obviously wasn't going to commit without his jogging buddy (that would be "Dad", NOT his brother, who's far too speedy for any of us to match).

Honestly, though, this was totally okay with me, since I knew I'd have my usual partner-in-crime--um, "fitness friend"--to keep me company. Plus, a bonus-J-pal from our workout gang decided she'd join us as well, making it an even merrier little band. And then...things got even awesomer...when K announced that she and her uncle planned to wear costumes to the shindig...and J was so inspired/enthused that she jumped on that bandwagon as well. So that meant I'd find myself hanging out with a fork and knife and spoon....basically your full complement of utensils is what I'm getting at, y'all. And...well...while I wasn't exactly inclined to deck myself out in full dress-up gear, my creative tribe motivated me to figure out some way to go with the festive mood. Which led to me happily purchasing a Fall-themed tutu for the occasion. Yep, we were gonna be quite the spectacle, folks. (And boy, was the Male Trio ecstatic...and relieved that they weren't attending, when I gleefully shared all of these shenanigans...)

So there we were on Thanksgiving morning, surrounded by the throngs of like-minded active men, women, and kids...and garnering a fair amount of attention. (Or should I say: not really ME, whose cheerful skirt went practically unnoticed next to my fabulously silver-garbed contingent!) Glancing around, I read faces full of amusement...approval...and maybe even admiration?--although to be fair, that could have been either "Wow, that's so clever!" or "Jeez, they're awfully brave to show up that way!" But the absolute BEST moment came when we'd all finished our loop, and J reported that she'd entertained herself--and others, apparently--by chasing small children with a mock-serious growl and pretending she was going to gobble them up. PRICELESS. (Yeeaahhh...I suspect this is only the beginning of what is going to become an even more elaborate collaboration in years to come...stay tuned, turkeys!)

And speaking of turkeys...and such: the guys and I tackled our Second Annual November Culinary Extravaganza, to create an evening repast worthy of both groups of pilgrims--carnivores and vegetarians, that is. Fortunately, I'd thought to record what we did last year, since we'd enjoyed the results, and it'd obviously be easier just to recreate the magic, as it were. This meant a Butterball breast rather than a whole bird, gluten-free stuffing we could ALL partake of, the standard mashed potatoes, and two varieties of cranberry sauce (because the dudes utterly reject the idea of--heaven forbid--whole berries in their canned fruit product). Since I don't actually consume most of these items, I made a serving of roasted Brussels sprouts for myself. I did incidentally offer to cook them for everyone else as well, but they feigned horror at the notion of slipping a bona fide vegetable dish in amidst the carbo-palooza, so the green stuff was all mine. (Whoo hoo!)

The only hiccup in the proceedings centered around the aforementioned stuffing, for which I (lazily) wanted to buy a pre-packaged mix to speed up and simplify the assembly. However, the Big Three stores that I typically rely on--that would be Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Weaver Street Market, our local co-op--all either failed to stock, or had run out of, such a product this year. Inconceivable! (And yes, it does absolutely mean what I think it means. So there!) Thus I was forced to improvise...looking up a recipe online, obtaining an actual loaf of non-wheat bread...and then cutting it into cubes and toasting it myself. Sheesh! No, really, I have to admit that not only wasn't it difficult at all, it also turned out super-tasty in the end (and...appealingly rustic? Sure, we'll go with the Cooking Channel buzzword, yeah?). Besides, everyone else gave it a thumbs-up as well, so we're gonna go ahead and call that a WIN.

And that's about it for TG 2019. After that, it was all post-meal-coma and chilling in front of the TV for our household. It was a lovely way to kick off the holiday season...now let's cue up some fa la la tunes, dig out those yule decorations...and think about getting back to some light salads...tomorrow!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Pre-TG Happenings

November, November...so fleeting and yet so....nope, just that. I can't pretend to have any idea how we've come to find ourselves in the waning days of Turkey Month (or, you know, the vegetarian equivalent), and yet here we are. So let's do a recap of some recent highlights for Team WestEnders, shall we?

In between receiving the offer for my new job and actually starting, I used some of my dwindling free time to visit a much anticipated, long awaited addition to downtown: a delightful entity called Epilogue. In this case, I won't try to improve upon their own words, so here's how they describe themselves on their website: "an independent bookstore and Spanish-style chocolater√≠a that aims to foster community in the heart of Chapel Hill. It is a place for people to gather, whether to cultivate new ideas, learn old ones, or escape into the welcoming atmosphere that books, chocolate, beer, and coffee all provide." Um...YES, PLEASE...ALL OF THESE THINGS! 


The day I checked them out, business seemed to be bustling, with a line at the counter to order bevs and treats, people wandering the shelves perusing the available titles, and even groups congregating in the seating area for meetups. I procured my brew (some kind of Mexican latte concoction that was delicious...and tongue-tingling-ly spicy, as advertised!), then made my way into the section of used volumes, to see what I could find. I sipped my java and lost myself in blissful browsing for a while...until it occurred to me that I had neglected to snap a picture. (Horrors!) 


This turned out to be a fabulous idea, because my camera happened to capture the owner of the fine establishment, manning the register and chatting with a customer. I discovered this when I went over to explain why I was taking the photo (free publicity on social media!). He introduced himself and told me a few fun tidbits about the shop, including the fact that there are approximately 8,000 page-turners already on display...and he has an estimated 22,000 more at home waiting to be organized and brought in to sell! More awesome things to read = super-happy campers! I made off with a small stack of prizes, and am already looking forward to when I finish them and can head back for more. This could be dangerous...but also educational...entertaining...and enlightening? Yeah, it's definitely a WIN, y'all!


