Friday, December 8, 2017

Holiday Hijinks

With the halls having been decked during Thanksgiving weekend, only one thing remained, to complete the festive atmosphere in Casa WestEnders: the heartwarming family bonding activity known as "assembling, illuminating, and adorning the Christmas tree". We have an artificial version (which may not fill the house with a pine-fresh aroma....but also doesn't cause me a sinus infection, so if I feel deprived, I'll just light a fir-scented candle, and enjoy it without sneezing...or antibiotics...) and I leave the unpacking and constructing phase to the Male Trio. (Not to be sexist or anything...simply because frankly...I don't waaaaaanna!)

Then Husband adds the twinkly lights--and here we hit a small snag this year. You see, I thought I remembered that one of our strands had failed to work properly last year, meaning that Husband had to st-r-e-t-ch the remaining ones to cover all of the boughs without leaving any sad, unlit spaces. So I bought another string a few days before we planned to decorate--and congratulated myself on my memory, foresight, and proactive handling of the situation, to avert a potential holiday crisis (or what have you).

However...apparently I'm not we say "observant"...since I failed to notice that all of the other LEDs currently gracing our faux evergreen are white...yet I purchased the multicolored variety. Oops! Too late to do anything about it, so I shushed the little voice in my head going, "But...but...they don't MATCH! It looks weird! Do. It. Over!!" and decided that--for 2017, anyway--we were just going to embrace a little bit our yuletide decor.

Yep, it works!
Next all of the ornaments are lovingly placed on the branches by my cooperative band of seasonal assistants...hahahahaha! Let's see...Husband skedaddled after finishing his electrical contribution, since he was coming down with a migraine and needed to go close himself up in a dark, quiet room (i.e.: NOT where the elf-ish shenanigans would be continuing). Derek draped himself across a couch and lay there half-comatose, semi-watching the proceedings, yawning frequently, and occasionally mumbling something about "getting up in a second to help". Soooo, that left Riley and me to tackle the bulk of the fa la la-ing...which we managed to thoroughly enjoy, nonetheless.

And then, once all of the special baubles had been arranged to my satisfaction, we arrived at the last very important task: rounding up the resident goofballs for the annual December Photo Shoot. One never knows what to expect from this endeavor...except that it inevitably will take twice as long as I think it should...and that there will be multiple moments of unbridled silliness. But first, due to the fact that I only use the self-timer function on my camera once a year, for this moment, I always need to skim the instructions and take a test shot or two, to make sure I know what I'm doing BEFORE calling in all of the guys. (Practice pic: check...)

Moving on...because I'm evidently a total glutton for punishment, I decided I wanted the boys to pose together in front of the tree, like I used to have them do when they were wee tots. You know, when they were young and wriggly and had the attention span of a flea, but I could strike a bargain with them by allowing candy canes during the proceedings, and thus get an angelic depiction of my sweet children. See? Absolutely precious, right? they're beyond the "bribing with treats" phase...and therefore much more difficult to coerce into behaving (which I realize sounds ridiculous, given that they're both in HIGH SCHOOL, for crying out loud, but there you have it...). So it went more along the lines of, "Okay, stand in front of the tree. Closer together. In the center. THE CENTER! Now look at me. Stop grimacing. Look at the camera. AT THE CAMERA! Quit laughing--this isn't supposed to be funny. Stop talking. Stay where you are--your eyes were closed, we're taking it again. Now hold still. You blinked AGAIN. One more time. Dude, seriously, could you possibly Keep. Your. Eyes. OPEN?" It was freakin' magical, I tell ya. Derek finally figured out that if he doesn't stare directly at the flash, he has an outside chance of succeeding at the open-eyed look. So mostly we have captured Riley, trying his darndest not to collapse on the floor in helpless giggles, and Derek, gazing off into the distance mysteriously. Siiiighhhhh....bless their pea pickin' hearts....

All of this nonsense was before we even attempted to do the portrait of the whole clan--the one that might, with any luck, be worthy of using on a greeting card to be sent out to extended family and dear friends. (I know, I know, I'm a hopeless optimist...) And how did this carefully orchestrated session of photographic creation go? Well...first there was the usual "Rats--not quite ready" mistake (1). And the "slightly misaligned" version (2). Oh, and let's not forget the "Riley made some wise-ass comment that cracked his brother up, causing Derek to SNORT into my HAIR iteratioin (3).

But none of these even came close to the one that happened after the following conversation. (Disclaimer: I'm not even sure what prompted it, so don't ask me!)

Derek: "I'm wearing Nike, how about you, Riley?"
Riley: "Mmm...(checks his shirt to make sure) Adidas!"
There's a slight pause as they're lining up and preparing for the shot, at which point Husband breaks into the silence with the enthusiastic exclamation, "I've got...Dickies!" (while waving one foot vigorously in the air, to demonstrate that his socks are, in fact, made by that unfortunately named company). The response was...well, there's no group picture to illustrate it, because the beloved offspring pretty much fell onto the nearest piece of furniture, holding their stomachs, overcome with hysterical laughter (4).

It should come as no surprise that this was immediately followed by me yelling "That's it! Next year, I'm RENTING A NEW FAMILY for the holiday photo!" I was, at least partially. Finally, at looooong last, we achieved a decent representation of Team WestEnders, 2017 (5). I tell ya, it was like...a Christmas miracle. Aaaannnnd, not wanting to press my luck any further, I promptly dismissed them. (I believe my exact words were, "We're done here! Now go away!") done, cards ordered--someone get me a hot chocolate...and don't skimp on the whipped cream, 'cuz I earned it this year, y'all!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Because ya gotta have goals...

The Team WestEnders 2017 slate of 5Ks  officially concluded this afternoon--with the only event that  all four of us actually managed to attend together this year, incidentally! As our resident Race Coordinator (a title that I've just now arbitrarily bestowed upon myself...and which I also decree totally deserves a cute new pair of workout shoes, yeah? You know, for all the...Runner....Wrangling service I provide...or what have you...) I selected 7 from our area--Husband and Derek each participated in 2, Riley managed 3...and of course I did the whole kit and caboodle (knee crankiness, cortisone injections, and physical therapy notwithstanding...). So, here's how it broke down:

The activities kicked off in February, with the Run for the Roses in Raleigh. Some members of the outdoor bootcamp group I belong to have made this an annual tradition, so I went along to see what it was like. I usually opt to stick closer to home, to reduce the amount of "crawling out of bed at the crack of dawn...ish...and driving RUN", but since this one always happens in the...let's call it "Quasi-Winter"...the start time is set for afternoon, presumably to allow it to heat up to a comfortable temperature after the overnight low. This year, however, race day weather was freakishly warm--we're talking 80*, out of the blue--which made for a difficult slog...on what I also discovered was a very hilly course. Long story short: not my fave, but it was kind of exciting to be able to do a 5K so early in the new year.

