Sunday, December 9, 2018

Oh, the weather outside is...wait, what?

Well folks, brace yourself for yet another post about crazy weather, comin' your way from the Winter Wonderland also known as...North Carolina? It appears that Mother Nature is all kinds of confused, because she provided us with a super-early "major snow event", at a time where our temperatures typically are still hovering around 55* every day. I mean, I know my experience here is still pretty limited, but since Team WestEnders moved to this area, I don't think we've even seen so much as a stray flurry until at least January--and certainly not before the holidays. (To further illustrate my point: there are still plenty of colorful leaves hanging onto the trees, which makes the whole Fall/Winter mashup that much more perplexing...)

So yeah, the forecast was kind of a Big Deal, right from the start. Heck, there was even a report (on Facebook, so it MUST be true, right?) that the famed Harbinger of Doom called Jim Cantore had been sighted in our state, so that was super-terrifying. (That is, until I learned that he was supposedly hanging out several hours west of here, in the mountains, causing me to breathe a deep sigh of relief...) However, the prevailing opinion in our house--jaded as we are from our years in the slightly-more-northern-Mid-Atlantic--fell strongly into the category of "sure, uh-huh, let's just wait and see about that, shall we?"

Yet at the same time, we're not the kind of people who are likely to completely blow off an episode of impending...potential...meteorological mayhem. And we're definitely not cavalier enough to just skip the readiness drills--like stocking up on groceries, filling the cars with gas, checking out library books, and charging all our devices in case of power outages.

Which brings me to my next item: seriously, what the HECK is up with our stupid weather this year? Two hurricanes and a tropical storm brushed through here only a couple of months ago...so aren't we DONE yet? The only bright side to this is that we had the opportunity to become a lot more emergency-preparedness-savvy from our delightful Summer season...thus we still had some non-perishables and bottled water socked away from the LAST proverbial sky-falling scenario.

Anyway, we went to bed Saturday night with no clear idea of what the morning would bring. Adding to the uncertainty was the seemingly somewhat...flaky (Ha! Sorry...) path the storm was taking, where it looked like it was totally going to miss Raleigh (30 miles to our south), while dumping an amount of white fluffy stuff on us that varied from 3 to 10 inches...along with some regular old rain...or maybe sleet...or both...who really knows?



When we woke up, the threatened--I mean "promised"--precipitation had indeed materialized, in a powdery form that admittedly blanketed everything in a very picturesque fashion. And I have to say, since I now live in a place where this only happens once or twice a Winter, I find I'm able to appreciate the frosty landscape in all its glittery glory...or whatever. Heck, with the holidays approaching, it even feels--dare I concede it?--festive!

Seizing on the recreational possibilities in a manner truly befitting an active teenage male, Riley almost immediately began the delicate negotiations required to rally his friend group for a game of Snow Football. And since I'd read that it was now supposed to change over to non-icy showers, I decided I'd better take a stroll around the neighborhood while it was still scenic...and before it transformed into a slushy mess.

Meanwhile--not unexpectedly--school was cancelled for Riley on Monday, so he already knew he'd have an extension to his weekend. To be on the safe side, I'd brought home a company laptop before wrapping up on Thursday, so tomorrow I'll be able to work from, oh, right about here...under a blanket on the guest bed in our spare room...in my pajamas if I so choose...sans makeup (and coworkers who choose to Skype me will just have to deal with it)...with a mug of hot tea by my side at all times.

Yeeeaaahh, it's gonna be rough, I tell ya...but somehow I'll muddle through...and with temperatures predicted to climb back into the low-to-mid 40s by Tuesday, everything will get back to normal, and this will all become but a distant...and perhaps even mildly fond memory. Buh-bye, and good riddance, Diego!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Next year, can I just hire models??

Sometimes traditions continue rolling merrily along just as they are, with no changes whatsoever, from as far back as people's memories go--while other times, they need some gentle tweaking to carry on uninterrupted. In this case, I'm referring to the Team WestEnders custom of including a snapshot in front of our Christmas tree on the holiday cards we send out each year. So, Derek being away at college caused a dilemma: assemble the tree super-early...hold off on decorating for several more weeks until he comes home after his Final Exams...or move the family photo fest to a different setting?