As for Riley, 11th grade continues apace, and he's embroiled in all the activities thereof. These include cramming in practice driving excursions whenever schedules permit--it's actually helpful now that it gets dark so early (go figure!) since he still needs to amass those elusive "nighttime hours". He's about 10 away from the required amount for his full license, so we can almost glimpse the finish line. Meanwhile, he's dedicating study time to prepping for the SAT, which he's taking in a few weeks. On a related note, there's been a mild, expected uptick in the college advertisement mail since he completed the ACT in last month, the most amusing--and impressive--of which came from the University of Chicago. Now, he has no intention whatsoever of attending their venerable institution...but we had to give them mad props for that lovely poster! It's almost a shame it's too far away...and COLD...for Riley to consider--ha!

And finally, the college dude is returning to the nest for the holiday, of course--on a slightly...unusual schedule. You see, the university gives students Wednesday through Friday to travel home and spend quality time with their beloved fams. As a bonus, some of his teachers went ahead and cancelled sessions that would have met earlier in the week...which left him with the option of remaining on campus for ONE class, or bailing on Sunday and savoring the extra days in NC. He assured me that he hasn't skipped all semester, and that he would check with his professors to make sure he wouldn't be missing anything important, so I trusted him to be a responsible adult about it...and stroll in over the weekend....yay! 

Besides, we already know--because he told us a YEAR ago--that he'll also be headed back to Columbia on the early side at the end of the break...for a football game. (Raise your hand if you're surprised....no? Me neither....siiiiighhhh....) Yes, I'm well aware that it's Rivalry Week, and UofSC faces off against Clemson, their Palmetto State enemy, blah blah blah. At least we get him for a solid 4-day stretch, to catch up, EAT, and enjoy each other's company. We'll take it, for sure!


And there you have it, November in a Nutshell. Peace out for now--see you peeps on the other side of the feast!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Text-planation(s)

As we (oh so rapidly) approach Thanksgiving, things in Casa WestEnders have settled into their Fall rhythm (because let's face it, with the possible exception of Husband, the fam basically operates on an academic schedule for all intents and purposes). For me, the routine feels a lot more...normal, for lack of a better word...in 2019 than it did last year, when I was still adjusting to having Derek away at college, and the house didn't feel quite right yet, with one of the squad missing on a daily basis. But by now, the (usually lengthy) Sunday afternoon phone call is well-established. And in between these catch-up sessions, there are the mid-week electronic exchanges about random stuff, which serve the dual purpose of  keeping us from missing him too much...and periodically reminding us what a big gooberhead we sent off to SC.

Sometimes one of us will touch base (Ha! Sorry, that was unintentional...) about a topic of interest to us both, like the World Series, for example. (See left)


To me, this is long-distance Mother/Son bonding at its best; not only do I get some bonus chit chat...but it allows me continued access to my own personal sports analyst, so that has to be considered a Win-Win!

And then there are the precious instances when he chooses to reach out with something he knows will amuse me, such as him and his friends dressed up for Halloween. Keep in mind, this was after he vehemently denied he'd be participating in the costume-related shenanigans his buddies were encouraging him to join--which made it even more hilarious. You see, the young man on the left side of the photo is supposed to be Derek, and vice versa. If you happen to be acquainted with my child, you recognize that this just...well, NAILS it. Meanwhile, if I hadn't given birth to him, I wouldn't even believe this was Derek, wearing articles of clothing that have NEVER appeared on his person before (Athleisure sneakers? Flannel? Nuh-uh. And he seriously hasn't owned a pair of jeans since he was, oh, about 8!) I have to hand it to them: when these boys put their minds to it, they're impressively creative! Here's hoping they continue to (at least mostly) use their talents for good...

Now, I will admit that occasionally his confusing messages make me question just what the HECK my beloved offspring is thinking...or whether he's actually being sincere. (See right) I mean...we DID complete that Disney binge this past Summer, where we watched all the animated classics we could record for free, scrounge from the library, or rent from a streaming service. Plus, he made sure to point out that it includes the entire Marvel catalogue, and we're total superhero nerds...so maybe he actually does have a point. Yeah, but then he described himself and one of his pals as..."Disney hypebeasts"...so he lost me to hysterical laughter and that was the end of it. Whew! That was a close one!

Aaannd, once in a while there's one that causes Parental Heart Failure, followed closely by Righteous Indignation...accompanied by Threats of Well-Deserved Repercussions. I'm referring to terrifying conversation starters like the one on the right. It was fortunate that I happened to be sitting next to my phone at the time, so I could read it...take a deep breath...ponder for a few beats...and come to the conclusion that it didn't sound at all typical of my low-key, non-dramatic son.

Besides, he also knows better by now (I think) than to send his mother such a potentially inflammatory text--all of which flew through my head in about 30 seconds, permitting me to compose my subsequent calm, rational, neutral response. Until I found out it was his amigo, stirring up trouble...at which point the aforementioned "consequences" came into play. I'm sure Ryan figured he was being a real hoot...but lemme tell ya, next time I see that dude, he'll be the recipient of my most ferocious Mom Glare...along with perhaps a brief but passionate lecture in "why it's in your best interests to NOT aggravate your future roommate's parents". Sheesh...