Next up: the 5K for Education, which Riley and I have now done 3 times together, since moving to Chapel Hill. In fact, when I asked the fam if anyone else wanted to join us...and they declined...Riley replied, "It's kind of 'our thing', Mom." Well, alrighty, then! It was a damp, chilly morning in March, but regardless of what's going on in the atmosphere, we enjoy the route, because it's one of those that begins and ends on UNC's campus, and winds its way through the town of Chapel Hill a little bit as well. (So it does have some elevation to deal with...but at least it's also scenic...)

In May, the kids and I repeated our showing in the DNA Day 5K, another run that winds its way in and around UNC...and includes shirts that boldly proclaim on the back, above the sponsors "Run for Science!" Now I ask you, who wouldn't love that kind of...nerdy swag? It wasn't much of a surprise when the zippy Riley finished in the top 3 for his age group, and was awarded a medal, along with a cool commemorative glass. Although as we were standing around congratulating him, it WAS a shock to hear my own name called, for the...ahem...let's say "middle-aged ladies" category. As I retrieved my set of prizes, I couldn't help but think, "There must not have been any other women my age running this time!" (Didn't stop me from making off with the goods, though!)

Then, when looking around online for the next race opportunity, I stumbled across a new one happening in June, called...the VegFest 5K. Obviously, there was no question whatsoever that I NEEDED to take part in a run that celebrated fresh produce in the title. What was unusual is that Husband readily agreed to sign on with me. The boys...not so much. I believe I got as far as "Veg..." before Derek brusquely cut me off by loudly proclaiming his boycott of anything having to do with "running for vegetables". If I remember correctly, the word "hippie" was used disparagingly to describe the activity as well. Whatever--Husband and I thought it was a cute concept...unfortunately, the event's maiden voyage, if you will, wasn't terribly well-organized or executed, so we're reserving judgment on whether we'll give it another chance next year.

During the height of Summer there came a long lull for us, as nothing really matched our schedule, location, or length preferences. Which brings us to a couple of races that I ended up doing solo--well, me and hundreds of other outdoor enthusiasts, I mean. The Fall version of the Blue Blood Rivalry Run gathers folks who support UNC...or the D-school...and sends them out to compete against each other on foot, the same day the football teams clash on the field. It makes for a lively, good-natured environment, on a path that turned out to be uncharacteristically gentle and easy, for Chapel Hill. (Yay!) Then on Thanksgiving I decided to switch from the 8K I've done the past 2 years in Carrboro, to a shorter turkey trot in Durham. Aaaannnd, even though it was quite a chilly endeavor, the route proved to be another relatively flat--and therefore fast--undertaking.

That, of course, brings us to today's Grand Finale: the 2nd occurrence of the Positive Impact for Kids 5K, which benefits Duke's and  UNC's children's hospitals, through a charity founded by a local High School student. It was another afternoon affair, at a familiar park, and we'd all done it last year, so it seemed an excellent way for us to tie a festive bow on the 2017 race season...with vigorous exercise...and family bonding...and whatnot. In truth, while Riley immediately agreed to the plan, Derek's response was something more along the lines of, "Ugh. You're gonna MAKE me run, aren't you? Do I even have a choice?" (Hmm, let me think about that...why no, you don't! So may I politely request that you get out there and jog a couple of times, to at least pretend you trained, before you show up your parents with the effortless stamina and speed of youth? Thanks...) Then Riley's soccer coach went and did something crazy, like coordinate a scrimmage with another club...for the same day. Yet the 14 year-old with boundless energy shrugged and said, "Eh, it's fine. I should still be able to do it after my game."

And you know what? Not only did he run it...he finished 3rd overall, 2nd in the Male division. (That's after 80 minutes of sprinting and kicking and...stuff. Seriously, it's exhausting to me just imagining it...) For his efforts--and because I insisted we stay for the awards part, when the impatient teenagers wanted to rush home, plop down in front of the TV, and start watching football--he was presented with a nifty pair of athletic socks...and a $25 gift certificate to Fleet Feet. (SEE? Mother. Knows. Best!) Derek and Husband naturally came in waaaaayyy ahead of me, but I had nothing to complain about--even though I felt like I was chugging up the inclines, having advance knowledge of the surroundings apparently helped, as I was able to record a PR for this particular trail.

And with that, my friends, we're gonna call this....the final (racing) Win of 2017. Now it's time for a well-earned hiatus...for researching the next group of challenges we'd like to try in 2018. But for a while, the only thing we're going to be hustling the holiday cookies! Mmmmm.....

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Time-Traveling Holiday Excursion

To paraphrase an old saying, "When the boys are away, the girl will...pick a  new destination to explore, grab her camera, hop in the car, and...go play". So for this year's Friday Field Trip: Thanksgiving Edition, I selected Fayetteville, NC. According to my extensive research--um..."5 seconds of Googling"--the town would be hosting A Dickens Holiday, with the historic area blocked off to vehicle traffic to allow craft booths, horse-drawn carriage rides, strolling Victorian-costumed characters, and period-themed street performers. Throw in a nearby nature center where I'd be able to enjoy the fabulous Fall weather and scenery, and it began to add up to my kinda gig.  

Thus, armed with the aforementioned photographic equipment, and a handful of healthy snacks (which later on would turn out to be utterly lifesaving, as you'll see) I hit the road for the 75-ish mile, almost-due-south jaunt. I had my heart set on stopping somewhere in the first couple of minutes to obtain some of that restorative elixir known as Peppermint Mocha, from the magical realm of...the Celestial Stags (Get it? Star...bucks? Sorry, I couldn't resist...I'm cracking myself up, here...) but alas, this was not meant to be. 

You see, I'd forgotten one very crucial fact: once you leave the protective circle of Chapel Hill, there are vast, wild swaths of North Carolina that contain...a whole lotta NOTHING. In case you don't believe me, or think I'm exaggerating (plasters on her most innocent expression: MoiPerish the thought!), how's this for evidence: apparently, folks in the rural regions must be satisfied picking up their java from...gas stations! (I KNOW, right? Shudder! Also, I might be a bigger coffee snob than I previously admitted. Eh, I'm comfortable with that...)

Other than that little hiccup, it was a peaceful, scenic--albeit super-flat--drive through acres of pine trees and a couple of small 'burbs along the way, breaking up the monotony. My first stop was the Cape Fear Botanical Garden, which--even this late in the year--offered an oasis of brilliant colors along its tranquil, winding paths. With an abundance of Autumn foliage bravely clinging to the bushes and trees...strategically placed overlooks for viewing the lazy Cape Fear River...adorable gazebos tucked into forest nooks, patiently waiting to be stumbled upon and admired...and a delightfully reflective pond in the middle of all the flora and provided several hours of soul-satisfying communing with the Great Outdoors. 

Then it was time to rejoin civilization, and see how Fayetteville was decked out for its throwback reimagining of the Yuletide season. The first thing I encountered after pulling into my "Free All Day" parking spot along a side street (Score!) instantly set the tone for my excursion: one of the advertised carriages, decked out for the holiday, loaded with visitors, and pulled by an enormous workhorse. Okay, I'm in the proper mood--let's do this! I wandered into the fray and was struck first by the juxtaposition of the old and new elements on display. The stores and restaurants that line the street were open for business as usual, for example...but while you stood window shopping, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim might just pass by, amiably waving to the crowd and posing for pictures at tourists' requests. 