After some deliberation (time elapsed: 5 minutes) and consultation with the clan (sample dialogue: "You good with that? Yeah? Okay, then...") it was decided that we'd simply set up the pictures one room over, in front of the fireplace, which I could quickly and easily adorn for the Yuletide season.

The only minor hitch occurred when Derek, deeply ensconced on the sofa in the midst of some hotly contested college football game between bitter rivals (blah blah blah) tore his eyes briefly from the broadcast action to remark, "We're gonna need to do it at halftime, though." I didn't even feel it necessary to respond verbally to such a ridiculous statement, but rather fixed him with the patented Mom's Silent Death Stare...causing him to hastily backpeddle with the much more reasonable, "Or, you know, whatever works for you is fine!" (That's right, sonny--and don't you forget it!)

When I was ready to get this show on the road, or whatever, I returned to the sports viewing domain, where we encountered our first problem...Derek's attire. You see, he was wearing an utterly obnoxious t-shirt that Husband gave him last year, depicting the University of Miami's "turnover chain" splashed in gaudy screen-print across the front. Um...nooooo--it may be green, but it certainly doesn't count as appropriate...elf gear. Derek was, shall we say, "less than pleased" by my parental demand that he change, so in defiance, he selected an only slightly less offensive option (sent to him by his godfather, and stating a common sentiment among those affiliated with Penn State). Eh, at least it was...a wee bit subtler?...so I threw up my hands and let him get away with it.
#1

And then, the real...let's call it "entertainment"...began. First, of course, there was the annual "relearning how to use my camera's self-timer", which only took me a couple of seconds this year, but was long enough for the children to "help" me with a Test Frame (#1).

#2
Then there was the inevitable Scramble Shot: "Did I push the button already? Was that the beep? Oh, shoot, we're not quite ready yet!" (#2).

Next we moved on to the version where it all starts to go haywire, with me getting exasperated, like "Okay, we've HAD our fun--now everyone cooperate; get over here; center yourselves; make sure we can see you; stand nicely; smile at the lens...I said a nice expression, not a grimace; DO NOT CLOSE YOUR EYES, DEREK; and for the love of all things holy, let's make the freakin' magic happen, people!"

#3
This is more or less verbatim, by the way, but it was all for naught, because just when I thought I'd badgered the recalcitrant menfolk into submission, the normally well-behaved youngest member of our quartet suddenly yelled "Text BALLS to 202020!" just before the shutter clicked...and you can see the hilarity that ensued--among the Male Trio, anyway. (#3. And also, not that you or I care, but apparently that command came from a commercial frequently shown during televised sporting events, for some sort of testosterone-enhancing product, and the slogan is therefore embedded in their brains. Oh, goody...)

Eventually (possibly after I threatened to cut off their food supply, but no one can prove that) everyone managed to calm down, act reasonably maturely for one hot minute, and participate in the heartwarming holiday portrait of 2018 (or what passes for it...but hey, I'll take what I can get! See below...). Because immediately following this, they naturally reverted right back to Couch Potatoes, and I crossed my fingers in the hopes that I'd gotten something I could edit into card-worthy material. I swear, you'd think at some point that this endeavor would get, I don't know, EASIER each December, wouldn't you?

But in the end, I suppose I really should focus on feeling grateful to have my goofballs...even with their silly quirks...all in the same house around the holidays. So on that note: cheers, y'all!
At long last--success!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Thanksgiving 2.0

Well, folks...Thanksgiving 2018 certainly broke new ground for Team WestEnders. To begin with, we had to extract one of our members from his academic home-away-from-home, and bring him back into the fold for the long weekend of family fun. To do this, Husband first spent a few days with his parents in another part of SC, then shuttled over to the university when Derek finished his last class on Tuesday evening (which he had to attend, since they were taking a test--and can I just say: fie on you, mean professor!). The two of them then made the trek back to our Carolina, arriving a little before 11 p.m.

Then, Wednesday was a lovely day of rest; obviously neither of the boys had school, Husband had already taken time off from work for Operation Derek Retrieval...and since no one ELSE had to toil away, I decided I certainly wasn't going into the office, either. (So there!) It was also a wise idea to get some early relaxation in, because we were all rising and shining (or you know, whatever) at 7-ish on Turkey Day to run a festive family 5K...yaaayyyy! (Yes, Derek was roped into this...and while he seemed to accept his fate gracefully at the time, on the actual morning of the race, he retaliated for the forced crack-of-dawn exercise by being as snarky as humanly possible until the workout portion of the day concluded. Siiighhh...)