However, all was forgiven, when this little chat concluded with the promised picture...of Derek's leg...sporting...um...what appears to be a horrific bruise of some kind? He assured me that is indeed the ill-fated temporary tattoo...which evidently isn't at ALL effective when applied through copious amounts of leg hair. But this is reportedly where Ryan insisted he attempt to place it, so what can you do, right? Oh, and if you were wondering, it supposed to be Kristoff and Sven. And he obtained it from a cereal box, so that actually explains a lot...

And there you have it...silly interactions with ridiculous young men, Part 9,000 (or so). Obviously, it pleases me to no end that even though he's all-but-grown-up now, we can still share these moments. Also...my eldest does enjoy reading his own press, if you will, so it's nice to be able to throw a random Derek-centric post into the mix, to keep him entertained (along with at least one of his NC gang who tunes in every so often to catch up, much to my delight). Because if we can't laugh at...I mean "with"...our children, what's the point of having them, amiright? (Or...something like that? Am I close? Eh, whatever...) Anyway, you're welcome...all!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

I have an ID card--it must be official?!

Sooo, just finished my inaugural week at a new job after a long hiatus, and the first thing I've gotta tell you is...man, I'm seriously out of shape, y'all! Not in an athletic way, mind you, since I've had plenty of time to keep up with exercise in my...ahem...life of leisure. More like needing to rebuild the stamina required to wake up at a prescribed time, (*prepare and imbibe coffee*), select and don an office-appropriate outfit, apply a business-ready face, wrangle the hair into compliance, exit the house in a punctual fashion...and then spend hours being, you know, "productive". It's a LOT, folks! (I'm joking, of course; I know I'm preaching to the proverbial choir, here, because all of you are out there killin' it every day...so let me just say, you're doing great, keep up the good work!)

Now, part of the issue was that for the first 2 days, I was scheduled for mandatory orientation sessions beginning at 8:30. (NOT my favorite--or most bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed--start-time, given a choice. Alas, no one asked me for my input...) Monday's marathon kicked off with the UNC half-day version of "everything you ever wanted and/or needed to know about the institution itself, plus lots of HR-type information that you may or may not remember 5 minutes from now, since it's an overwhelming amount of...stuff".

(Not to worry--they were also super-diligent about providing the online location of everything they discussed, so once our brains filled up and shut down, we'd still be able to retrieve the important details later, when we'd actually find them useful!) This was followed by another presentation in the afternoon, specific to the School of Medicine, and focusing on more tech-related topics like network access and security, email setup, timesheet entry, and whatnot.

Whew--that was exhausting...and also quite a shock to the system already, compared to my prior  onboarding experience, which must have taken, oh, about 15 minutes for the tiny self-contained non-profit! (Okay, I'm probably exaggerating...though I do honestly recall it being brief and uncomplicated...) But wait, there's MORE...on Tuesday (after first visiting the Public Safety division to obtain my official parking permit--yay! At 8 a.m. Boo!) I got to show up at my actual workplace, for an official introduction to the building where I'd be setting up shop, so to speak. This was given by the man in charge of programs and operations, and included both me and the other new employee joining the staff at the same time (a research scientist whom I coincidentally met at the previous day's shindig).

We went over what you'd expect: a thorough description of the department's structure and function, as well as essential policies and procedures. And then...the Grand Tour...in which I must have been presented to, I don't know, it seemed like at least 50 people, although I can't be entirely sure...I guess let's just go with "a whole lotta colleagues" and leave it at that. My head was seriously swimming by the end, and I'm not gonna remember half their names until I've met them several more time...but everyone seemed lovely!

Ay yi yi...where are we now? Oh yeah, Wednesday. I had permission to show up at 9 (Whoo hoo! I don't know exactly why, but what a difference that half-hour makes...) for a quick confab with IT to get my computer running properly, then a longer chat with one of the aforementioned delightful coworkers I'll be directly supporting in my endeavors. She went over lots of the nitty gritty specifics about what I'll be doing not only on a daily basis, but also in the course of each academic year. So, with all of the data trickling in from various sources, I'm slowly forming a picture of what my position will look like and how it will function. Good times.

Thursday I was not expected to put in an appearance, because my presence was requested again on Friday morning. That's one quirky aspect of my role: it's budgeted for an exact number of hours a week, and I'm required to log that many--no more or less. Thus there was some impromptu adding on Wednesday to see where I stood, and determine how long I could come in for on the last day of the week. (Fun math! LOL...)

It turned out that I was available for about a half-day, so I was able to attend the 8 a.m. meeting (again with the crack of dawn...at least as far as MY body clock goes--sheesh!) I was supposed to observe--as well as clean out, organize, and set up my cubicle the way I wanted it. I mean, scrounging around in the supply closet for sticky notes and pens and such, stocking one of my desk drawers with my secret stash of healthy snacks, scoping out where to best display a couple of family photos...you know the drill. (And it was oh so satisfying, I'm not gonna lie...) All too soon, though, 12:30 rolled around and I had to skedaddle, after fulfilling my quota for Week 1.