Smartly dressed police officers occasionally blew their silver whistles to clear the road when the intrepid riders on towering, 3-wheeled bicycles needed to pass. Or you might hear a loud clanking and moaning, and turn to see the ghost of Jacob Marley stalking down the sidewalk. When I needed a short respite from the exhausting business of popping in and out of boutiques and floating from one booth of unique handmade items to the next, I stopped to listen to the choral or instrumental groups, who set a festive mood while filling the air with the lilting strains of traditional carols. 

It was altogether entertaining and charming, and I ambled up and down the main drag for several hours before finally making the one very important choice of the day: which ornament to purchase for the Team WestEnders Christmas tree. By this time I was approaching the dangerous red zone of "famished: feed immediately or risk unpleasant consequences"; however, there weren't really any viable food options for me at this shindig, unfortunately. That's where the protein bar I'd packed that morning came in handy--allowing me to stave off the worst of the low-blood-sugar effects for a while longer. At that point, though, I'd also been walking around for hours and hours, and while I'd originally planned to stick around for the candlelight parade at 5, I reversed course and opted to start the commute back home. 

Besides, my celebratory 19th-century interlude had infused me with the proper inspiration to continue the spirit at my own house. I mean, since it was the day after Thanksgiving, I could now follow the example my mother set for me all those years ago--by cranking up the holiday tunes, and unpacking ALL the Christmas decorations to merrily deck the halls. Fa la la la la, la la la la...y'all!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Keeping it non-traditional...ish...

Aah, Thanksgiving...not only a glorious holiday itself, but also the moment that kicks off the whole upcoming season of fa la la festivity and fun. Plus, as if you needed any more reason to cherish it: an entire day dedicated to eating ALL of the good things. (And gratitude for the blessings in your life...and spending time with loved ones, of course...oh, and gridiron action, for some...but you get my point, yeah? Super--let's move on then...)

As is their custom, the Male Trio took to the highway on Wednesday for their annual Turkey Day sojourn to South Carolina to visit Husband's parents. The kids look forward to chowing down on copious amounts of scrumptious standards, prepared by their loving Mimi (without having to worry about their mother's gluten-free or vegetarian influence--ha!). Other than that, they plan to engage in a little bit of outdoor fun (just to, you know, avoid sinking too deeply into a carb coma from all of the rich dishes they're unaccustomed to enjoying), and a whole lotta relaxing. Yep, just about the only thing they had to think about before leaving...was the timing of their return. This involved some planning and discussion to settle the logistics, as it turned out, since (as I'm told) college football's Rivalry Week games happen this Saturday, and they don't want to miss too much while in transit.

Thus I arrived home from the office on Wednesday to a blissfully quiet house, and commenced my own long weekend o'chilling. Um...right...except for the fact that--once again--I'd signed up for a 5K on Thanksgiving morning, and therefore would be setting an alarm for 7, dragging myself out of bed, driving to the event, and RUNNING several miles before breakfast. (Seriously? At 3 years in a row, I guess this has officially become "a thing" for me. Not entirely sure how that happened...but let's just call it "Earning the Big Meal", okay?)

This year I switched venues, however, from the 8K that happens a few miles from my house to a shorter race in (still nearby) Durham (because...I took a survey, and my knees loudly weighed in with the opinion that 5 miles just seemed a this point, ya know?). So after a brief debate about how much to wear--because trust me, it was cooooold this morning, y'all--I made my way over to our friendly neighbor, the Bull City. I suffered a jolt of mild panic in the car when I realized I'd forgotten to factor in traffic...or parking....but I needn't have worried, because the local roads at that hour of the a.m. reminded me of the emptiness of a post-apocalyptic landscape (but without the massive destruction...nuclear clouds...or hordes or rampaging zombies. Otherwise, JUST the same...).

So, having successfully arrived in even less time than I'd allowed for the trip, I actually had extra minutes to hang out...and feel my fingers freezing up, one by one. (Yaaayyyy....NOT...) But I also got to look around and admire the usual adornments that people break out for Thanksgiving day runs--like stuffed turkey hats (of both kinds: the one that's ready for the oven, and the one with a beak and feathers...yep, imagine those on people's's awesome, I tell ya....), Fall-colored tutus, and my absolute favorite, these socks:
(YESSSSS...that's exactly why we're here! Memo to Me: if I'm gonna keep doing this running-on-Thanksgiving gig, I neeeeed these for next year! What? It's motivation...or whatever...)

Anyway, I was joined by a work friend and a Boot Camp buddy, so that helped to pass some of the shivery pre-exercise time. And then it was finally time to gooooooo. This was the first time I'd done this particular course, and--happily--I found it to be fairly flat...and therefore fast, as well. I mean, that's really the only way to explain how I recorded my best time ever for a 5K...although the temperature provided an extra push, to be sure. Honestly, the only negative thing I can say about my experience is that they had a DJ set up near the beginning of the route, to presumably provide encouragement as you got started, but unfortunately when I happened to pass by, the song blaring out of his speakers was...Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. (Are you kidding me? Of all the potential musical numbers available to you, from classics sung by beloved crooners to traditional carols to modern-pop-holiday-themed fluff, THIS is what you deemed an appropriate and enjoyable selection with which to serenade the stampeding pack? Sheesh...)

And that, my dears, is how one can...pre-pay...for the subsequent leisure hours of Macy's parade viewing, novel reading, Facebook scrolling to appreciate the celebrations of friends and family, and, of course...munching on the FEAST (which as usual consists of my 3 absolute favorite parts of the Thanksgiving repast: stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie...mmmmm....). Without further ado, it's now time to go stuff...ME! And tomorrow...I get to sleep in--whoo hoo! Aaaannnnd, let the holiday hoopla continue!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Gamecocks...for the win!

Have you ever felt, at certain points in your life, that there seems to be a fifth season added to the year? For example, around the time when you and perhaps many of your friends are getting married, it could be considered Wedding Season...and then for those who choose to add to their families, it's a natural progression to Baby Shower Season. Well, when you're a High School Senior--or the parent of one--you may find yourself mired in the challenging period known as College Application Season.

At least it doesn't sneak up on you, since the timeframe is pretty predictable, depending on whether you opt to submit your materials for the Early Action or Regular Decision deadline. That is, of course, if your parent actually allows you to make this determination for yourself...or decrees that you WILL be completing all of the applications by the first possible date, in order to get them out of the way. (Raises hand..."Guilty as charged, your honor....and not even the slightest bit remorseful"...) In my defense, you might recall that in preparation for all of this...stuff...I attended many presentations at Derek's High School, hoping to gather tips and advice from the wise minds of the Guidance Counselors. Among all of the piles of useful information, one comment in particular stuck out to me, for whatever reason: "Preparing college applications is like having a whole other class in their schedule, based on the amount of time and effort it involves." So...yeah...YIKES.