As for the event itself, it was a frigid start, y'all--but at least there was sun, and no noticeable breeze. As usual, Derek and Husband trotted along together. Riley had actually asked me to sign him up for the 8K option, so he was on his own. All I requested in return was that he please, for the love of Pete, finish his 5 miles AFTER I was done with my 3. (Is that unreasonable? I didn't think so...) As it turned out, he complied...barely...by cruising across the line...oh, about a minute past me. Fifth overall finisher, first in his age group, blah blah blah, the yoozh...and a 6:12 pace. (I know, right? Good. Grief.) The rest of us did just fine as well, with the D/H combo clocking in at 26:54, and me bringing up the rear (of our gang, at least) at 28:30.

Not too shabby for a holiday kickoff...and of course the most important thing is that we earned All. The. Food. And let's not forget the crucial lounging about and football/parade viewing! (I'll give you ONE guess as to who was doing each of those...) But speaking of the feast, we had a virtual epiphany at some point when we realized that we had somehow gotten to this moment in our lives...without ever having concocted Thanksgiving dinner. What the WHAT? You see, it was always my mom's thing, and we went to her house when we lived in Maryland. Then when we moved closer to the other set of grandparents, the 3 dudes started traveling down there for the November celebration (leaving me with my Weekend O' Quiet each year).


With Derek away at college, however, there was no question that he had to come back to Casa WestEnders during the break...thus, the great CookingPalooza of 2018 commenced. Because naturally, it couldn't be as simple as poultry/stuffing/potatoes. Well, actually the turkey was normal, and the potatoes came straight from a box...because that's just how we do. But the stuffing had to originate from a gluten-free mix (which I found at Whole Foods, fortunately)...and we had to have both carnivore- and vegetarian-friendly gravy...and cranberry sauce with and without whole pieces of fruit...and we added roasted Brussels sprouts for the "green component"...and a vegan, gluten-free pumpkin pie that I found directions for online a couple of years ago. So yeah...lots of moving parts!

Husband--for obvious reasons--took care of the meat course, plus the spuds. I made the dessert a day ahead, and planned to handle the stuffing and veggies, using a recipe I'd pulled from a magazine a long time ago, but hadn't yet sprung on the fam. It called for an ingredient we never, ever eat: dried figs. I admit I was a little hesitant about this, knowing that all of my guys have a strong bias against preserved fruit of any kind....yet I decided to go for it anyway. And I recall being super-excited (and relieved) when I found a package of them at one of the local grocery stores, after searching in vain for a couple of days.

So when it came time to actually assemble the dish, I confidently strolled over to the pantry where I remembered storing the figs...and was both confused and mildly panicked when I failed to locate them. Naturally, I began searching--first I checked the other shelves. Then when that turned up nada, I retraced my steps back to the car, where I looked under the seats in case they'd fallen out, in my reusable shopping bags where they could have gotten stuck...basically, anywhere I could think of that might be harboring runaway figs.

What I neglected to consider was that my BELOVED CHILDREN had in fact ABSCONDED with the offending tidbits, in hopes of preventing me from tossing them in with the Brussels. What gave it away? Perhaps it was the obnoxious snickering coming from the couches in the next room, where they were all hanging out in front of the TV. Or the one arm reaching above the back of the sofa, waving a familiar red bag in the air, accompanied by the merry voice calling, "Looking for these?"

I could have killed them. Okaaaay, it was...somewhat amusing. But I still yelled at all of them--and beat them (gently) with the bag--before conceding any kind of humorous reaction. (Bless their little pea-pickin' hearts...) I did get my sweet revenge, though, and also the last laugh, because you know what? You couldn't even taste those suckers in with the toasted walnuts and roasted B-sprouts. As a matter of fact, after the meal, Derek commented, "I have to admit, I didn't mind the figs. They added a kind of tanginess to the dish." Ha! I WIN! (And clearly, Food Network has rubbed off on him a wee bit, yeah?)

Anyway, I believe Husband summed it up best when he remarked, glancing around the kitchen at all the complicated yumminess, "Huh...for a bunch of amateurs, we did a bang-up job!" After that, over the next two days there was ample time for much brother bonding, Derek catching up with his High School buddies, decorating the house for the next big occasion, taking the annual photo for the holiday card (which provided quite the episode of entertaining, exasperating mayhem--but that's a whole other post, friends), and just enjoying the heck out of having everyone in the same house again for a while.