All kidding aside, it felt like a solid first week back in the old Rat Race, if you will. Moving forward, I should be able to set a pretty regular schedule....without having to include early mornings, for the most part, which is a goshdarn blessing. And I'll be learning on-the-go about what my duties will be, and how to perform them, so I'm looking forward to that being interesting and stimulating. In short, I'm grateful to have been chosen for this opportunity, thrilled to be kicking off a new adventure, and excited for what's to come. Here goes nothin'!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Looking forward to restoring the WORK/Life balance

Well, folks, it took a whoooole looooot longer than I anticipated/hoped, but I am pleased to finally announce that (drumroll)...I'll finally be rejoining the working world next Monday. (Pause for a collective "Yaaaaayyyy!" Thank you for playing along...) For those stat-oriented pals (or just, you know, fellow nerds), my tenure as a "lady of leisure" (more like "woman doing errands and getting stuff done and taking care of business"...but whatever) lasted from January through October, although I began scanning the job boards before that, so the actual hunt comprised more like 13 months. (I know, right? YIKES!) By my unofficial count, I submitted applications for about 43 openings. Admittedly, some were more serious than others...and a few were downright unsuitable, but my basic strategy was to attempt to balance my somewhat picky requirements with a desire to keep an open mind about what might be the Next Big Adventure along my ever-evolving career path.

Further analysis revealed (because...well, I'm not even going to try to make up an excuse. If you know me, just nod your head sagely and indulge my whims...as you always do...), the following breakdown of responses: 30% generated no reply whatsoever; about 7% withdrew their posting for one reason or another; 44% selected someone else (but did inform me); for about 7%, we came to a mutual agreement that we weren't the best fit for each other; 14% I decided to turn down for one reason or another--either after additional consideration on my part about specific aspects of the position, or requesting pertinent details not included in the original description that ended up ruling it out, such as salary (too low) or number of hours (too high). (Yes, I'm well aware that doesn't add up to an even 100%. What can I tell you? I promised data, but I never said it would be perfect, did I? Remember, I'm a word-person!) Furthermore, I figured out (by going back and counting, of course...because why not, we've come this far) that my explorations fell into the following broad categories: non-profits (7), businesses (5), arts/leisure (11) and...education (a whopping 20. And who's surprised? Right...absolutely no one...)

Along the way, I interviewed with several of the potential organizations, which--while always admittedly nerve-wracking--felt like valuable experience in every case. These interactions ran the gamut from initial screening calls (the absolute worst, because anyone who's at all familiar with me is well acquainted with how much I loathe talking on the phone) to Skype conferences (tons better in my opinion, because I so very much prefer being able to see who I'm conversing with) to in-person chatting with a committee. (A special kind of terror. As in, "You mean I have to impress not just one person, but a whole group is going to be evaluating me at once? Ack!)

Also, to facilitate the whole..."reinventing myself yet again and trying to figure out what to do next with my life" process...I hired a consultant for a long-overdue update of my resume. I mean, I'd written the current one myself, and it was...fine, I guess...but it certainly didn't scream "professional quality". Besides, I can't claim any expertise whatsoever in terms of how employers deal with hiring in the Digital Age--such as what buzzwords search engines will flag as desirable, or how to get your materials to stand out to a busy HR person looking to weed out documents quickly while elevating others they want to pursue. All of this can rapidly become overwhelming, so I chucked it to someone who knows what they're doing, and let her work her magic. I found that, not only did I get a customizable CV and cover letter, she also guided me in identifying and focusing my objectives, which in turn helped me home in on opportunities that appealed to me.  In summary: money well spent, and I highly recommend it!

So by now you're probably thinking "Enough babbling about the journey of self-discovery, blah blah blah. How about some facts?" Okay, here goes: after 5 years in Chapel Hill, I'll finally be partaking of the Carolina-blue punch...and jumping on the UNC bandwagon. (Memo to my Duke homies: don't hate! I literally live 3 miles from campus, so it's kind of a no-brainer...) Specifically, it's an administrative role in the Family Medicine department. Beyond that, they explained to me that it's a newly identified need for them in this coordinator-type slot, so there will be a certain amount of...making it up as we go along. Which is to say that I can't provide a whole lot of hard info yet--beyond that I'll be managing paperwork, scheduling, and communications, and offering overall support to keep the residency program running smoothly, which will also include facilitating operations during the recruiting season (which is, um..."now") and visiting the 2 off-site clinics periodically, among other ongoing duties.

It's hard to explain--either you function this way or you don't--but through each step that got me closer to this job, it just felt right...in an instinctive way, if you will. This isn't to say that I make all of my major personal decisions based on what my "gut" is telling me...but I've found over the course of my life that when it does speak up, it's usually steering me in a positive direction, and it's in my best interests to listen. So needless to say I'm super-excited to get this old ball rolling. By this time next week I'll be donning my office clothes, packing my lunch, and heading off to vocational fulfillment...or what have you. And then presumably there will be actual details about the tasks involved, my coworkers, etc. Stay tuned for the next Employment Report...yippee!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Autumn wandering and pondering

Last Friday Mother Nature in her infinite wisdom saw fit to gift us with an utterly glorious Fall day. You know the kind I'm talking about, right--when the sparkling sunshine and refreshingly cool(ish) air emit a siren's call, urging you to get the heck outside and enjoy the season while it lasts. My trusty camera and I try not to ignore this summons, if at all possible. Plus, I'd gotten some good news on the job front earlier in the week, which if it came through would mean a temporary suspension of my beloved Friday Field Trips...all the more reason to hop in the Subaru and head out for a jaunt.

Choosing a destination caused me a bit of a dilemma, however. What I really wanted was to peep some colorful foliage...but we're still just a tad early for that in this neck of the woods, so to speak. For reasons not entirely clear to me, my...I don't know...internal compass, maybe?...was leaning toward North for this journey, and I knew I wanted to keep it within about an hour's travel time. (Hey, I'm doing my best to explain my process...or whatever. But you certainly never heard me promise it was going to make all that much sense! I mean, have you MET me?) So without any other firm parameters, I turned to ye olde map--yes, the paper variety--in conjunction with ye newfangled Google to come up with a plan.

