Wednesday, July 19, 2017

(Mis)adventures of the boys...

During my precious weekend of alone time I kept myself amused in various ways—such as cheering for female superheroes at the theater (while eating popcorn) and exploring…exotic new locales (yeah, yeah, that might be overstating “Winston-Salem, NC”, but do me a favor and just go with it…). Husband and sons, meanwhile, relaxed, romped on the beach, reportedly helped their parents/grandparents out with household chores, and eventually returned to me...although not quite in the same healthy state I’d last seen them. Or, as Husband ruefully (and dramatically) proclaimed upon entering the house, “Sorry, I apparently broke the children!”

Um…oh-kaaay…what’s up with THAT? I was already somewhat alarmed, especially since I’d gotten this text from Derek earlier in the day:

“We’re just headed back now. We had to stop by urgent care to remove a (see right) from Riley’s foot. Then we ate a[t] Dairy Queen cuz their blizzards are upside-down thick. We’ll be back in 6 hours.”

Now, I admit I reached for my reading glasses, just sure to be sure of what I was seeing. But it appeared that my beloved child was trying to tell me that Riley’d had…a…cute…pink…octopus extracted from his foot? 

I do know my teenager, and his tendency to…shall we say “embellish”? Nah, let’s be honest: “outright make stuff up for entertainment value” is more accurate. So I decided to ignore the DQ reference for now, and address the larger issue, as I replied with motherly skepticism, “Is any of that actually true (besides the time you left)?”

He responded, “All of it.” I was not terribly...reassured…by this response, but figured that the best thing to do would just be to wait until they arrived, and get the true story (from someone ELSE, preferably).

However, when Riley came limping into the kitchen later that evening, I began to suspect that there was at least a grain of truth to the tale. It turns out that one day when they’d been jumping around in the waves on Hunting Island—and Riley confessed here that he’d also been attempting to whack his older brother with his boogie board, for reasons known only to him—Riley landed on a sharp shell fragment. What he didn’t realize at the time was that a tiny piece broke off and lodged itself in the ball of his foot, near his toes.

Then over the next several days it began to bother him, until they finally opted to have it taken care of at an Urgent Care facility on the way home, rather than waiting and allowing it to continue to worsen (as Derek had more or less faithfully related…well, without the OCTOPUS, that is. He claimed it was the best he could do, since he couldn’t find a seashell emoji—uh-huh, suuuure…)

As an added bit of…excitement?...the doctor prescribed an antibiotic and strongly encouraged Husband to fill it. Why the medicine, for a minuscule cut on Riley’s foot? Just because the presence of something called Vibrio has recently been detected in the ocean water near the beach where they had been so lightheartedly playing. What’s that, you might wonder? Eh, nothing much to worry about….only a FLESH EATING BACTERIA. Can I just say, “Yikes, y’all—I’m in full agreement: bring on the preventative germ-killing super-drugs!”

Sheesh, I suppose it’s no wonder they felt the need to try and cancel out the negative start to their homeward-bound journey by indulging in some burgers and milkshakes at the aforementioned greasy spoon joint. Aaaannnd, about that…a couple of hours afterward, Derek’s stomach (which is typically cast-iron-reliable) rejected the meal he’d so graciously…inflicted upon it…resulting in an…ahem… “unfortunate incident” in Blenheim, South Carolina (in a restroom, thankfully, NOT Husband’s car).

When they shared this with me, all I could think of was, “Blenheim? It even SOUNDS like barfing!” To which Husband gleefully exclaimed, “Yes, that’s awesome! Derek, you don’t feel like you’re going to Blenheim again, do you?” (And just like that, it became a part of Team WestEnders’ family lexicon. Feel free to use it as well…it’s just too good not to…)

Whew, I’m kinda glad I missed this jolly little getaway, to tell you the truth! But I’m happy to follow up with the addendum that all is now well. Derek’s tummy evidently was hunky-dory after the removal of whatever had offended it so strongly. In fact, the next day he felt completely normal and passed the test of being able to work a shift at Subway (which of course involves preparing food—so if he hadn’t been fully recovered, that would have quickly posed a problem). Riley continues to apply ointment to his foot and cover the spot with a bandage for protection…but he insisted he was hale and hearty enough to attend soccer camp Monday through Friday evenings, this week. One night down, and he says it didn’t hurt whilst running around on a field and kicking a ball.

And there you have it: a thrilling vacation…that has all of us wishing for another one, just to finish decompressing! So, as we tackle the current chores and To Dos, just keep repeating…fruity drinks and tropical paradise are NEXT week…

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Solo Saturday Sightseeing

The Male Trio is off on their Summer Sojourn to South Carolina (I honestly didn't mean to alliterate...but sometimes these things just happen--what can you do?), and you know what this means: Solo Field Trip for the Queen of the Clan. This time I decided to storm--um, "visit"--Winston-Salem, a city about 70 miles west of our hometown, in the area known as the Triad. (This is not to be confused with the Triangle, comprised of Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill. The Triad is a whole other thing, made up of Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem. I think it took us a full year of living here before we finally figured that you're welcome...)

And right off the bat, let me clear up another confusing issue: Wake Forest University is located in Winston-Salem....NOT in, you know, "Wake Forest". What's UP with that, right? Well, I learned that the school used to be situated in the town bearing its name, from its founding in 1823, right until it up and moved to the current campus in the 1950s. Alrighty, then, since I'd gotten THAT all squared away, I decided to take a stroll around and see the sights. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, this is not because Derek has any intention of applying to the institution (it's both too small...and wildly expensive), but...I just like walking around colleges, okay?

I have to admit, it was picturesque--even if there was a ton of construction happening at the moment. (Powerwashing the bricks, painting the wooden window frames...putting the finishing touches on the building that will--apparently, according to the helpful signage--house a rock climbing wall and other recreational facilities...nice return on that super-high tuition, I guess...)

After a pleasant half-hour leg-stretching meander, I moved on to my next stop, for which I'd chosen the Old Salem Museum and Gardens. When I'd been researching on the web, I'd gotten the impression that this would be a single structure (which I'd skip, since I'd prefer to be outside, even if it IS blazing freakin' hot in July around here) and some charming gardens (which I'd photograph, since the compulsion to do so seems to be programmed into my genes, somehow). But oh, was I wrong--turns out that it's quite an operation, with a whole village worth of buildings to tour, demonstrations to watch, shops to patronize...and learning opportunities to experience. (And yes, the promised flowers! C'mon, say it with me....yaaaaayyyy!)