Therefore, in order to not have this onerous task hanging over Derek's head for the entire first semester of his Senior year, I forced--ahem "strongly encouraged"--him to use the October and November dates as his goal. ('Cuz, let's face it, "I just LOVE spending every minute of my free time doing college apps!" said no one, E-V-E-R...) So the Carolinas went first (UNC, USC) on October 14th (that would be all of "one day early", in case you're scoring at home), followed by JMU and UNC Charlotte (due October 30th but sent on the 19th. Yes, he learned his lesson from the first mad scramble, thank goodness.). The final batch has a November 30/December 1 deadline, and includes Clemson, Penn State (both finalized on 11/7, by the way), and Virginia Tech (which we're planning to send by the Sunday night). Aaaannnnnd...that's it!

The point is, once you get the confirmation email that all of your required items have been received, you can relax, knowing that you've done what you can, but now it's out of your hands and the responsibility for your future has shifted to the Admissions Committee. (Okay, when I put it that way, it sounds a LOT less calm and peaceful...but once again, Derek's low-stress personality will see him through this with nary a worry, as usual...lucky duck...)

Next, of course, you begin the lengthy process of Waiting to Hear. Another advantage to the Early Action, of course, is that the notifications are supposed to occur sometime in January, thus ending the suspense of "Did I get in?" and kicking off the process of "Hmm, where am I going?" So we congratulated Derek on getting the job done, and mentally prepared ourselves for a looooong period of radio silence (because, you know, patience is SUCH a strong personality trait of mine...hahahahaha! Yeeeaaaah, I just kind of resigned myself to the fact that this whole thing would slowly drive me toward the Loony Bin...but what can ya do?)

But despite my best attempts, I just couldn't stop myself from thinking about it, every day when I opened the mailbox. (Yes, even though some institutions already informed us that they've converted entirely to electronic communications, old habits die hard, it seems...) From way back in my own pre-college days, I recalled that a large flat package means good news, while a business-size envelope indicates a polite form letter of dream-crushing denial (or whatever...). So one day (that would be "November 7th", specifically) I saw one of the former types, underneath a stack of the typical daily junk mail we receive. It was addressed to Derek, and it was from USC.

I flashed back to a recent conversation I'd had with one of my co-workers, who laughingly told the story of how her own parents had ripped open her first college letter before she got home from school, because they just couldn't stand the anticipation (and also, they claimed that they wanted to be able to share any bad news with her themselves, thereby cushioning the blow). Firmly, I resolved to NOT be that mother...nope, I could tough it out for (checks phone for time) 2 hours until Derek returned. However, as it turned out, I needn't have wasted my determination, since when I flipped the envelope over to the back, this is what leaped out at me:

Well, thanks so much for that LOL moment, South Carolina! And also, of course, I appreciate the kindness of sparing both prospective student and nervous-for-their-child parent that moment of dread before they rip open the flap to get to the fateful sheet of paper inside. Since I didn't have to manage that particular emotion, I had plenty of time for the others that welled up--excitement and pride for Derek, on the occasion of his very first acceptance to a university (and one that he considers a top choice for him, at Bonus Yay)...along with just a wee bit of...let's say "mistiness". I mean, this just got waaaayyyy real, y'all. And I thought I had already steeled myself for it, but when it actually happened, maybe...not so much. (It WAS 2 months ahead of the schedule we'd had in our minds, so maybe that can be my excuse. Yep, we're totally gonna go with that...)

After barging into his office and waving the envelope in front of Husband (who was on a conference call at the time, but events like this are what Mute is made for, right?) I texted a photo to Derek, which he'd see the next time he checked his phone, probably (hopefully) between classes. (Meaning: not in the middle of a lecture, which I would never encourage...except in the most extreme situation...such as this one. Oh, go ahead, have the Principal call me--I'll take the rap!) In an hour or so, he replied with this question: "Did I get accepted" (Also note the missing punctuation, and if you're a..."mature adult"...who's also a card-carrying member of the Grammar Police, say it with me: "Grrrrr!").

I admit that I was perplexed here for a minute, folks. I glanced back and forth between the phone screen, and envelope's blaring proclamation, and I wondered for a brief, terrifying heartbeat if I'd somehow misinterpreted the message. But then I re-read the words "Open, Celebrate, Post #UofSCYes" and realized that it was just my goofball son, having his own Senior Moment (of the adolescent variety--yes, it's a thing, TRUST me...). I typed in "That's what the ginormous YES means, dude", restraining myself from conveying what I was really thinking, which was something along the lines of "And I'll be sure NOT to tell them that the student they offered a spot in their Freshman class of 2018 failed to understand his own admission packet....siiiighhhhhh...

Then--get this--Derek stayed at a friend's house--as he does almost every day after school--and played football until it got dark, rather than rushing home to see his Extremely Exciting Correspondence....and in the process, delayed the ceremonial Big Reveal of the contents for the rest of his dying-of-curiosity family as well. (Seriously? Sometimes this kid is sooooooo NOT like his mother at ALL...) So, yeah, that sums up our first experience with actually getting a positive response from one of his schools. Just think, 1 down, 6 to go...and 8 more weeks of thumb-twiddling. At least now we've got one of those other seasons coming up soon to provide a plethora of delightful distraction for much of that time...that's right, let's hear it for...the Holidays! We've got cheerful decorations, festive carols, delicious food, fun parties, and surprise gifts to look forward to...and no paperwork...or deadlines! Whoo hoo! Bring it on!

(And if a couple more of those universities wanted to, oh, I don't know...check something off their own To Do sending Derek expedited notice of his status, that would be a super-special-present for Team WestEnders...just sayin'!)

Monday, November 13, 2017

When you take suggestions from the Peanut Gallery...

To continue with our second day in Charlotte: when initially planning our adventure, I'd purposely booked a hotel that was conveniently located about 2 miles from the university we were visiting--figuring that not only would this give us a central HQ from which to base our other activities, but it also would afford a realistic glimpse into how quick and easy traveling into the city would be, for students living on or around campus. And I'd have to say it worked out well for both of those goals...with the added benefit that we were able to familiarize ourselves a little bit with the area immediately surrounding UNCC...including one enormous, instantly-visible-for-miles, iconic establishment that the boys had heretofore never laid eyes on, much less entered...I'm talking about Ikea, folks.

That's right, when we lived in Maryland, the closest one was in College Park, about 30 minutes or so away, in a direction we never needed to go for anything else. (And very close to the University of Maryland--coincidence? Nope, I think they're very strategic when choosing where to build one of those things--what with college students being the ultimate customers for affordable items with which to furnish their dorm rooms or apartments...and also notorious impulse buyers!) So when we passed the building on one of our initial forays into Charlotte, Derek mused, "Hmm, I've never been to an Ikea. I kinda feel like I want to see it. Can we stop by before we leave to go back home?"