Which is how I came to be navigating toward the borough known as (drumroll, please) Yanceyville. Getting there was fairly simple, consisting of 30 miles or so on rural highways. The only real issue I experienced--and it's super-sad, so prepare yourselves to sympathize--was that I witnessed evidence of a tragic local epidemic afflicting a great number of the area's population. I'm talking of course about the dreaded "Pants on Fire Syndrome"...since my fellow drivers repeatedly crossed dotted yellow lines as soon as they spotted the smallest possible break in oncoming traffic to whiz past me, even when I was already clocking in at about 5-10 mph over the limit. I sincerely hope they get the help they need...or a HUGE ticket...whichever.

Besides that, I had ample opportunity to appreciate the scenery...because trust me when I tell you there were few places designated as "towns" along the way...and even with these, you had to infer from a battered sign and perhaps a couple of dilapidated structures that might once have been businesses or homes. Meanwhile, the landscape on either side of the pavement alternated between dense forest and wide-open, rolling farmland--dotted with charming yellow caution signs calling your attention to the distinct possibility of tractors in the roadway!

So I found myself wondering, as I always do when I happen upon these remote locations: where do people work? Do all of the kids go to that ONE school I passed? Related question: how do young people amuse themselves around here? And perhaps most importantly, how freakin' far do folks have to trek to get groceries? (In case you think I might be exaggerating about how removed from civilization I was, I fell victim to one of the unthinkable inconveniences of modern-day explorers...that is, my playlist shut down when I lost any semblance of a WiFi signal. See? Told you!)

And then I arrived in Yanceyville, which at least holds the distinction of being the county seat...since 1792, evidently....and therefore boasts a lovely white stone courthouse, dating from 1861...in the center of its one-and-only block. Seriously, you can stand in front of this spot, turn your head left and right, and capture absolutely everything there is see in the 'burb. Oh, except the arboretum tucked behind the municipal building, which is where I began my leisurely stroll. Not unexpectedly, it didn't take much time to cover the small garden, but it did offer a pleasant interlude amongst the hearty flowers and trees still holding onto their bloom and leaves in late October.

The site also contains a historic jailhouse (built late 18- or early-1900s, in use until the 1970s!) and school (circa 1913), both of which are nicely preserved...but only open by appointment, so I settled for photographing the outside and peeking in the windows. Finally, in the tiny park situated between the courthouse and main street there's a statue. Honestly, I heaved a mental sigh before I approached it, because I was afraid of what to expect. I prepared myself for the emotions that overwhelm me whenever I encounter a Confederate memorial--TOO MANY of which still exist in the South, always stirring up a combination of anger/nausea/disappointment when I encounter one.

According to the plaque, this particular sculpture was, in fact, erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy. The inscription was written by a minister and stresses following God's mandate to do the right thing...but still. Enough with the monuments celebrating those who fought to divide the country and continue a way of life dependent on slavery, for the love of all things holy.

Image may contain: sky and outdoorOkay, deep breath, and moving on...otherwise, well...Yanceyville kind of resembles a ghost town. In terms of retail, a cursory glance and a few steps in either direction reveal a bank, a hair salon, a seed store, a bike shop, and a lawyer. Aaaannnd also a bunch of boarded up windows, or abandoned storefronts, like the super-cute coffee joint with the sheet of notebook paper taped to its door, advising that it will be "closed until further notice" in handwritten letters. Overall, a palpable aura of neglect...and decay...permeated what once might have been a quaint little one-horse-hamlet in Caswell County, North Carolina.

Whew! Sorry, drifted slightly off-course, there. Anyway, although this wasn't the most...exciting excursion...it did fulfill my desire to cruise America's byways, spend some time communing with the Great Outdoors, pick up a few educational tidbits, and pleasantly while away a free afternoon. So thank you, Yanceyville, FTW!

Friday, October 18, 2019

Fall Fun (part 2)

For the second half of Derek's Fall Break, I had to make sure we accomplished one group of tasks that has become kind of its own...strange tradition, if you will. You see, last year he showed up after 8 weeks away at school in dire need of a haircut--both because enough time had elapsed since his previous one, just before he left for the semester...and it was easier (or if you happen to have the Parental Translation App running in your brain, which automatically corrected that to "lazier",  you'd be spot-on) to go to the regular place at home, rather than figuring out how to get groomed on campus or in Columbia. Plus, Riley was on the same...shearing schedule...so it made sense to make that the first item on the weekend To Do List.

The second thing added was just as critical, but admittedly less pleasant: annual flu shots for both boys. (Don't worry, though; I'd gotten mine ahead of time, since I have to seek out a provider that carries the egg-free version. Stab-in-the-arm-without-nasty-repercussion, check! Because I could just tell you were concerned...) And last, rounding out the super-fun chores, we had (drumroll) "purchasing some pumpkins, to lend the house a dose of harvest-time flair", FTW.

TBT 2016. Babies!
So, last October, with a stroke of, I don't know...seasonal luck, or something...we stumbled upon a one-stop-shopping kind of deal. There's a retail center a few minutes from our neighborhood that contains both a Great Clips and a Harris Teeter. And we discovered to our surprise that not only did the HT boast an impressive selection of the large orange gourds, neatly arrayed in boxes on their sidewalk for one's perusal...but its pharmacy turned out to be a quick-and-easy place to obtain the vaccine.