So, here's what I picked up on my educational Saturday: Salem was originally settled in the 1760s by a religious group called the Moravians, (who had come to the U.S. from Germany as missionaries around 1735). Their goals included pursuing religious freedom, and ministering to local indigenous populations, including blacks and Native Americans. It was interesting to hear that the church owned slaves (unfortunately), but at least believed in educating them along with their own children in reading, writing, and trade skills (including math, as it related to business transactions). All the inhabitants of Salem also worshipped together side by side; that is, until communities outside the congregation protested their treating enslaved people as equals. After that, the Moravians bowed to the pressure to segregate the populations by color, each in their own chapel.
All of this history was fascinating to me, of was the cemetery, called God's Acre, where Moravians are still buried today (separated into sections for men, women, children...and choir members, for some reason). Notably, since all members are considered to be the same, spiritually, the Moravians inter people chronologically by their date of death, and with identical, flat white stones rather than raised tombstones. However, on the site of the black church grounds, there were also 131 bodies laid to rest in the 18th and 19th centuries...but only a few of these are even marked, and then only with the word "Adult" or "Child" to identify whose final resting place it might be.

Whew...that was a lot to take in--and all of it captivating, for sure--but after tromping up and down the cobblestoned lanes for a couple of hours, I'd had my fill of...historical hoopla. I was ready to make one last excursion, into the city itself, to get a feel for the modern urban personality of Winston-Salem. I honestly didn't have a whole lot of energy left (Hey, wading through the past really takes it out of ya!) so I found a parking spot and hit the pavement on foot for a several-block radius. I suspect there's tons more to do and see, when I have more time and motivation--including a minor league baseball team, the Winston-Salem Dash, which means that on my next jaunt I should easily be able to convince the rest of Team WestEnders to tag least, as long as I promise not to make them study on a weekend!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A little less wisdom (and good riddance?!)

On Friday the 17-year old underwent--involuntarily, but necessarily--a momentous...rite of passage...of sorts. You see, during Derek's last routine dental checkup, Dr. R had recommended that he have his wisdom teeth taken out, sooner rather than later. Although the extra teeth weren't currently causing him any trouble--seriously, Derek didn't even know he HAD them--Dr. R's professional opinion was they they would eventually lead to crowding in Derek's mouth...thereby messing up Derek's lovely, straight bite...for which his parents had paid a pretty penny in braces, orthodontist visits, etc. So, yeeeeaaaah, let's NOT have that happen, thankyouverymuch!

Therefore we waited until after the school year (because obviously, who needs THAT on top of classes and homework?), and made an appointment with the oral surgeon to whom Dr. R had referred us. Since the practice had never seen Derek before, the preliminary steps would involve us showing up, and them performing their own examination of Derek's mouth to decide if they agreed with Dr. R's assessment of the need for extraction. From there, a number of things could happen: they could tell us the teeth could stay right where they were for the moment (and we'd simply go home); they might determine that it would be best to wait until another time down the road (again, in this case we'd just wave goodbye and take off); or they'd support the dentist's evaluation...and we'd be sticking around for the procedure, to be completed right then and there.

Regardless of how all that would turn out, however, the process had already tortured Derek in small ways....such as having to set an alarm to wake up during the Summertime (at 8:45, so don't waste TOO much time feeling bad for the "poor tired teenager")...and, even worse, not being able to eat anything beforehand (which of course is standard advice for those who may be experiencing the...joys of their near future. Suffice it to say, he was....semi-loopy...from a combined whammy of sleep deprivation (ish) and low blood sugar by the time he and I set off for the oral surgeon's office. Oh! And lest I forget, I should mention that Derek up to this point had never even had a cavity (pausing to knock on wood for him), so he had no frame of reference for anything...mouth-repair-related. No Novocaine (much less an IV!) nothing. Hmm, this was gonna be FUN, right? (Sheesh....)

To condense some of the more trivial details of the tale, they took a look, decreed that the pesky wisdoms should be removed, clearly explained the reasons to us using the handy-dandy X-Ray, and got the old ball rolling in short order, with informative visits from the surgical assistant, the drug guy--um, sorry, they probably prefer "anesthesiologist"--the surgeon himself, and of course the billing department, to inform me of how much this was all going to cost (which fell into the category of "not too horrible"...and also "thank goodness for insurance").

It was understandable that Derek seemed a bit dazed at this point, since things had just gotten very REAL in a big hurry--but this was probably for the best, since he'd be put under sedation soon anyway. As for me, it was back to the lobby, to read magazines, catch up on Facebook....and wait. However, it didn't feel like very long at all, before they were announcing that it was over, and calling me back to see him. (When Derek asked me about it a few minutes later, I told him "time enough to get through one issue of People...but not two!")

I stepped into the Recovery Room and witnessed....well, how should I put this? You've heard the expression "deer in the headlights"? That's always been a useful metaphor to me, but I've never actually seen someone embody the stark truth of it like Derek did at that moment. His face conveyed several facts--he was super-groggy....extremely confused...somewhat panicked....and not at all sure what to do. As a parent, I've gotta say it was a little terrifying to see my kid like that--but knowing the cause of it, and that he was absolutely okay...I admit that it was also the teensiest well. Especially when the first thing he did upon spotting me was throw his hands dramatically up in the air and--around a mouth full of gauze--vehemently sputter, "I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE I AM!"

(Hold on a second--not laughing, NOT laughing, being supportive and soothing... okay, I'm ready to respond...) I patted him comfortingly as the assistant assured him that he was fine, and that everything had gone perfectly. She then began reviewing the post-op instructions with me, until Derek suddenly interrupted by loudly attempting to ask a question. We both stared at him uncomprehendingly, since the cotton prevented him from actually, you know, forming anything resembling recognizable words. That is, until he pulled out his phone and muttered something close enough to, "I'll text you, Mom!" Before he could do that, the assistant handed him a clipboard and he scribbled, "How'd it go?" I repeated what he'd been told (approximately 3 minutes ago), and he gave me an exaggeratedly enthusiastic thumbs-up.

A couple of minutes later, when the assistant was still going over how to care for Derek at home in the next few days, he broke in again with..."How'd it go?"'s gonna be a looooong afternoon, isn't it? We reiterated how swimmingly he'd come through the...trauma...and earned another cheerful thumbs-up. Aaaannnnd, then they turned us loose--with a burly male attendant to help Derek ambulate more or less in a straight line, and to hold his head to keep him from whacking it on the roof of the car when he awkwardly heaved himself into the passenger seat. On the way home, Derek confined his actions to woozily leaning back against the headrest...except when he abruptly turned to me and asked, "Do you have my phone?" The answer was "Yes"...both times.