Alas, all too soon it was time to take the coed back to his alternate home. So he packed up his duffel bag...inexplicably forgetting half of his shorts, which he'd stashed in his dresser drawer for some reason after washing them, rather than returning them sensibly to his luggage. He proceeded to text me about it after I'd dropped him off and gotten halfway back to Chapel Hill. I think this would have to be classified as a College Student Fail. (And yes, I took pity on him and mailed them back, given the fact that he complained about the shortage of washing machines in his building, and the difficulty in snagging an available one. And he's a warm-blooded human who will continue to wear shorts until at least Christmas in SC. Oh, and also because that's just the kind of awesome...enabling...mother I am. Don't judge...)

Clothing fiasco notwithstanding, I greatly appreciated the four hours of car togetherness, since it gave us uninterrupted chat time before he's gone again for a few more weeks. The solo return trip, however...I could happily have lived without. It still feels really weird to drive my kid 200 miles away and leave him; I know I've only done it twice now, so I sincerely hope it gets easier each time. Come to think of it, I suppose it already has--I only needed a bag of cheesy popcorn, a vat of Diet Pepsi, and a satellite radio station playing nonstop seasonal tunes...rather than a whole box of tissues. Progress!

And now, let the countdown commence, to when the WestEnders squad will be reunited and back at it again...at the end of Semester 1...the beginning of Winter Break...and the whole Yuletide scene. Yippeee!

Friday, November 23, 2018

I finally made it to the room where it happens!

For as long as I can remember, I've been a huge fan of musicals. If I had to guess (since it was a loooong time ago), it probably started when my mom introduced me to The Sound of Music when I was a kid. Her favorites also included Grease (the original play, pre-Newton-John/Travolta movie) and A Chorus Line...both of which she staunchly refused to let me hear until I was older. (And I understood her reasoning, once I was allowed to hear some of the lyrics!) Basically, I grew up listening to and singing along with all kinds of soundtracks--Pippin in high school...the whole dang catalog of Disney classics like Aladdin, Lion King, and Little Mermaid...and as an adult, Rent, which I actually saw performed live, twice.
So it's a little bit surprising to me that I was slow to catch on when the Hamilton mania struck. I mean, it took me a minute to figure out what the uproar was about...but then I downloaded the Broadway recording and absorbed it for the first time from start to finish...and the world turned upside down. (Sorry, I was helpless to resist...but I'll try not to make it non-stop...aaarrrgh! Okay, I'm done now. Possibly. Yeah, who're we trying to kid? I make no promises...)

Yep, with one run-through, I was right the heck on that bandwagon, folks. I proceeded to repeat it often enough to memorize large portions of the songs--with that came a wistful longing to experience the phenomenon on stage. But given its monumental popularity (and cost) I figured that was nothing but a pipe dream. New York was obviously out of the question, due to distance, competition for available seats, and the aforementioned dollar signs. However, as time passed, I began to dream--just a smidgen--of catching it somewhere else, perhaps a major city within driving range.

Then one evening I was casually scrolling through Facebook, like you do, when a gigantic ad appeared in my feed, with the by-now-instantly-recognizable logo and the galvanizing message: Hamilton at DPAC! Well, it certainly got my attention; in fact, my heart felt like it skipped a beat...but I was already tempering my enthusiasm even as I clicked on it. "Don't get too excited," I told myself, "There probably aren't even any tickets left, or they'll be way above your comfortable price point." Yet even the voice of reason couldn't completely squash the glimmer of hope burgeoning inside me when I began exploring the site.

Aaaannnnd....miracle of miracles, I found something I could justify paying for without TOO much guilt. (And let me just say: in this case it's extremely fortunate that the Male Trio doesn't share my passion for the theater, since I would have struggled quite a bit more if I had to spring for four passes. Sometimes acting as a Party of One is super-beneficial!) After I entered the credit card information and received my confirmation and instructions, I sat there for a moment with my mouth hanging open...somewhat flabbergasted. I'd really done it...this was happening at long last!