Well...since it had gone so smoothly in our prior experience, we therefore decided to return to the scene of the...Autumn victory of 2018...or whatever...and hopefully repeat the process. The only hiccup came (because there had to be one, right?) when I approached Derek to confirm the final details of the plan. "So, we'll go Saturday morning?" I asked nonchalantly--fully expecting this to be Step One, with Step Two consisting of a haggling session over the actual departure time, given the tendency of the college student to sleep in as late as possible whenever he can. However, he immediately replied, "Sure. I need to be back by 11, though."

Folks...I confess that I was...flabbergasted by this revelation. "Um...I'm sorry, perhaps I misunderstood? You'd like to be finished...before you usually get out of bed? How does that even, you know...work?" He shot me an exasperated look and in a tone of mild disbelief answered, "I want to see the end of Gameday!" Then he proceeded to rattle off the "very important matchups" that would be taking place at noon, and 3:30, ending with, "My whole day is accounted for, Mom, so we'd better get this taken care of first thing!" (To his credit, the DUH was implied, but respectfully not stated. And to be honest, he's got a point--what was I thinking on a Saturday during the College Football Season? Seriously, I. Know. Better. But still? Siiiighhhhhh....dudes and sports, amiright?)

Anyway, that's how we found ourselves headed out much earlier than I expected, to whirlwind those errands and return to HQ before whatever the heck happens in the last half-hour of the celebrated ESPN pre-game broadcast. (I'm just being dramatic, as I'm actually well aware of the guest picker, hat shenanigans, and other assorted antics that occur on the show. Let's roll with it, 'kay?) First we took advantage of the online check-in system to eliminate the we-don't-have-time-for-this waiting, and buzzed Great Clips. (Yeah, pun intended. Sorry not sorry...) Freshly coiffed teenagers, D-O-N-E.

Then we motored over to the grocery store to get all protected from...evil viruses and whatnot. The entertainment during this portion of our activities was provided by the machine that measures your vital signs--you know the one found in almost every drugstore. The goofball brothers took turns sticking their arms in and having their blood pressure, pulse--and even weight--recorded...none of which seemed tremendously accurate, but offered them a fresh excuse to laugh at and tease each other good-naturedly while passing the time. Because heaven forbid we sit still and act our ages for 5 freakin' minutes, right? Sheesh...I swear, sometimes when they get together it's like having toddlers all over again, I tell ya... (Yet they do amuse me--though if you tell them this, I promise I will vehemently deny it.)

Image may contain: 2 people, people smilingFinally, it was time to examine the pumpkins and pick some that we deemed sufficiently attractive to grace our steps for the next couple of weeks or so. (Halloween...or whenever the deer get bold enough to come right up to the house and munch on them. True story--they're absolutely shameless where we live...) Riley approached pretty much the first one he saw, grabbed it, and declared that he was satisfied. Incidentally, he was also the one who'd declared to me privately that "You don't have to get pumpkins just for me, Mom. I'm fine if we skip it." To which I responded, "Oh, honey. What makes you think this little field trip is about you kids? I don't care how old you guys get, porch pumpkins are non-negotiable!"

However...I might have reconsidered that stance when Derek hefted the most ginormous one he could get his arms around, turned to me with a wicked grin and a troublemaker's gleam in his eye...and inquired as to whether he could chuck it to the ground and see how much splatter it would create. Ahem...that would be a HARD NO...sweetie. Now put the  20-pound monstrosity down, and focus for 2 seconds, would you? Fortunately, it was only a short time later that he identified a more suitable option, and all we had left to do was haul them inside to pay the nice people. Success!

As the culminating event, once we get our new acquisitions safely home and arranged in position, I always use them as a backdrop for a few photos of my beloved sons. They've been around long enough to understand that their mother is going to require pictures on a regular basis, so they bow to my demands fairly gracefully. Sometimes (see "one year ago" for reference) there is an inordinate amount of horsing around, just to achieve an acceptable shot. Rarely--2019, for example--the weather plays a role, leading to the almost inconceivable scenario of both boys...standing completely motionless...calmly looking towards me...and even smiling (although if Derek could for the love of all things holy keep his eyes open when facing a camera it would be a gosh-darned miracle. I'm just sayin'...) Hmm...apparently they cooperate beautifully when they want to get inside, away from the rain. Who knew? (Tucking that away for future reference, just in case it comes in handy...)

And there you have it...a somewhat odd Fall Break agenda...but I think we nailed it. And with that, I just realized it's mid-October already. That can only mean there's a new job that must be tackled: everyone get out there and start stocking up on all the good candy! I mean, why wait for trick-or-treaters? Nah, let's hear it for...a Fortnight of Chocolate! Whoo hoo! (Patent pending. Feel free to use as desired and/or required to get through the next several weeks of dropping temperatures and fading daylight. You're welcome!)

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Fall Fun (part 1, with apologies for the rhyme!)

It's been an...almost disturbingly...uneventful October thus far (hence the radio silence from this little corner of the blogosphere). Normally this month is prime time for cool(er), colorful exploring, when Summer finally begins to loosen its steamy hold, affording Fall the opportunity to reassert dominance over both the climate and the tapestry of the Great Outdoors. Yet this year I suspect--and lament--that the notable lack of rain in our region will result in an uncharacteristically dry, dull Autumn.