"Um...that's kind of an unusual request, coming from you, but sure, honey, why not?" (I blithely replied, with no earthly idea what I was getting myself into...) Thus on Saturday morning, after checking out of our hotel and thinking we were heading downtown, the sight of the blue-and-yellow monstrosity reminded us of our agreement...fortunately in time to veer into the turn lane and detour into the parking lot. As we pulled in, both boys admitted (with no small amount of amusement) that they were somewhat excited by their upcoming...consumer initiation of sorts. Then we strolled into the lobby and took the escalator to the second-floor showroom...where the boys' mouths dropped open in astonishment as they faced the acres of artfully-arranged, endlessly-varied merchandise.

While they gawked, speechless, I took advantage of the momentary lull to address other pressing matters--namely that the hotel coffee had proven decidedly sub-par, and I wished to pick up a fresh hot cup of java at the cafe before commencing The boys nodded distractedly and waved me off, before following the magnetic pull of the...Swedish Wonderland...and meandering into the retail mecca. I joined them just a few moments later, having procured a mug o'delight...FREE before 10 a.m., by the way. (And I'd been totally willing to pay the buck they normally charge, so...Double Bonus!)

The teenagers started off slowly, wandering among the furniture and household items, but rapidly picked up steam and began scheming together. "This [armchair] would be great in our Game Room!" "Ooh, imagine if we had this [sectional sofa]? I'd never get up from playing FIFA '18!" I just trailed slightly behind them, listening to their excited chatter and shaking my head in bemusement. Who were these young men...and what the heck happened to MY shopping-averse children?

It got even more hilarious when they entered the kitchen section...and began critiquing the finishes, for crying out loud. For example, Riley commented, "I don't really like the colors in here. I would have gone with something lighter, to make it look bigger." Oh. Good. Grief. I swear, it's like I'm stuck in the middle of an episode of....Adolescent HGTV, here. (Meanwhile, I listened attentively and nodded thoughtfully...while keeping my face neutral and cracking up was pretty tough, I tell ya...)

Next they kicked off the inevitable process of holding up random, ridiculous stuff...and (mostly jokingly) asking me if we could buy it. "Can we have this [plush] soccer ball?" "Ooh, look at this fake plant! We should absolutely get it!" Or my favorite: "Mooommmm, we really NEED this...stuffed cactus!" At some point it became clear that they'd become completely...assimilated...when Derek actually uttered the words, "I mean, I feel like we'd be LOSING money if we left here without buying anything, am I right?" (He was least partially...)

And whattya know...we stumbled upon something that truly did warrant a purchase (drumroll): a laundry hamper. You see, we'd literally just discussed this topic in the car on Friday--i.e., how it's long overdue for the boys to start handling their own dirty clothes, rather than Husband and I just chucking them in with ours like we've always done. So there we stood, amongst all the selections, conducting a surreal conversation on the relative merits of each container. (You know, capacity, durability, presence of handles for easy transport up and down the stairs, and finally...preferred color. No, I'm not making that up...)

After much consideration, we made our final choice...and having dawdled away an almost incomprehensible 90 minutes in this place, broke for the checkout line before we could do any further damage. Except for one teensy, tiny loss of concentration as we neared the registers...when Derek grabbed a bottle of sparkling apple cider, assuming I'd shoot him down without even giving it a moment's thought, and I shocked him by agreeing to add it to our bargains. (The only defense I can offer is that I'd passed the point of overstimulation and crossed into downright giddiness somewhere after the first hour...and I have the $2.99 fake booze to show for it...ha!) So that's how we finalized our Ikea trip: with a bill that came to...$11.78. (I'd throw in a dramatic "Curse you, Ikea!", but seriously, what are the odds that one gets out of that warehouse for under 12 bucks? Yeah, I'm gonna take the W...and RUN toward the exit...)

After that experience--which left us still laughing as we escaped to the car--we made a beeline for Freedom Park, a charming swath of nature tucked into the heart of Charlotte, where we enjoyed some crisp Autumn air as we circled the small lake in its center. I'd promised Derek that I'd try to show him some of Charlotte's other neighborhoods, so by the time we left, he'd have a pretty good feel for the city's character. Therefore, to arrive at the outdoor oasis we traversed Dilworth, an area of  older, but stately and gorgeously-maintained houses with pristine lawns and mature trees.

I then navigated us through the Uptown section again, so the boys could see it in the daylight (and marvel once more at how close we came to the football stadium--which never ceases to amaze and delight them, evidently). Finally, we cruised through South End, an upscale district that boasts historical architecture, but is also newly revitalized with fancy eateries and shops.

At the end of all this, without needing to put forth much effort at all, I succeeded in showing the kids that Charlotte is a pleasantly-sized, accessible, attractive, fun city (and...ahem....only 9 miles away from UNCC...which is going to have its own campus light rail stop, projected to open in the Spring of '18. Not only will the train obviously provide students a simple way to get into town, but also the cost of riding will be included in tuition. Just sayin'...)

Even if Derek doesn't end up attending the university, he and Riley are now both familiar with and appreciative of North Carolina's largest city. My work here is done! Let the boys tackle their pile of unwashed clothing--I've earned some sparkling cider...and then, a nap...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Cheers for Charlotte

Well, I'm absolutely thrilled to be able to report that Derek is winding down his own personal College Application Season, with 6 submitted, and only 1 more to finish up. However, Team WestEnders (the High School Senior and his Support Staff, as they shall be known in this case) also had to address another important piece that was still missing from the "Which U. for You?" puzzle: one final institution on his list that he hadn't yet paid a visit. Thus with a day off from school to honor our nation's veterans, the teenagers and I headed for Charlotte, to spend an afternoon with UNC Chapel Hill's southwestern cousin of the same name.

Now, I've been to Charlotte on a couple of solo field trip occasions already, so I already knew how much I liked the city. I'd even spent a short time on campus once, visiting UNCC's lovely and serene botanical garden. On this trip, though, we were going for the full "prospective student" experience--with the formal presentation, the student ambassador, the guided walking other words, the whole shebang.

So we cruised into the designated parking deck about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. (I know: Whaaaat? This is just soooo unlike us! But trust me, it wasn't exactly planned; rather, it came from skipping lunch. Again, very uncharacteristic, but the way the drive worked out, we had to choose between arriving a little late, or eating, and we voted for the "quick snacks from a convenience store and being on time" option...aren't we such the responsible ones?) From there, a shuttle whisked us over to the Student Union, where we were able to kill time procuring a delicious Starbucks beverage (um....yeah, that would be only ME), and goofing around in the bookstore--where we were impressed by the staggering variety of high-quality apparel, much of it sporting UNCC's forest green color and 49ers logo.

Next we politely listened to the official "get to know our institution" talk, joined our designated undergrad...and boarded another bus, for  a driving loop around the grounds. This brings up a couple of things I noticed immediately about this particular campus: it's pretty vast (1,000 acres, according to the brochure), and there are shuttles running every which way, seemingly continuously, to enable people to get to all corners of the complex. There are also bike-share stations scattered about, where students can borrow a (free) two-wheeler to negotiate the terrain more quickly than they could on foot. And according to our guides, there are ZipCars that can be similarly checked out as well! Finally, along with the size of the place, all 3 of us noticed that a great deal of the environment is lush and green, featuring manicured lawns, picturesque landscaping and a veritable bonanza of trees, everywhere you look.
Of course, we made the the usual stops: the library, a residence hall (utilizing a suite-style setup--3 bedrooms with a shared sitting room and bathroom-- that seemed pretty ritzy for a college, to be honest), a classroom, blah blah blah. All in all, Derek came away with an even more positive impression than I had hoped the bottom line is, even if UNCC isn't one of his top choices, at least now he knows he likes it there, and could see himself attending. (Mission...Part 1...accomplished...)