Next up, the first order of business in "Operation Nursing Derek Back to Health" was filling his prescriptions, and purchasing soft edible items he could manage with a sore mouth for a few days. I'd briefly entertained the notion of doing it on the way home and saving myself another trip out to the store--until I interacted with Derek after the surgery, and quickly realized I wouldn't be able to leave him in the car by himself for any length of time...or herd him around a supermarket, either. There was no doubt in my mind that he'd forget where he was, where I was, what we were doing--and wander off somewhere to try and figure it out. That's the kind of nightmare scenario we didn't need, so I deposited him at home and went out solo, to pick up food and pharmaceuticals.

I stocked up on yogurt, applesauce, bananas, and pudding, and we already had mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese in the pantry. Although the assistant had laughingly commented, "Teenage boys tend to bounce back quickly, so if he's hungry tomorrow and wants a cheeseburger, go ahead and let him have it!", I didn't want to take any chances and deprive him of nutrition (like he'd allow THAT to happen? Pfffttt, right...). For the first day, however, he had to get through the "stop the bleeding" phase, and then we opted to err on the side of caution with a policy of "all mushy, all the time". (He did actually EAT, though, not just drink, so that was an encouraging sign.) He was careful to take his meds on schedule, which he said kept the pain at bay...and used small plastic bags of frozen peas that I set up for him, to ice his jaw on both sides. (Yes, that WAS a sight...with a towel over his face and gloves on, to protect his skin from getting TOO cold. And you'll notice I refrained from photographing and posting on social media...because I'm practically a SAINT, y'all...)

For several hours, Derek was still reeeealllly foggy and kind of out-of-it, as he sprawled on the couch and half-watched SportsCenter. I also kept noticing him touching his face, and when I asked him about it he chuckled and said, "It's just SO WEIRD not to be able to feel my lip...or tongue...or chin!" Of course! You've never been numbed before! Not to worry: a couple of hours later he was completely acting like himself again--which meant sarcasm, verbally sparring with his brother (in their typical back-and-forth teasing manner), and basically exhibiting normal adolescent male behavior.

So in terms of updates for Days 2 and 3: he's continues to get by with his Ibuprofen/Acetaminophen combo (without ever needing the narcotics--which I didn't even fill at the pharmacy, hoping that would be the case). The first morning, he consumed a yogurt/banana smoothie and two packs of instant oatmeal for breakfast. He had enough energy to accompany Husband to Costco because, "Eh, it's not like I have anything else to do." Today he's moved on to "real food" (albeit still under the heading of "easy to chew"), like croissants, and even the meatloaf Husband offered him for dinner. Yeah, besides the fact that he said it feels like he's "eating around a balloon" in his mouth, I'd say he's recovering quite nicely at this point. So far, so good--but I still might make him wait until at least tomorrow for that cheeseburger--just to stay on the safe side!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Traditions Times Two

Team WestEnders continued our own personal Maryland Festival o’Fun with a family get-together on Friday. We chatted and caught up with my dad and sister…the cousins got to run amok all afternoon…my brother fired up his new toy—I mean “grill”—to cook everyone’s dinner…and a fabulous time was had by all. I snuck out for a few hours around noon to meet a couple of my college girlfriends nearby for lunch, which besides being enjoyable and relaxing in its own right, was also a delightful break from the aforementioned adolescent antics that were simultaneously occurring at my dad’s house. (An interlude of peace and quiet…nah…more like “gabbing and guffawing”! But it was definitely a treat to have yummy food and adult conversation, so it totally worked for us!)

When I returned to the scene of the…shenanigans...I found the resourceful quintet of cousins (ages almost-10 to 17) trying to beat the Summer heat by McGyver-ing a makeshift slip-and-slide in the back yard, using a tarp, a garden hose, and some dish soap. They would then fling themselves down the hill in a vain attempt to travel as far as possible--before inevitably veering off into the grass after only a few yards. All of this was “supervised” by my brother (aka “the biggest kid of them all”), so what could possibly go wrong? Fortunately, there were no…low-budget-thrill-ride injuries, and the gang soon enough moved on to safer pursuits…like full-contact basketball, and later, highly competitive flashlight tag.

For once, we didn’t even have to be sad when we left, since we’d be seeing most of the clan the very next day for an Orioles game—whoo hoo, Bonus Family Time! I hadn’t realized it when we’d planned our trip, but the game I just happened to choose included a giveaway: Zach Britton bobbleheads. If you’re not familiar with that particular player, he’s the team’s preferred closing pitcher (currently on the DL, but the 2016 AL Reliever of the Year, so still a pretty Big Deal). But the reeeally important thing is: free collectible! From (sometimes bitter) experience, we knew this meant that we’d need to arrive at the ballpark earlier than usual, to ensure that we were among the first 25,000 fans through the door, before they ran out of the souvenirs.

So we hit the road at 1:30 for the 4:05 game…and just happened to meet up with the rest of our group making their way to the stadium at the same time. And lemme tell ya what a slowsticky walk THAT was. I’m just saying: it was steamy outside, y’all. But it was all worth it when we spotted those orange and black boxes, stacked high and ready to be placed into our waiting—and grateful…and damp—hands. Sooooo, there we were…having successfully obtained our objective…and with a full hour to kill before the first pitch. (Okay, so maybe we didn’t actually need to be in quite such a hurry. Who knew?)

We decided that we could at least find our seats and get settled, since we knew they were situated in the shade of an overhang, and we could get the Heck. Out. Of. The. Sun. (Major thanks to my sister for arranging that for us!) No sooner had we sat down, however, than a message appeared on the Jumbotron.
What the WHAT? Did I mention the blazing yellow thing, clearly visible in the sky? I mean, sure, there are a couple of clouds that look as if they MIGHT be developing something of an…unpleasant attitude…but surely that’s an over-reaction, yeah?

Still, we watched as the Grounds Crew dutifully wrestled the tarp onto the infield to protect it from…I don’t know…UV rays? Impending…potential drenching? We were still skeptical…and keeping our fingers crossed…when suddenly the wind began picking up noticeably. Next, those formerly light and fluffy clouds got a whole lot darker and more serious. Aaaannnnd then, with no further warning, the heavens opened up in dramatic fashion and commenced dumping breeze-blown sheets of chilly rain down on the world below. Oh, about that roof we were under? It didn’t matter one bit, when you were smack in the middle of an onslaught of droplets being buffeted in all directions.