Better yet, the date for my chosen show was only a week away, so I didn't have to manage the anticipation for too much longer. On the big day, heeding the DPAC's dire warnings about traffic and parking and all kinds of other nonsense that could slow you down and make you late, I left the house with more than 90 minutes to spare. (I was determined not to miss a single note of this masterpiece, y'all...) Ahem....and I pulled into our preferred garage for when we visit the Bulls' stadium next door...in approximately a half-hour. Eh, I'd rather be bored for a while than stressed-out, so this worked out just fine.

Finally, it was time to enter the auditorium and get settled...at which point my jaw dropped yet again, as I realized the view from my expensive seat (center section, about 20 rows back from the stage) was going to be absolutely amazing. Sure enough, when the lights dimmed, the orchestra launched into the first stirring notes, and the actors burst into view...it literally took my breath away--and brought tears to my eyes, I'm not gonna lie. It was that powerful.

And I'm overjoyed to report that neither the intensity nor the quality of the production dimmed even the slightest bit from there. The history, the politics, the romance, the wheeling and dealing, the messy conflict that led to the challenging birth of our nation, the actions of, and clashes between, the brilliant yet flawed men who helped shape America and forge her early path down the road to independence--all of it was masterfully portrayed in astonishing verse and melody by a stunningly talented cast. Seriously, in terms of cultural events, this ranks at the very TOP of my All-Time List, and is most assuredly something I will never forget for as long as I live.

Whew! It was also emotionally exhausting, so by the end, I felt deeply satisfied...but also thoroughly wrung-out. But mostly, I'm tremendously grateful for having gotten the opportunity to take part in the Hamilton revolution. So, what comes next? Well, if I have anything to say about it, Dear Evan Hansen, which according to the poster in the lobby is due to hit the DPAC in March. (Can luck hold for that long? Only time will tell...fingers crossed!) Signing off for now, "I have the honor to be, your obedient servant, J (dot) E. (Couldn't resist...one last time. Okay, okay, now I'm truly finished! Ta!)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A little Life Training...

So, Derek's been doing this whole college thing for a couple of months now, and we've settled into a routine where we have a nice, long talk on Sunday afternoons. Which is why it set off all kinds of parental alarm bells when he texted me mid-week to ask if either Husband or I was available for a chat. It turns out that he was feeling pretty under-the-weather--for the first time since he's been living at school--and wanted advice on how to deal with it.

Naturally, my first thought was something along the lines of, "Oh, poor baby!" And I'm not ashamed to tell you my second was "I wish you were closer, so I could come take care of you!" (What can I say? He's a full-grown adult who towers over me....but that doesn't mean I'm not still his Mom...speaking of which, my third thought was probably "Yay--you called your mother!") But I managed to contain myself to simply expressing sympathy for his plight, and then I got down to the business of cataloging his symptoms so I could try to provide some long-distance guidance.

Given what he was experiencing, there were several maladies that we couldn't rule out over the phone--including strep and the flu. Therefore I confirmed what he'd been thinking for himself, which was that the situation warranted his inaugural visit to the Student Health Center on campus. I told him that they'd be able to diagnose exactly what was ailing him and tell him what to do about it, with the added bonus that they'd also probably give him some kind of official doctor's note to excuse any missed classes and show his teachers he's not just blowing them off before the Thanksgiving break.

In the meantime, since he was feeling too nauseous to eat (which in itself is extraordinarily rare for my food-loving son), I counseled him to try ginger ale to settle his stomach (perhaps an Old Wive's Tale, but possibly providing a bit of a worthwhile placebo effect if he believes it might work). In the event that he felt brave enough to attempt any nutrition and/or medication, I suggested he stick with something bland, like pretzels, extra-hydrating, such as Gatorade (both of which he happens to have on hand in his dorm room) and pain-relieving, in the form of Ibuprofen, just to get him through the night until he was able to meet with an actual medical professional for the real lowdown.

Then, to cover all the bases--and because as I said, this represented new territory for him--I reminded him to email any of his professors whose classes he couldn't make it to, to give them the heads-up that he'd be absent. (You know, the "responsible, adulting thing to do"...) He admitted he was already thinking about this, since he has multiple tests, and a ton of things due before he comes home next week, and was wondering if he'd have to ask for any extensions on assignments. (Good job, buddy!)