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, grass, outdoor and natureEven now, a glance outside reveals an oddly divided landscape. Some of the trees remain bright green and full-canopied. Others have shed their foliage without ceremony--or any variation in hue. And the remainder are covered with limp, crackly, brown leaves that just hang there, looking like they've given up on the whole idea of cooperating with the natural order of things...or what have you. So I guess what I’m saying is: not terribly scenic, as a whole.

Fortunately, an alternative distraction arrived to break up the boredom caused by the lack of leaf-peeping opportunities, in the form of one college kid, returning home for his 4-day Fall Break. (Whoo hoo!) Even better: due to the automobile now in his possession, he was able to ferry himself back, rather than needing a parent to commit 8 hours to the round-trip extraction. Furthermore, since he inconveniently has a class that doesn’t wrap up until after 7 p.m., he could just hit the road when it ended, saving his elders from the unenviable late-night commute. (Phew!)

So he texted me when he left Columbia, allowing me to calculate an approximate ETA. Not unexpectedly, I was the only one still awake to greet him…although he arrived somewhat…earlier than anticipated. (He swears he did NOT drive like the proverbial bat out of hell, but instead chalked his efficient travel time to the lack of traffic during those hours, and the fact that he opted to plow straight through without a restroom/snack break. Hmm…I suppose since there’s no speeding ticket, we’ll take his word for it? Let’s go with that….for now, at least…)

A couple of other things were different than previous visits as well--such as him showing up without any dirty laundry, since he now has a washer and dryer inside his apartment and can easily do it on his own time. Also, I posed the usual question about what errands we should tackle together during his stay, because we’re accustomed to stopping by the grocery store and/or Target, for a mid-semester restock on edibles and household goods.

Image may contain: indoorBut he considered for a moment, then shrugged and said, “Nah, I’m okay.” Aahh, right…I’m not yet totally used to this new reality--that having access to a vehicle means he can take care of those supply runs whenever the need arises, without waiting for the Mom assist. (Yay for independence and adulting!)

Not having chores to deal with provided Derek with some well-earned downtime, away from his academic pursuits, as well as a chance to enjoy some leisure activities with his beloved family…like catching up on personal news, watching playoff baseball…and taking a fabulous Fall Break Friday Field Trip with yours truly. The forecast called for a warm, sunny, all-around gorgeous day, so I proposed we pop over to the NC Museum of Art, which boasts not only exhibits inside the buildings, but a lovely campus dotted with outdoor installations along a pedestrian path that meanders throughout the grounds. 

Being the easygoing kid he is, he readily agreed to the proposal, and off we went to Raleigh for an afternoon of culture…and stuff. Now, I won’t claim that either of us is remotely an art critic…or even particularly well-educated in the realm of sculpture, or painting, or any other kind of medium, for that matter. We simply amuse ourselves by walking around, examining whatever catches our eye, discussing pieces we happen to either appreciate or dislike…and occasionally standing in front of a display with our jaws on the floor, stunned by something absurd/hideous/offensive/inexplicable. Hey, art is subjective, right? We sometimes have strong opinions….but regardless of how we feel about the…expression…we never fail to have a great time taking it all in, so….WIN!
Image may contain: 4 people, indoor 
Besides, after we finished the enclosed portion of the museum, we were able to take a delightful stroll around the outskirts of the park. Then, having achieved our educational--and incidentally, also our daily step--goals, we refocused on a different, but equally important objective: LUNCH! A bit further into the city, adjacent to NC State University, we found one of our trusted go-to eateries…Chipotle. (I didn’t say we were food snobs, did I?)

Well, folks, it was an altogether satisfying outing--the stellar weather, the excellent company…the chance to bond over sharing our unqualified evaluations of artistic prowess. And while it’s true that I am loooong past my own undergrad days, I still say, let’s hear it for Fall Break: good times!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Trying something new...kind of...

I began my personal journey as a runner waaaay back at the tender age of 15. Honestly, it kind of still boggles my mind a little bit. You see, I wasn’t what you’d call a particularly athletic kid at that point, but for reasons that remain 100% baffling to me, I got it in my head that it would be cool to…play field hockey. (The only thing I’ve ever been able to speculate is that I had many friends on the team, so they made it sound fun, and I wanted to join them? Because sprinting around and whacking other girls with sticks seemed like a hella good time? I’ve always wished I could go back in time and ask my teenage self what the HECK I was thinking…but I digress…)

So to give you a snapshot of adolescent me, near the end of Freshman year in High School: walking: definitely okay. Riding my bike: sure, no problem. But…picking up the pace to approximate even a, you know, “slow jog”…NOT in my toolbox. As I recall, all these years later, (so I could totally be making it up or mis-remembering, but just go with me on this, ‘kay?) I mentioned my tentative plan to one of the aforementioned pals at lunch one day, and she responded with a vehement, “Okay. Start running now.”