Suffice it to say, in a remarkably short time, we became…rather drippy…baseball enthusiasts. On the plus side, there’s nothing like an impromptu natural shower to cool you down, for sure…but…let’s just say that sitting around in wet…skivvies…for the several hours afterwards isn’t terribly comfortable. (We did make sure our precious bobbleheads were sheltered from the storm, in case you were wondering. Hey, we have our priorities straight! Or whatever…)

Anyway, the weather event was actually pretty spectacular while it lasted, which mercifully wasn’t too long. Better yet, the Baseball Powers That Be determined that the game would begin after about an hour-and-15-minute delay. However, that turned out to be the last good news of the day, as the Orioles quickly fell behind by a couple of runs, and proceeded to spend the entire contest on the losing end of the score.
Given that fact, and also the extra hours we’d already spent on this excursion, we made a Collective Executive Decision: we’d stick it out until the 7th inning stretch—which is mandatory as an Orioles supporter, so you can participate in the unique trifecta of musical entertainment comprised of America the Beautiful, the standard Take Me Out to the Ballgame…and John Denver’s Thank God I’m a Country Boy, which to the best of my knowledge occurs ONLY at Camden Yards. (It’s a goofy, beloved hometown tradition that dates back to the ‘70s, what can I tell ya? Come to think of it, maybe that explains it well enough…)

Let’s see…annual Os game with the fam, check. Mementos, check. Junk food, check. Well, look at that, our baseball goals had been met! So we felt free to pack it in and call it a night, wishing both our team and our relatives farewell until next time. Even though we didn’t get a victory out of the squad on the diamond, it was definitely one in the Win column for Team WestEnders!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Maryland Visit--something old and something new!

Team WestEnders set off for our annual Summer pilgrimage to Maryland on Wednesday, after the usual planning and packing...and mentally preparing ourselves for the assault on Virginia. It has become the custom for Derek to take the first driving shift, since he prefers to pilot the vehicle during daylight hours when he's most awake and alert (and obviously his parents are in complete agreement that this is for the best). Besides, that way he gets the--undeniably boring but also generally uncomplicated--stretch of I-85, which typically causes us few problems.

And this year was no different...oh, right...except for the bear. You see, we were just moseying along, minding our own business, when suddenly Husband pointed out the window and yelled, "Hey, there's a BEAR!" The three of us who weren't busy navigating whipped our heads around to look at what was surely a...caffeine withdrawal hallucination?...and were astonished to be able to confirm that yes, there was a small-ish black ursine creature standing on the exit ramp we had just passed. All I can say is--well, a couple of things, really: 1) he must have been sooo confused to wander out of the roadside forest and find him or herself facing a highway full of speeding automobiles, and 2) only in Virginia, dude.

So, that was more excitement than we normally experience on our excursions between the old and new hometowns--at least if you don't count the traffic circus that we almost always encounter. This time, however, I'm almost afraid to admit (for fear of jinxing it) that we found very little gridlock. In fact, I was on my phone scrolling through Facebook...and missed Fredericksburg entirely. Trust me when I say that this is an unheard-of phenomenon, since that city's 24-7 freeway mayhem usually inspires...much colorful expression of....exasperation. The only real snafu came when it was time for a potty break, and rather than use a rest area, we attempted to kill the proverbial two birds by pulling into a Sheetz/WaWa/other similar establishment so we could both use the facilities and purchase edibles to provide sustenance for the rest of the way.

After passing several "towns" that merited only a plain identification sign, with no services listed, we finally spotted one that promised a Sheetz. It was only when you actually pulled off the interstate that they confessed it was "1.8 miles" further. Well, that hardly counts as "convenient", now does it? Shame on you, Virginia, for misrepresenting your....Sheetz the weary travelers in need! But we were already committed to this course of action, so we had no choice but to continue...which we did...well PAST the prescribed distance...with nary a Sheetz oasis in sight.

At this point there miiiiight have commenced some ranting about how Virginia was...I believe the term "sucky" came to mind...and also "a big stupid liar" Yeeaaaeah, this was all me--the kids found the whole situation inexplicably hilarious, and Husband occupied himself by alternating between running commentary ("Ooh, this place is scary! Let's not stop here!) and inane suggestions (There's a Walgreens! I know they have bathrooms! And snacks!") We eventually opted to just rejoin I-95 and make another attempt in Tyson's Corner...where we STILL had to concede defeat and pause at an extremely creepy, none-too-clean gas station for as short a time as possible. Once we'd crossed the American Legion Bridge, we heaved a collective sigh of relief and repeated a new addition to our family lore:'ll always get you SOMEHOW.

At least we did arrive safely at our HQ for the long weekend. On Thursday our first activity involved a tour at the University of Maryland in College Park. We managed to get up, get ready, and leave exactly when we'd planned to (which is quite rare and impressive for Team WestEnders), but Husband had forgotten--in the previous night's...uproar--that he needed to fill the gas tank. This slight delay made him worry that we'd be late...a fear which apparently awoke his inner Dale Earnhardt Jr. Thus we were reacquainted with the Beltway--a crowded, unpleasant, dangerous road I've never, ever missed for even one second since moving out of the area--with someone behind the wheel who decided to drive like a bat out of hell. Oh, joy.

Once we arrived intact (if a bit green), we sat in on the information session, which described the educational opportunities, social lifeadmission process, financial aid, blah blah blah. Then we followed a perky student guide (Amanda) around campus as she showed us points of interest like the Office of Admissions; the large green space in the center of campus called McKeldin Mall; a residence hall; a brand new building where the classrooms are "set up for collaborative learning"; the baseball and football stadiums; one of the libraries, with the iconic terrapin mascot statue in front (Testudo, whose nose you're supposed to rub for good luck--which we did, since you don't mess with that kind of thing); athletic facilities the students can use; and the student union, which includes a dining hall. That might have been Derek's favorite part, as food is near and dear to his heart--and I think he probably stopped listening to anything else Amanda was saying after she uttered the words, "You can eat as often as you want, as much as you want, and can stay as long as you want." Um...that's pretty much his idea of paradise, you know?

When we'd finished being led around and seeing the sights, we bid the university farewell and moved on to our next "appointment" of the day: a visit to the town where we used to live. Derek had made arrangements with some of his friends from Middle School to meet at the park around the corner from our old house, so we dropped him off. Then Husband, Riley and I had several hours to kill before joining some of our soccer family amigos for dinner, so we followed what has become our standard agenda....hanging out in the local library for a while, then taking a stroll around Lake Needwood for some fresh air, exercise, and communing with nature (some of our very favorite things, all wrapped into one neat package--not bad for a pleasant afternoon jaunt).