One agenda item they hit pretty hard during the introduction was how much it benefits the university to be located in such proximity to a city like Charlotte, with all of the opportunities it offers for student enrichment, such as internships, service projects, etc. Now that the institutional propaganda had wrapped up, it was up to ME to continue the extracurricular portion of our day, and sell Charlotte to the boys as a desirable destination for their possible future educational endeavors.

With this in mind, I'd researched an independent little deli-type joint where I thought we could eat dinner. It resided in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood, which as we strolled through on foot after parking the car, we agreed gives off a kind of artsy, kitschy, funky vibe. It was interesting and potentially entertaining...but alas, the deli counter (inexplicably) closes at 6 p.m. (Seriously? What's UP with that?) So, without a backup plan, I made an Executive Decision to just...wing it...and let the chips fall as they may, so to speak. Fortunately, I could see the city's skyline off to my left, so I pointed the Subaru that way, and navigated by..."feel"...towards what I hoped was the center of the action.

And the...gods of exploration...apparently blessed my journey (oh, and also the fact that Charlotte's a pleasantly simple city to get around in...) since we came into the middle of the Uptown area, pretty much exactly where I wanted to be. (Whew! Thank you....Magellan? Sure, we'll go with that...) Now that I recognized my surroundings, I confidently drove towards where I remembered the Spectrum Center being (the NBA Hornets' arena), which served the dual purpose of A) providing the certainty of parking decks in which to stash the vehicle for a while and B) causing the boys to gape in awe at being close enough to touch a major sports venue. (Point: Mom.)

Having safely tucked the automobile into a spot, we happily hoofed it up and down the main thoroughfare--ostensibly keeping an eye out for someplace to grab a meal, but also people-watching, and taking in the ambiance. About that: Charlotte's city center features a cool mix of big business (the 3rd largest banking center in the U.S., behind NYC and San Fran, with the soaring, glass-encrusted skyscrapers to show for it), unique shops, trendy restaurants and bars, museums, theaters...and a smattering of chain stores and fast food thrown into the stew. And among all the bright lights and flashing signs that demand your attention, there are also gorgeous fountains and mini-waterfall installments, as well as historical statues and sculptures randomly scattered throughout the pedestrian bustle.

Fortunately, Derek and Riley--who are generally not terribly fond of big city situations-- took to Charlotte's cozier, more friendly personality immediately. Yeah, and it didn't hurt that at some point during our wanderings, we found ourselves close enough to the Carolina Panthers' stadium to have the glowing facade looming over us...which caused yet another "Ooh, aah" moment for the ESPN-loving boys.

At this point it had gotten late enough that most non-swanky eateries had closed, but we managed to find a Qdoba that was still serving (and allowing us refuge from the chilly wind, which had begun to make us shiver...dressed as we were for more typical NC November balminess!). Therefore, full, warm, and content, we unanimously agreed that our first foray into Charlotte had been a rousing success, and we were all quite satisfied with our evening. Better yet, Derek expressed a wish to come back the next day, to venture into some other parts of the city, before heading back to our own corner of the state. So I do believe I'd have to say: Mission Part 2...achieved! Yaaaayyyy...everybody wins!

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Bitter Defeat in...the Gourd Wars

I know that since we moved to Chapel Hill several years ago, I've described the bucolic setting--picturesque small town surrounded by lots of green space--as well as the abundance of creatures who (usually peacefully) share the environment with us. Most of the time this is delightful...except when the roving bands of four-legged herbivores start getting a little too complacent...overly fearless...and downright "uppity", as Husband indignantly called them.

What prompted such an outburst, especially from a self-proclaimed animal lover and nature enthusiast?  Well, let me illustrate it for you, with the photographic evidence you'll see to the right.

Yes, folks, this is the level of...bestial insubordination (I know that sounds vaguely...non-G-rated, but I promise you it's totally not) we have to deal with around here. Those innocent jack-o'-lanterns were intact on Halloween, but it seems like as soon as our backs were turned, they became fair game for the deer horde that frequently wanders through our yard nibbling on whatever takes their fancy.

When I entered the house, prepared to vent my outrage at this...gourd gouging...Husband had even more intrigue to contribute to the tale. You see, one of the pumpkins had originally been carved to look cat-like, with triangular ears made from the eye cutouts stuck to the top of it. Husband described how he'd stood in our foyer and watched as a doe "delicately removed an ear and proceeded to eat it like it was a cocktail weenie". (He somehow managed to pull off sounding admiring, amused, and annoyed, all at once. And the rest of us shared a juvenile snicker over the stupidly funny phrase "cocktail weenie". )

He continued, "Then she took the lid and set it aside, so she could get to the good stuff in the middle." Sure enough, a little later I caught her red...hooved. (Or could have been a family member--who knows? It's not like they wear nametags...but I swear, they should. Maybe our HOA can do something about would be easier to impose a suitable punishment, yeah? Hmm...I wonder how you "ground" the resident wildlife....)

Well, let me tell ya, I wasn't having any of these shenanigans; I glowered menacingly, and stomped towards her in my best threatening manner, causing her to vacate the porch...temporarily. However, within 5 minutes she'd overcome her...mild misgivings...and was back up to her old tricks. So next I picked up the discarded lid and flung it at her to encourage her to either leave...or, I don't know, act like a canine and chase it. (Come to think of it, this will probably confuse the neighbors when they find it in their yard. Eh, I'll explain it all later...)

I'm not kidding you--this ridiculous pumpkin dance went on for the rest of the afternoon, with an endless loop of those idiot beasts tiptoeing up onto the porch, scampering off when startled, and returning as soon as they thought it was safe again. (After several cycles of this, Husband was inspired to come up with another gem of an insult, calling one of them a "brazen hussy"! And to answer your unspoken question: no, I do NOT have any idea where he gets this stuff... )

Eventually of course the sun went down, and at least we couldn't actually watch them decimating our poor decorations anymore. The shameless varmints appeared to take advantage of the cover of darkness, though, as I woke up in the morning to the charming tableau you see pictured to the right. And a short period of searching turned up the other one, which had been absconded with, and now resided several yards away from its original position. (HARRUMPH, I say!)

I guess we missed a big old mobile overnight buffet while we slumbered nearby, blissfully unaware. And on that note, can I just say: seriously? We're only a few feet away, you crazy critters! Have you no respect for humankind, your one true danger in this environment? Oh yeah...clearly NOT...never mind. That's it, next year, we're going non-traditional, and adorning our porch with...I don't know...something deer DON'T like to munch! Luckily I have a whole year for botanical research....or to set up a deer resistant perimeter...or to design booby traps...or to come to some kind of acceptance...give up...and let them win? (Yeah, most likely that one...)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tales...of Males (Ha!)