With all of those topics covered, there didn't seem to be anything else I could do from afar, so we signed off with the understanding that he'd check in the next day and let me know how his field trip to the Health Center had gone. Just about the time I was starting to get antsy for some news, he came through with a text that said he fortunately didn't have strep, but rather a more run-of-the-mill viral infection. He added that his condition had slightly improved, but the doctor who examined him reinforced the message that he shouldn't bring his germs to class for a day or two, to avoid sharing them with his fellow coeds.

Alrighty, then--that sounded like solid intel and a viable plan to me! He further communicated with Husband the following day that, in response to missing 24-hours' worth of meals...he'd consumed an entire pizza once the stomach upset portion of the excitement passed. (Yep...that's my kid...clearly on the mend...) I have to say, it was a relief to hear that it hadn't turned out to be anything serious, and that he'd bounced back pretty quickly. So I think all-in-all he got off remarkably easy for his initial away-from-home illness. (Knocking wood, throwing salt, crossing fingers--and any other good luck rituals you can think of to add, please go right ahead! It takes a village, y'all...)

And now it's only TWO MORE DAYS until he--hopefully bug-free by that point--comes home for some rest, family meals, and general TLC. Now that's certainly something to give me a head start on the gratitude agenda, yeah? Yippeeee!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A little bit of everything...

The latest thrilling, chilling installment in the continuing saga we'll call NC Disasters of 2018--like the previous two hurricanes and one tropical storm--also involved liquid...just not the kind coming out of the sky. Nope, it was time for something new, fresh, and exciting, so instead we got: a massive water main break that caused the tanks to deplete in the treatment plant located in Carrboro. This in turn prompted a request for voluntary water restrictions, pleas to conserve and limit usage to "essential needs only", an advisory to "boil-before-drinking"...UNC and local school systems to close early...and of course a panicked buyout of all the available H2O in area stores as soon as the news hit.

In Casa WestEnders, we chose to liberally interpret the "necessary use" to include toilet flushing and showering (because...well, no explanation required, right?), but we fortunately had a stash of leftover bottled agua that I'd bought to prepare for the onslaught of the rainy season, so we didn't have to resort to actually heating up our water before cooking, or consuming, or what have you. Over the next 48 hours or so the utility company informed us that they'd located and repaired the breach, tested the water supply, and received clean results. Thus we were permitted to resume normal operations, including trusting water straight from the tap! Obviously, it could have been MUCH worse, but ay yi yi with the water-related uproar this year, y'all...enough, already!

Whew! Now let's talk about something much more lighthearted, shall we? Riley's been taking Spanish 3 this year, which is the level of increased expectations in terms of being able to speak and understand the language, to the point that you're supposed to try to communicate exclusively (or as much as possible) en Espanol during class. Because of this--and also since he just enjoys it so much--he's asked that the two of us sit down several times a week and converse together, for practice. (To be honest, this benefits me as well; I've never had a Spanish chat buddy in the house to help keep my skills sharp!)

Besides our little talks, I've been making an effort--when I have something random to tell him, for example--to just say it in Spanish. Usually he'll answer me in kind, and occasionally we'll conduct an entire exchange that way. Now, sometimes Husband happens to be in the room as well--but far from seeming bothered by any of this, he'll generally just go about his own business and ignore the polyglots yammering away around him. However, the other day after Riley and I had concluded our conversation, Husband looked up from what he was doing and in the most enthusiastic tone, with a gigantic, mischievous grin plastered on his face, he very firmly proclaimed, "MI GATO ES VERDE!"

Oh. Good. Heavens. The translation--in both Spanish and Nonsense-- is "My cat is green"...which is of course problematic on several levels, not the least of which is the fact that our household does not include a feline. (And the color issue? Let's not go there...) He appeared sooo pleased with himself...and whattya know, the grammar was actually correct...so I suppose I'll give him... participation points? Knowing him, he's probably already thought up the next ridiculous string of unrelated words he's going to spring on us when we switch to Spanish in front of him, so I'm gonna go ahead and mentally steel myself for that...

And finally, in the ongoing Life of a College Kid, Derek dropped a startling topic on me last week when he announced that he wanted to talk to me about...apartments. I'm not gonna lie--this caused me a mini panic attack...something along the lines of " I'm sorry, WHAT? Didn't we just start your first semester--and aren't you living in the same room until next May??" He quickly explained that he and the other three guys he wants to live with starting in August of 2019 are looking at off-campus options, and in order to secure a place, they have to begin researching and narrowing down their choices now.