Finally, we gathered at the one restaurant I actually miss since moving to Chapel Hill, California Tortilla, for our twice-yearly combination food-fix and catch-up with the futbol crowd. It's always so awesome chatting with them...even if this year some of the conversation centered around the dually terrifying topics of "the younger siblings going to high school" and "the older boys starting the whole college search/application/selection rigamarole". Nevertheless, a satisfying meal and loads of laughs make for a fabulous end to a very long but totally entertaining day. And with that, it's high time for some well-deserved SLEEP before the whirlwind continues tomorrow....ZZZZZZ!
Jim Henson--famous University of Maryland alumni!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

You want chips with that?

After all the hoopla died down, from the unexpectedly lengthy and complicated process of Derek actually getting hired for his first job, he kicked off his brand new Working Life on Sunday night, with the 5-9 p.m. shift at Subway. As an added…bonus…because Husband’s out of town, he had to endure the dreaded Mom Taxi scenario, but strangely enough, he declined my generous and heartfelt offer to walk him I was sending him off to Kindergarten, or something. (I just can’t imagine WHY!) I had to settle for repeating the time-honored “first day” advice: play nicely with others, learn something new, and try your best. (Which cracks me up—it never occurred to me before, how well those kiddie rules just naturally apply to grown-up situations as well!)

Then…presumably he toiled away diligently—at whatever tasks they might see fit to assign to a newbie, I suppose--until it was time for me to go and retrieve him. When he plopped himself heavily into the car with a sigh, I asked him for his impressions on how it had gone. “Fine,” he replied, and then interjected, “I’m exhausted! This is the only time I’ve sat down since 5:00!” Ah, yes…welcome to the lightning-paced world of the fast-food-ish restaurant biz…where you just survived your inaugural Sunday evening dinner rush. Whoo hoo—congrats!

Of course, I pressed him for more details, and he further described his experience as “pretty stressful, having to put things together quickly and get everyone’s order right.” It seems that he’d been busy doing other…supportive-type activities…in the back, but the manager had called him out to help with customer service because they had a line of hungry people to feed. Alrighty, then, “trial by fire” it is!

He told us that he did some general cleaning, restocking when things ran low, (the oh-so-thrilling), mopping, and adding vegetables to sandwiches, but not meat, because “that comes later.” (Although as a vegetarian I have some pretty specific ideas about the…dangers…of deli products, I don’t have a clue why Subway deems them so much more challenging that they don’t train employees in their use until they’re considered fully ready for such knowledge…) Oh, and he shared that he’s “not so good at the folding and wrapping part yet [of the sandwiches for presentation to the customer]”.

On the definite plus side, he found out that he gets to keep a portion of the tips, when satisfied sandwich-purchasers are pleased with his work and choose to leave some money. (Since it was his first night, the manager let him keep the whole amount this time, which was very sweet of her.) On the downside, he really thought one would get something to eat, during a break or after the shift, and apparently this isn’t the case. (To be around all that food, for hours, and not be able to partake in it must be a special kind of torture to a perpetually hungry adolescent boy! Eh, it’ll be good for strengthening his…willpower…or whatever.)

The next step was for him to stop by on Tuesday to check the schedule for the coming week, and see when he was supposed to show up again. With Husband still away, I drove him over once more. He returned to the car and reported with exasperation, “She put me down to work two days while we’re in Maryland…so I have to text her and let her know to change it.” As we I was exiting the parking lot it occurred to me to ask, “So, what other days are you scheduled?” He shrugged and mumbled, “I’ll have Trevor take a picture and send it to me.”

“Um…sweetie? Couldn’t you have, I don’t know, done that yourself while you were there…like 30 seconds ago? ‘Cuz it’s not like any of the REST of us—such as, just as a minor example, the person whose car you need to borrow on a regular basis to get yourself to and from your new gig--need to know what you’re doing, right? I mean, I know it’s Summertime and all, but do me a favor and try to use your Teenage Boy Brain at least once in a while, ‘kay?”

So we turned around and went BACK, for him to do just that…prompting him to utter the best comment of the afternoon, by far: “I don’t wanna have a job…it’s too much WORK!” (Hahahahaha! Nice one, son. Oh, and also “too bad”; you’re stuck in the ranks of the Employed Folks now, and there’s no turning back!) And would you believe that when we returned home and he was reading his shifts to me so I could add them to the master calendar, he hadn’t noticed that he was also scheduled for July 7th…the day he’s getting his wisdom teeth removed. You guessed it--he has to go back one more time to leave a note for the manager saying why he can’t come in that day…or he’ll have poor Trevor do it for him. Siiiighhhhh.

Clearly there are going to be some…growing pains…with this endeavor. When Husband returned from his trip, he asked a question that I hadn’t—had Derek enjoyed himself? His response kind of summed up the undertaking, “It’s not like I’m passionate about sandwich making. Is it FUN? No. Can I tolerate it? Yes.” Yep, sounds about right for a part-time minimum wage first job. But for now, by all accounts (including the manager’s), he completed a successful “debut”, he’s gaining all kinds of Valuable Life Skills, blah blah blah…and he gets to wear kind of a cool t-shirt in lieu of a uniform. All in all, we’ll take it! 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Running...into (a little) trouble!

In 2015, Team WestEnders did a race called Four on the Fourth—which, as the name suggests, covered 4 miles rather than our usual 5K, and took place on Independence Day. Last year we were in Seattle for the holiday, and missed it. But we’ll be in town for July 4th, 2017, so we broached the subject of participating in it again with the kids, as a potential “fun-filled family activity”…or what have you.

And lemme tell ya, the response was LESS than what you’d call…enthusiastic…or even receptive….or anything else that can be construed as “positive”, for that matter. There was immediate backlash from the older son, who made an exasperated noise and huffed, “Really? We’re gonna be THAT family?” Um…that depends…which one are you talking about, dear? “You know, the one that gets up EARLY on a HOLIDAY to go RUN!” Since he’d so eloquently cleared that up, I was able to cheerfully reply, “Oh! Well then YES—yes, we ARE that family!” Riley’s response was a much more succinct and plaintive, “Ugh. Noooo! we have to?”