Today I present a collection of short stories, featuring anecdotes from the past several weeks. My only warning is the usual: there will be an abundance of...goofiness. (Because, you know, that's such a surprise, given the cast of characters...)

Penn State "College Tour"
Derek's godfather, who happens to be Husband's Penn State roommate from byegone days, lives close enough to that university to  attend several football games each year with his family. So, he had purchased tickets to the big Michigan rivalry game quite a while ago, but he couldn't have known that it would end up conflicting with Homecoming at his son's High School...or that the child in question would prefer the local extracurricular festivities, rather than the more far-flung gridiron event. With his wife and son remaining at home, Godfather therefore found himself in possession of 2 unexpected extra passes...and knowing that PSU was on Derek's list of potential colleges, he offered them to our family instead.

Now, when I say that Derek is considering Penn State, I should clarify that it's kind of an outlier--mainly because it's the furthest away, and thus logistically the most difficult. It's also ginormous, and situated more or less in the middle of nowhere...with the exception of the small town built around it. So I wondered what his first impression of it would be like--and whether he'd return home less enthused about the prospect of going there...or having been sucked into the rabid fandom that permeates the campus on football weekends...and therefore completely ready to pick up and move to rural Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch--um, "Casa WestEnders"--his brother had a small taste of what Life Without Derek will be like...and it's an understatement to say that he did NOT enjoy it. At all. By the end of the weekend he was super-bored from not being able to pop into his sibling's room and chat, or get him to go play in the yard, or what have you. This in turn made him increasingly grumpy and miserable...until Sunday afternoon, when he finally came to me and asked, in the saddest voice, "Mom, is there anything YOU can do with me outside?" Um...I thought hard to come up with an idea....but I can't shoot a basketball very well...I don't have a baseball glove that fits me anymore...and all of our footballs are waaaayy too big for my hands. So the answer, tragically, was "No, buddy--I'm so sorry!" (However, the next time we were anywhere near a Dick's, we bought a Pee Wee football that I can actually grasp and we're now prepared for just such a future...recreational emergency!)

Then when Derek got back--after a couple of days of driving a LOT and sleeping...not so much--he reported that he had, in fact, L-O-V-E-D the place. With his dad and godfather to give him a personalized tour (along with the inevitable side trip down Memory Lane)...the presence of over 100,000 maniac football supporters...and the peripheral glimpse into...ahem...frat life...and tailgating...that he got while there, he found the atmosphere to be somewhat intoxicating (pun intended...but without any alcohol involved, I assure you...). This doesn't alter the fact that getting to Penn State from where we live still takes 8 hours, and the adult chaperones were also quick to point out that these types of..."celebratory situations" happen only 7 or 8 times a year, when the football team has a home game, while the rest of the semester(s) you'll be, oh, I don't know, IN CLASS, and regular old stuff like that. Keeping all that in mind, we basically just have to wait and see if he gets accepted first...then we'll discuss it further, if necessary.

A Shortage...of Shorts
My sons have never been what you'd forward. Their daily uniform consists of athletic shorts and t-shirts--with a sweatshirt or jacket, and very occasionally, soccer-type windpants, thrown on when necessary to combat chilly weather. In fact, Derek owned exactly one pair of to wear for "special occasions" (whatever that might mean to a 17-year old guy). That is, until he had to start using those for his sandwich-making shifts at Subway--at which point he declared "the smell of that place is never going to come out", and asked for a backup pair. (Okay, that was the relevant background--stick with me for the actual saga...)

Anyway, Riley came to me one morning before school (Yes, that would be "at the last possible minute") saying that he'd gotten a message from his soccer team captain, telling the players to "dress up", due to their match later that day. With nothing in his own closet that qualified, Riley had only one option: ask to borrow his brother's shorts. Of course Derek didn't want him taking his brand new pair, so Riley obediently donned the Subway pants...until I noticed the--apparently permanent--grease stains etched into several spots on the front of them. This meant that unfortunately Riley had to switch to the new ones after all, and promise upon pain of death--or whatever--that he'd return them in the same pristine condition in which they'd left the house for their debut...on the wrong kid.

This ultimately led us to a Kohl's November...with our fingers collectively crossed, in hopes they still had some shorts in stock. Thank goodness we live in the South-ish, because, although they were relegated to the clearance rack, there were still some Summer pants on sale...and deeply discounted, at that. (WIN!) Granted, we had to go through a fair amount of trauma (for Mom, at least) to find anything the boys deemed acceptable. Picture if you will the wrinkled noses and disdainful tones: "I don't like that color!" "Those are too long; they look like capris." "They're too heavy and/or stiff." Ay yi yi. We finally found TWO that were A) attractive enough (yeah, that was strictly from my point of view--they boys couldn't care less); B) fit Riley well (with the addition of a belt, naturally...skinny dudes, what can I say?); and C) and passed the comfort test.

As a bonus, Derek came and found me wandering in the Women's apparel section waiting for Riley to finish the try-on process, and shocked me by asking, "Can I buy these, too?" He was holding out yet another pair of shorts that he'd evidently come across while browsing, and he explained, "I know I never ask for clothes, but I like these, and (he paused for effect) they're NINE BUCKS!" Um...absolutely, honey! I'm not even sure why you're asking, since you offered to pay for them yourself...unless you were seeking my which case, DONE! Good job, you...bargain hunter, you! (And with that, we're probably finished talking about clothing for the boys...with the obvious exception of shoes, which are a whole 'nother topic...for a looooong time. Yaaayyyy!)

More Senior Silliness
And finally, in the Adventures of the 12th Grader category, we recently received information about ordering Derek's cap and gown ensemble for graduation...which was packaged along with a whole catalogue full of additional, superfluous...ridiculous items. (Seriously, beyond the usual every-possible-piece-of-clothing-you-can-imagine, they also include tempting tidbits such as key rings, coffee mugs, photo albums, and something called a "cell phone pop socket with clip"...whatever the hell that's supposed to be. I don't even want to know, frankly...) I was paging through this--honestly both fascinated and horrified by the display--when Derek tossed out a comment about a class ring. I wasn't paying much attention, since he's never owned any...bling...much less would ever be caught dead actually wearing it, but I managed a distracted, "Oh, you're not getting one."

His mouth dropped open in comical exaggeration, and he indignantly burst out with, "WHAT? Why NOT?" I lifted my eyes away from the brochure-o'nonsense and gave him a sarcastic look, "Because that would be an utter waste of money, perhaps?" He assumed an injured expression and retorted vehemently, "But...I need to championship ring!" "Wait a mean the enormous, gaudy, bejeweled rings they give to pro athletes after their team wins a title, which they never actually put on their fingers, but rather keep on their mantels to make sure guests are aware of their achievements?" He nodded vigorously, seemingly pleased that I'd caught on so quickly to his intent, "YES! One of those!"