Taken aback by both the conviction with which she delivered this--unsavory, to my somewhat sedentary self--message, and the actual idea of starting a several-month regimen of pre-tryout-training, I asked her whhhhyyy. Her reply was succinct and vivid, “So you don’t throw up at August practices.” Well…alrighty, then. I took her at her word, shrugged, and and went “Eh…guess I’m a runner…type…girl now.” (BTW, her advice was SPOT-ON. Late Summer workouts, in a word, “sucked” due to the heat and humidity that hadn’t yet loosened their grip on our region, combined with the brutally demanding drills our sadistic (kidding) coach set for us. I huffed and puffed, sweated, and griped along with all the other players...but I did NOT puke. So…win? Yeah, why not…)

The point of this convoluted story is that--with the exception of minor injuries here and there in the intervening decades that have interrupted my routine for relatively short periods of time in the grand scheme of things--I’ve been running ever since. Sure, the format has changed on occasion…for example, I realized in my 20s, when I was pounding the pavement as my sole form of exercise, that if I still wanted to, I don’t know…WALK…in years to come, I’d need to mix it up with other forms of movement. I joke that I have to be one of the OG cross-trainers, because I went from exclusively jogging, to an eclectic program of walking, biking, fitness classes (hello, 80s step aerobics…you were super-entertaining for a while) and even (eventually) strength conditioning.

In short, this probably saved my knees--which one day might still degenerate to the point that my father’s have, no matter how much I do to prevent it…but…and I cannot stress this enough…not this decade, you (only moderately cranky) old joints!

Now, you might be wondering at this juncture why I never took the next logical step, if you will, and just moved my running habit from the sidewalks, onto softer surfaces. The answer is actually fairly simple: ever since I first set sneakers to asphalt, my natural stride has been a forefoot strike. (Yes, even in cleats. Hence my hockey nickname: “the twinkletoes back”. Trust me, it’s kind of difficult to be all “fierce, intimidating warrior woman” with that stuck to you…but I did my best….) And my sports career on grass fields quickly taught me that uneven terrain and I…are not besties, since my uncooperative ankles have a disturbing tendency to turn when they encounter a pothole, bump, or basically any other minor malformation of the turf.

Okay, fast forward to the present. (I know, right: thank goodness she’s probably, maybe, hopefully getting to the murky purpose of this little trip down memory lane.) The house we chose when Team WestEnders relocated to NC sits right next to a lovely piece of forested land, criss-crossed with many paths used by outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. I myself take long rambles in there, amongst the trees, quite frequently. However, the trails--while utterly scenic and delightful--are left in their natural state, aside from some weed clearing to keep them passable. This translates to copious amounts of rocks, roots, branches, etc.--in park terms, essentially an…ungroomed geographic situation.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, outdoor and closeupAs we’ve already established, for me this would just be a broken bone, sprain--or at the very least, face plant--waiting to happen. So I accept my limitations, and keep it to a brisk stroll when enjoying the woods. But then… some bootcamp buddies mentioned an upcoming event, whose name caught my attention: the Zen Squirrel Trail Race. And….the logo is a cute little creature in a yoga pose. I mean, c’mon…how could you NOT want an article of clothing with that adorableness on it? And yet…there remains the sticky issue of me…and off-road trotting…and the potential for injury/maiming/death. (Right, not the last one, most likely. But who needs to take that chance, amiright?) 

However, one of our bootcamp gang mentioned that she was going to sign up for the 2-mile option…and take it at a walking pace (due to similar concerns as mine…namely “falling down”). Suddenly it appeared that I might have a reasonable excuse to participate after all…plus a partner with whom I could share the inevitable “last place finish”. (Because, who cares? It’s All. About. The Shirt.)

You know where this is going, right? Of course I registered for that bad boy (and reserved my tee…whee!). Also of interest to me, it was happening in a place I’d never been before--a huge, swanky neighborhood on the outskirts of Chapel Hill. Furthermore, on race day I discovered that the development hosting the shindig boasted some pretty sweet paths for its residents’ recreational use. I’m talking wide, decently smooth, and obviously kept in excellent condition.

Traveling along these tracks after the starting gun sent us off, my fellow amblers and I encountered a plethora of cheerful volunteers, pointing the way in a most helpful manner (thereby preventing any chance of rogue wanderers straying and becoming lost, because no one likes to misplace a participant, ya know?). Bonus: because we weren’t zipping past them, they made an extra effort to greet us with some encouraging words and a bit of friendly chatter as well. (Or maybe they secretly felt sorry for the Back-of-the-Pack. Eh, we had chosen our fate, and were fine with it…or whatever…)

As a matter of fact, I’d have to say that the overall support was really stellar. For example, they had people stationed at the finish line, holding clipboards with the roster of entrants, checking bib numbers and matching them to their list….so that when you crossed, they could congratulate you…BY NAME. Seriously, I was so startled when I heard someone yell “Good job, Johna--way to go!” that I almost tripped. (Honestly….made it through the hard part, yet nearly wiped out by an unexpected shower of kindness. Only me…) And don’t get me started on the buffet waiting for hungry finishers. Breakfast burritos and outstanding coffee from a local cafe, chips, granola bars, trail mix, fresh fruit, cookies, an assortment of cold beverages…it was impressive…generous…and yummy.

So…to wrap up…(Warning! Dangerous, possibly ill-advised scheme hatching) as I meandered the prescribed route laid out by the organizers, chatting and sauntering along, it occurred to me that it might just be a tame enough trail to consider…attempting to…run it next year.

Yeah, yeah…GASP! Have you even been listening to yourself? What are you thinking? Does someone need to smack you upside the head? Folks, these are all perfectly valid questions (that I’m going to pretend you asked, so it doesn’t seem like I’m talking to myself. Which almost…never…happens. Or…I do it all the time… so what?) The way I see it, I have another 11 months or so to either commit to this cockamamie notion--or discard it as ridiculous. Either way, I’mma be out there next September, earning another piece of apparel adorned with a peaceful…yard pest. So let’s hear it: meditating rodents FTW, y’all!