I pointed out to the lazy teenage slugs—I mean “beloved offspring”—that since it’s their Summer break, they have the privilege of sleeping in most days anyway, so it shouldn’t be any kind of a hardship to drag themselves out of bed ONCE. Somehow, they were unmoved by my calm, cool logic, however.

But…then I started thinking about how I’ve been able to keep running these days only with varying degrees of determination…and difficulty. Honestly, my knees grudgingly consent to pound the pavement for 3-ish miles, but would most likely rebel…probably in a verrrry unpleasant fashion…if I demanded more out of them at this point. So the upshot was: I brightened the kids’ day considerably be conceding the issue, and instead began looking around for a substitute (because, you know, “foregoing races completely” is just not an option…)

What I found was a new offering called (wait for it) the VegFest 5K. It was the right length, it was local, and the participant t-shirt they showed on the website depicted a trio of…running vegetables! Say no more, I’m IN! I even got Husband to agree to tag along with me, although you can scarcely imagine the amount of eye-rolling and mockery that the children heaped on us for joining a race that appeared to be entirely supported by eco-friendly, organic, vegan sponsors. (Yes! MY TRIBE….y’all!)

That’s how we found ourselves making the short trip to Southern Village early this past Sunday—with one groggy, silent individual (Guess who? Yeah, that was easy, wasn’t it?) and one annoyingly chatty and chipper dude. (Seriously, Husband is SUCH a morning person—aren’t they awful? I mean, when you can’t have coffee because you’re going to be exercising just a few short minutes after your eyes open? There should be a rule that they have to be quiet and leave us alone! Or is that just me? Whatever….sure, I’m awake NOW…)

Anyway, this was the…first rehearsal, if you will…of this event--and boy, did it show. Mind you, everything LOOKED good—with many vendors setting up their displays with lots of interesting products to peruse after the workout portion of the day was completed. The organizers had encouraged folks to come in costume, and a few took them up on the challenge, which is why we found ourselves mingling with a teenaged pineapple…a tutu-d watermelon…a young carrot…and an eggplant guy who had the further audacity to bring his (plainly dressed, thank goodness) dog along for the festivities.

And things went well….that is, right up until the first turn (um, that would be approximately 30 seconds out of the proverbial gate. Before that, whew, it was smooth sailing!) The volunteer who was supposed to be pointing out the route initially signaled for us to continue down the wrong street, before checking his GPS and correcting himself. (Later, Husband would note that we should have known how things would turn out, based on that inauspicious start…hindsight, man…sigh…)

Then at around 1.5 miles, there was an obstacle—what I can only describe as the Everest of this particular neighborhood: a steeeeep, loooong hill that I initially made a valiant attempt to scale at a jogging pace, but finally had to admit was only realistically conquerable by walking. (In my mind, I rallied my spirit with something along the lines of “I may not have defeated the *&%$ mountain, but I WILL win the war—ahem…”finish the race”!) But wait, it gets worse: because of a lack of support personnel lining the route—or even directional signs, which would have been sufficient and appreciated—there were few people keeping you on track, so I, and the pack of people I happened to be with, made an erroneous turn…and faced that same stupid incline AGAIN! (Yeah, didn’t even try to pretend to run up it the second time…)

Finally, to add (further) insult to (fortunately only metaphorical) injury, there was absolutely no instruction about what to do around mile 2.5, so the whole horde of us went…unintentionally rogue…without even being aware of it. Nope, we just kept plugging along…until I finally looked at my phone’s stopwatch, because my legs felt like lead and I was 100% out of gas, and saw that 33 minutes had passed. Now, even WITH some slow periods, this falls well outside the bounds of when I should have finished…and the end was nowhere in sight…which led me to the irrefutable conclusion that we were collectively lost.

About that time we spotted a police officer  who was directing stragglers, and queried him about how to…reacquire…the race HQ. “Do you want to stick to the course?” he politely asked, to which we chorused a resounding, “No, thank you! We’ll take the shortest distance, thankyouverymuch!” (At this point I was so tired and discouraged that my mantra became: I just have to come in ahead of that one woman…wearing a potato outfit. I will NOT lose to a spud! I might have been becoming delirious, you think? Eh, it kept my feet moving…) Thus I hauled myself wearily over the Finish Line without even bothering to check my official time, since I’d obviously traveled beyond the prescribed 3.1 miles. When I caught up with Husband, he commented that he’d experienced virtually the same scenario…but was so irritated by the whole snafu that he’d ignored the Finish Line altogether.

So, not what I’d call an altogether well conceptualized…or well planned…shindig. But there were a few perks to brighten things up, due to the aforementioned businesses who shared their wares with the hot, tired…mildly disgruntled…public. Such as: samples of creamy, delicious cashew-based “ice cream”…giveaways of organic energy bars and gluten-free vegan cupcakes…and some homemade truffles that were quite possibly the BEST little bites of chocolate I’ve ever put in my mouth. When you’ve checked off your physical activity—and racked up your 10,000 steps—for the day by 9 a.m., and you’re rewarded with treats like those? There are definitely worse ways to start a Sunday. Besides…then you’re free to go home, relax, and at long last enjoy your delayed COFFEE…yaaaaay!

Friday, June 23, 2017

A little more of the "growing up" stuff (gulp!)

As soon as "the friend group", as Derek calls them, began to turn 16 one by one and get their driver's licenses, they also embarked upon that most sacred of adolescent traditions: obtaining a part-time job. (Because, you know, their parents need one MORE reminder that they're THIS CLOSE to becoming full-fledged adults...cue the inevitable maternal freak out...which--I'm giving you fair warning right now--will very likely continue almost unabated for the next year or so. Hey, you're welcome for the heads-up!)

We did find it amusing that all of these young men gravitated to one particular establishment...a local Subway shop. You see, one of them (who somehow has escaped being assigned an alias yet, so hereafter shall be known as..."Trevor") has an older brother who joined the payroll there a few years ago. He recommended Trevor...who then vouched for Lou...who in turn put in a good word"Rick". And suddenly Subway was the happening place to be--at least for newly-employed High School students from our neighborhood, anyway.

But not Derek--at least not at first--because Husband and I agreed that he should remain focused on doing well in school, especially given the dire warnings we'd (all) received about the rigors, courseload, and stresses that come along with surviving Junior year. We were leery of having him try to juggle another obligation during the academic months, so we held off until he'd safely and successfully navigated his Final Exams before pushing him to float his name in the applicant pool.