Oh. Good. Grief. Suffice it to say that--unless he chooses to spend his own hard-earned cash on this bit of foolishness (the suggestion of which dampened his enthusiasm instantly, by the way)--he will NOT be getting a class/championship ring with his required commencement gear. In fact, I had to peruse several inserts, and diligently read down to the very...fine...print at the bottom of the pages before I located what I was seeking: the cap/gown/tassel ONLY package. (They reeeeaaaaallly don't want to make that easy for you to pick. It's almost as bad as the whole Wedding planning scam--how much money can we get sentimental parents and their impulsive offspring to shell out for memorabilia? Whoo hoo! Well, I'm onto you--so take my hundred bucks, and I'll be on my way, thankyouverymuch!)

And there you have it...the everyday escapades of living with teenage boys continue. At least they've caught up on sleep....are well-dressed (when they want to be)...and to my knowledge, haven't purchased any unauthorized, unneeded swag--jewelry or otherwise--for this week, anyway! (Memo to Self: maybe I should keep a watchful eye on their bank accounts for now, just in case...)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Halloween fashion show, of sorts...

Okay, I already warned you guys that this was guaranteed to evolve into The Year of Being Sappy, right? Well, so far the beginning of the new school year had been fairly effective at helping me postpone being caught up in any overwhelming waves of melancholy or throes of panic about the...(I'm just gonna say it...c'mon, you can do this...deep goes...) Countdown to College. (Gulp...) What with all of the soccer mayhem (for the Freshman) and academic hoopla (both 9th and 12th grade)--not to mention the application-palooza that needed to be addressed, in order to advance the potential future plans of a certain High School's really no wonder that it took me this long to suffer my first official bout of...Mom-stalgia. (Huh--I must not be too bad yet, if I can still make up words, yeah?)

Anyway, it occurred to me today that this will be the last Halloween Derek will be spending at home (or at least..."close by"--more on that later). I know, I know--what a silly thing to get all misty about...and don't get me wrong, I'm not sobbing into my bowl of chocolate, or anything (if only because that would ruin the candy...DUH!). It's more of a "realization", if you will, that things are changing from here on out, so I should make even more of a concerted effort than usual to pay attention, remember, and record as many moments as possible, in the upcoming months.

However, it also got me thinking about...the Ghost of Halloweens Past...which inspired me to look back through old photo albums and dig up some snapshots of young Derek and Riley in their seasonal finery. This turned out to be an absolutely fabulous idea, as I greatly enjoyed myself, giggling my way across the years of costumed cuteness. And because I'm such a sharing individual, I'm going to let you in on some of the festivities. (Lucky you! Or, that's your cue to run screaming in the other direction. It's your choice--no judgment if looking at other people's kids in goofy get-ups isn't your thing. Either way, I suggest you cue up a selection of your favorite All Hallows Eve know, just in case...)

So, let's start at the beginning, shall we? Derek's first Halloween: Husband had the cow costume from "way back when", and I swear he manufactured any excuse to wear that thing. (No, seriously, there are pictures of him skiing in it, among other activities. As you may have guessed, many of them involved adult beverages. That's all I'm gonna say. Just. Don't. Ask.) Therefore it seemed like a no-brainer to buy a mini-bovine-version for his firstborn son. The results, as you can see, are both ridiculous...but also kind of freakin' adorable...

Next we have the legendary dinosaur suit, which I bought at a Children's Place outlet store for, I believe 20-bucks, and Derek proceeded to wear for the next THREE years, because he loved it so much. (This still reigns in our household as the Best. Clothing. Purchase. Ever. and is unlikely to lose that title any time soon...also, when Derek finally outgrew it, Riley smoothly took it right over, and kept the tradition alive. And you know, that fuzzy full-body-fun-suit never fell apart--I finally just donated it to a thrift store when both boys had to admit they were too big to squeeze into it anymore. Sniffle...)

Speaking of the younger brother, the year that Riley came along, Derek started preschool, so we have the infant dressed as some sort of monster-type-thingie, aaaannnnd Derek rocking...the dinosaur again. Well, at least he made it easy on us!

I don't recall exactly whose idea this was or why, but when Derek was in Kindergarten we apparently decided to make him a King costume. (King of what? Eh, your guess is as good as mine.) Trust me when I tell you that this represents the extent of my...creative crafting abilities. (Yep, I drew on a turtleneck with fabric markers. Fortunately, he was 5, and didn't know any better, and thought it was yaaayyy, us!) Meanwhile, Riley wore a firefighter ensemble that had been a Christmas present the previous year. (So to recap: homemade cheap outfit, + something that already lived in our toy box = winning!)

By 2006, Derek was firmly into his Music Phase. It just seemed like a natural choice to combine his love of drumming...with the iconic character known for his wild antics in the Muppet band. The shirt was from Target...the microphone his own...the hair sculpted by Mom, with the help of a whole lotta gel...and the expression? Pure, unadulterated Derek...ness. And then there's Riley...who at this point had clearly entered what would turn out to be a lengthy, dedicated, passionate Thomas the Tank Engine period of his life. (As you'll see from the next 2 years, in which he stubbornly wore the exact same costume, refusing to even entertain the notion of switching things up. (What can I say? The boy knew what he liked...)

Second grade Derek and preschool Riley opted for a traditional Orioles player...and the train dude again. (Hey, you can't say I didn't warn you...) The next year, Derek chose a Star Wars theme--because you can't go wrong with a Jedi, obviously. And...the familiar engine-with-a-face for Kindergarten (because his new friends probably hadn't seen it a million times....or whatever...)

And finally, the last year I actually have photographic evidence of the boys dressing up, we have vampire Riley and ninja Derek. I have no earthly clue why either one of them chose those particular items, but I seem to remember that--unlike when they were little, and just threw on the same delightful combination for several consecutive holidays, it was becoming more difficult to figure out what they wanted to transform into for the magical night of make-believe. Especially with the dual additional challenges of my admitted ineptitude in the Project Runway arena...and unwillingness to shell out loads of moolah for pre-made stuff meant to be worn once. So...yeah...the Halloween costume streak eventually ran out of steam, allowing the boys to instead shift their focus to the true meaning of the special day...that's right, obtaining and consuming as much sweet stuff as humanly possible in the short window of time slated for such endeavors.

As such, I'll wrap up with the touching note that was left for me this year:
(You'll see that neighbors' names have been skillfully redacted, to protect the....overly-sugared...) Yes, they each had plans--one to greet trick-or-treaters and pass out candy at a friend's house, and the other to eat pizza and watch some of the World Series game with his own group of buddies. As for me, I manned the door here at Casa WestEnders, chuckling over the heartwarming memories of byegone Halloweens, doling out goodies to visiting kiddos...and eyeing up the LEFTOVERS, so I can drown my sorrows with the proven healing power of Hershey's at a later time, if need be! (Whew--sounds like an excellent scheme! Now I can move on to figuring out how to deal with Thanksgiving.....siiiighhhh...)
Halloween 2017--just being...themselves!