(Practically) the minute those grades were recorded, though, it quickly turned into "Okay, buddy, let's get a move on, and figure out that application process!" And how did Derek feel about this whole endeavor? Let's just say he expressed a bit of...ambivalence. On the one hand, he readily admitted--given the frequency with which he and his pals have been indulging in takeout meals lately--that he would appreciate having some income...that he was earning himself, rather than receiving handouts from the....ahem..."Bank of Mom and Dad".

However, he also confessed that he wasn't join the Rat Race, as it were, but would much rather maintain the Life of Teenage Leisure that he's enjoyed up to this point. And yes, he does recognize that these perspectives conflict with one another...and also that he's reached an age where he neither can nor should sponge off his parents 100%, when he's perfectly capable of contributing to his and feeding. Then there's the whole "demonstrating responsibility" and "employment looks good on college applications" aspects, and blah blah blah...basically, for many reasons, it was TIME.

So one Sunday night a couple of weeks ago he and I sat down at the computer to fill out the online form--which included all of his basic descriptive and identifying information, of course, but also a lengthy survey that the two of us found utterly hi-larious. You had to respond to a wide variety of questions by selecting options ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree". Examples of what the Subway Powers That Be wanted to know included: "I get along well with others" (okay, that's falls into the realm of "understandable and relevant" for a workplace); something along the lines of "I will cut corners if necessary to get things done" (Derek and I stared at each other, dumbfounded, until he finally said, "Um...what's the right way to answer that?").

And finally, the one that cracked us up the most, "I often feel joy at work" Seriously? How many of us can honestly answer that in the affirmative? I mean, do I like my job? Sure! Do I find it meaningful and rewarding? Absolutely! But c'mon...JOY? We're not talking about pursuing your lifelong passion or aiming toward bettering the world for humankind...this is SANDWICH MAKING, for crying out loud! (Unless this IS your ultimate goal and it does bring you enormous pleasure, in which case I applaud you and am sincerely delighted that you discovered your calling. Carry on!) For your average teenager seeking entry-level work experience? It might be...a bit all I'm saying...

Anyway, after we double-checked all of  the details and clicked "submit", we just sat back and waited to be contacted for the next step in the hiring hierarchy. And we waited some more...listening to the crickets...nope, still nothing. And then I started wondering: when would it be appropriate to follow-up? It's been decades since my own foray into the..."restaurant environment" I'm not exactly sure of the protocol. After some discussion (with Derek firmly on the side of "Moooom, don't bother anyone!" and me weighing in with "Trust me, it's okay to politely ASK, honey."), I convinced him to try calling during business hours and requesting to speak to the manager (Let's see...."Irene" will do). However, when he did, no one answered the phone.

Well, fine! Since the direct approach had failed so thoroughly, our next plan of attack involved the roundabout method of...enlisting Trevor's assistance. (Poor guy, we put him on the spot--but to his credit he was very willing to help us out...maybe because we actually stopped by one day and asked him in person. And he's FAR too well-brought-up to refuse an appeal from someone's mother...) Trevor told us that Irene couldn't find Derek's electronic application, so he went ahead and resubmitted it. (Oy! The trials of the Digital Age...) In the meantime, as the other guys had previously done for one another, Trevor gave Irene a good report about Derek's ability to fulfill the duties of a Subway employee...or something like that.

As we were still twiddling our thumbs several days later, Derek finally broached the subject with me: "Do you think I should just start looking for other jobs? It doesn't seem like this is going to happen." I agreed that this was dragging on, and offered to help him search for something else that same evening...until he jogged up to me a short while later and announced, "Hold that thought--Trevor just texted me that Irene wants me to come in for an interview on Thursday."

Well, hallelujah! Since it would be Derek's very first such appointment of ANY kind, Husband immediately began peppering him with tips about questions he should anticipate, material he'd want to cover in his answers, and how he should phrase his responses. While I was like, "Um...dear? You might want to calm's a temporary, part-time gig at Subway...not a career-building foray into the higher echelons of business...or whatever." My own advice to Derek was much simpler: dress nicely, arrive early, speak intelligently, answer truthfully...and be yourself. And don't worry--you're gonna do great!"

On the big day, I wished him well, requested that he text me when he was done, and crossed my fingers. Not very long after his scheduled meeting time, Derek ended my suspense by relaying the news that he'd been accepted. Yaaaayyyyy! The teenager survived his first hiring experience, and is now gainfully employed! Of course, I plied him for more details when I saw him next, but his only comment was, "Nothing happened!" Confused, I asked him to explain. He clarified, "She didn't really ask me much. I guess she just reviewed what was on my application...and took Trevor's word for it that I could do the job!" Alrighty, then...not necessarily what we expected...but fair enough!

So, to wrap this up: Derek's first official night of...sandwich creation...will be this coming Sunday. Irene said she needs evening coverage, so most of his shifts will occur during that timeframe. And as a result, (drumroll, please)...he can jump into the ranks of those who draw a regular (ish) paycheck...and watch the dough rolling in ( much as minimum wage will allow. Nevertheless, it's more than he makes right now, for sure!). Whoo hoo!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Saturday Excursion--just to mix things up...

Last Summer, Riley's unfortunate incident with a certain broken tibia and the resulting cast/crutches catastrophe prevented the boys and me from taking any of our typical field trips. None. Zip. Zero. Boo hoo! So maybe you can understand my eagerness to kick off the party--um, "enlightening experiences"--this year, with everyone in sound mind and body and whatnot. And would you look at that--already a whole WEEK has passed since school ended! Clearly, it was high time to get out there and...find something...FUN!

I queried the beloved sons about whether they'd be interested in an activity of some kind, and got a thumbs-up from both of them. So far, so good...then I had to go and press my luck by asking, "Well, what would you like to do?" Derek stared at me blankly for a few seconds before replying with a small, sheepish smile, "I kind of hoped you had a plan in mind already." Sigh...of course you did, my delightful teenager. Let me get right on that, while you feel free to pursue your own passion...which suspiciously looks a lot like "vegging out in your room watching SportsCenter highlights".

However much (mild) grief I gave him (just, you know, for appearance's sake), I'd decided some time ago that I wanted to visit the Duke Lemur Center anyway, so I didn't actually have to carry out hours of complex, difficult research or anything crazy like that. Check the schedule and types of programs...make a reservation...aaannnd DONE. It turned out that they had spaces available in the Saturday evening Twilight Tour, so I chose that one, especially because the enthusiastic and helpful lady on the phone told me that the animals are often more active as the sun is setting and the heat of the day is diminishing.

When we arrived, we (and the rest of the group sharing our timeslot) were treated to a super-cheesy-yet-adorable informational film at the Visitor's Center. We learned that the Duke collection of lemurs is the largest in the entire world, outside of Madagascar, their only natural habitat. At the compound, the staff care for the creatures, study them, train them, breed them (there are around 60 different species' left in the wild, and all are endangered)--and of course share an up-close-and-personal view of their behavior with the public.

After the educational portion, we got to stroll around the grounds with a guide (named Anna) and observe some of the fuzzy cuties...chowing down on their dinner fare, scrambling high and low on the wire cages of their enclosures, nimbly leaping from branches to platforms, and sometimes coming over to stare at US with intelligent, curious expressions...which left me thinking, "Man, they soooo look like they want to chat with you--I wish I spoke 'lemur'!"

As a matter of fact, we were treated to several...fascinating....and also slightly scary...demonstrations of the residents' vocal power. Anna had discussed how lemurs do communicate with each other through sounds, and each species even has its own..."dialect", if you will. Therefore, all of the varieties don't necessarily understand each other...but each one has some version of an alarm call.

Well...something set one of them off, causing it to screech piercingly, which then inspired some of its neighbors to add their distinct howls, growls, and barks, until it sounded like we were surrounded by a hostile army of fierce...and yet still inescapably adorable...primates. As we stood and listened to the cacophony, Anna wryly noted that when this happens, the humans in the area might not ever know what triggered the tantrum...or for that matter what generally constitutes a valid reason for the lemurs to YELL...but that in captivity, "They tend to have a bit of the 'drama queen' about them."

And then, as if I weren't entertained enough already, I discovered something that, to me, was worth the entire price of admission. You see, there used to be a kids' show on PBS that I would watch with the boys when they were very small, starring a lemur called Zoboomafoo (and also the nature-loving Kratt brothers, if that helps anyone else recognize it. No? I'm probably alone on this one, but that's okay, I'll continue with my burst of nostalgia...). Martin Kratt attended Duke University, and the featured creature actually lived at the Duke Lemur Center (until his death at age 20 in 2014). WOW! It was like some kind of...almost-brush with greatness, I tell ya! (Maybe in a "six degrees of separation" way? Whatever...I was ridiculously thrilled...)

Finally, we headed back toward our vehicles, full of new facts about Madagascar's most famous exports--and as a bonus, we got one more cool chance to watch the little guys. Some of the animals--depending on factors such as age, health,  mastery of and compliance with training signals--are allowed out into the forest to roam freely, forage for their own meals, and interact with their environment and each other. There happened to be a family group in the trees bordering the parking lot, munching on leaves, swinging from the branches, and generally providing an enjoyable final glimpse into the Life of Lemurs.

As usual, the irresistible combination of nerdy learning opportunity, encounter with the Great Outdoors, and family bonding proved successful. Team WestEnders' first adventure of Summer 2017 is in the books, and we're calling it a WIN!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Aaaannnd, we're out!

June 9th marked the so-called last day of school for the 2016-17 academic year...I phrase it this way because Derek had officially finished the previous morning when he turned in his last exam...and Riley actually only had to attend his 90-minute Promotion Ceremony before being dismissed from the hallowed halls of Middle School for good and ever. (One sec: yaaaaayyyyy! Thanks...)

Cruel and insensitive parental units that we are, Husband and I required the older brother to tag along with us and support his sibling--even though Riley apparently told Derek privately that he was completely indifferent to his presence, and therefore didn't care if he slept in rather than attending. However, when I got wind of this, I informed Derek that that was all very nice, but...tough--you're coming anyway, so suck it up, buttercup! (Or something to that effect...) Derek's reply was a resigned shrug and a mild retort, "Fine. I'm getting up at 8:25, then!" (We were leaving at 8:40, but as long as he"dressed", I decided I wouldn't protest. Sometimes you've gotta set the bar waaayyy low, ya know?)

So we sent Riley over to the school at his usual time...albeit MUCH more fancily attired than normal. In fact, he'd requested a ride from Husband, rather than walking like he typically does, so that he wouldn't get all sweaty in his dress clothes. Lucky for him he got dropped off at the front door, as it turned out, since by the time the rest of Team WestEnders pulled ourselves together and joined the throng a short while later, finding a parking space anywhere near the building resembled mall at Christmas....kind of situation.

Finally we jumped a curb to claim a...technically illegal, I in the grass (like many others had done before us, so we figured, "no harm, no foul"...or much more importantly, "no one's going to bother giving us a ticket, at least during this event") and trooped into the gym for the last time...along with friends and relations belonging to the other 242 8th graders. (Amusingly, the massive crowd included several of Derek's buddies who also have family members in Riley's class, as well as many other High Schoolers that he recognized. So evidently we were NOT the only parents who insisted on making this a Family Activity. Ha!)

Then the actual pomp and circumstance (such as it was) commenced, with the Principal giving an abbreviated version of a graduation address, and expressing appreciation to a number of  parent volunteers and superlative teachers. Next a parade of instructors handed out a slew of awards to deserving students. And finally, when their name was called, each kid was handed a certificate commemorating the culmination of their time in Middle School.

And...then it was all O-V-E-R, folks--the ceremony, the 3 years in Junior High...the whole shebang. I must say, I experienced quite a few emotions during the morning's progression--but shockingly, none of them could be called "sadness". Of course there's no small amount of maternal pride, as he reaches this milestone at the end of a very successful three-year..."career". And then...there's a great deal of SHOCK...that my youngest son is now in High School...and that means there are only four more years until he'll be completely done. (Yikes!)

Okay, okay--if I'm being honest, perhaps there's even a tiny bit of nostalgia, realizing that certain things are now in the attending two separate Back to School nights...or looking up the Supply Lists in August and making that expensive-but-nerdily-satisfying jaunt to Staples to stock up on necessities. (Oh, who am I trying to kid? We loooove us some office supplies, so we'll probably just manufacture an excuse--no matter how flimsy--to take a field trip to Staples anyway...)

Lastly, as I look at the photos I snapped to capture this memory, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude...that Riley formed such a wonderful group of friends during his Middle School years...that he's ready and excited to be moving on to his next adventure...and that his Big Bro will be there to help him navigate the...Freshman the Fall (which I'm sure Derek will do...along with a certain amount of--hopefully good-natured--"Welcome to High School hazing" that is bound to occur as well...). For now, with all of their obligations behind them, the Westman boys can get down to the crucial task...of starting to enjoy their Summer Vacation. Sooooo....let the fun begin!