Well, okay...that's just...yep, never mind, it's still scary. However...he very reasonably went on to describe the factors that he and his friends are employing to evaluate each property...which by the way are arranged in a spreadsheet that one of them created to organize the information. (I haven't met this kid yet, but from everything Derek's told me so far, I already like him...you'll understand why in a second...) He also provided me the names, so I could explore their websites and dig up more details on my own. (Which I did...and then created my own Excel doc to catalog what I had discovered, with highlighted blocks for the questions I still have. See what I mean?)

Supposedly the foursome plans to make inquiries and schedule tours of the potential accommodations before classes wrap up for Winter Break, at which point we can discuss the whole subject in more depth. All I can say for right now is "Yikes!" I've just barely had a chance to adjust to my firstborn child being a legal adult, and away from home, and somewhat independent. And now he might be sharing an off-campus apartment with several other adolescent males? This is gonna take a LOT of breathing exercises...and some serious chocolate therapy. But for now...hasta luego, mis amigos!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Hey, look--Fall showed up!

The Sunday morning outdoor bootcamp I’ve been attending for a while now never fails to combine a fun social hour with an excellent workout, in an altogether satisfying fashion. As a bonus, we like to remind ourselves--during days that we’re feeling particularly tired, or sore, or hot, or cold--that it’s also a fabulous excuse to visit Whole Foods afterwards for all the coffee one can handle (or, bacon also seems to be a motivating factor for those who partake).

It was during one of these post-exercise breakfast sessions toward the end of the long, sticky, sweltering Summer that our group began to longingly express how much we were looking forward to the change of seasons. This progressed to a discussion about how enjoyable it would be to—as a change of pace--replace one of our usual meetups with a hiking field trip, perhaps when the weather turned more Fall-like, and the leaves began displaying their Autumn hues. 

And wonder of wonders: it was one of those ideas that did not get uttered, then instantly forgotten...but actually came to fruition! The target date for our excursion was set for last weekend--not my personal first choice, due to the fact that the stupid switch back to Standard Time always disrupts my internal clock for a few days…but it turned out to be a fortuitous decision, since the trees were definitely cooperating with the dazzling array of colors.

The plan was to congregate at a local grocery store just before 7 a.m. (ugh), form carpools, and hit the road for the 75-ish mile drive to Hanging Rock State Park. I’d volunteered to be a chauffeur, so I ended up with two gal pals from the gang sharing the Subaru with me. This of course helped the ride to pass pleasantly…and also meant that I had a navigator to keep us on track, with the crazy-ass back roads and myriad turns Maps wanted us to make.

When we all arrived at the park, several other friends who’d driven themselves joined us, and we set about planning the actual trek. Our fearless leader had already looked into one route that consisted of approximately 1.3 miles out and back, with the namesake “rock” being the scenic goal, as well as the turnaround point. However, another one of our number (we’ll call him “Bill”) took it upon himself to speak to the Ranger in the Visitor’s Center, and got a different recommendation, for a slightly longer ramble that still included the promised lovely vista, but added “about a mile” of tromping through the woods.

Thus everyone had to choose their own adventure, so to speak: to follow the shorter, quicker path, or the additional-distance, meandering one. Almost all of us opted for the latter, so we divided ourselves up and hit the trail, assuming we’d reconvene in the middle at whatever time we all happened to get there.
It was with great energy and abundant high spirits that our merry little band set off through the forest. We hadn’t been at it very long, however, before Bill turned over his shoulder and casually, cheerfully tossed back, “I’m not totally sure we’re going the right way…but we’re making very good time!” Oh dear…that didn’t sound ominous at ALL, right? However, we all chuckled and kept moving, since we were entertained by the company, and the gorgeous foliage…regardless of whether we were, you know, technically “lost”.

It was also amusing some time later when I suddenly, inexplicably picked up cell service again (maybe we’d reached an elevation sufficient to pick up a signal? Who knows…) and received a text from the other half of our contingent….who’d already arrived at the overlook and were now chilling, and waiting for us. At that point my best guess was that we were at least an hour out, but what can you do? Oh yeah: keep on strolling!

Which we did--and without ever having truly been misplaced, we eventually found our way to the huge quartzite formation that lends the park its name, and upon which you can walk around and admire a sweeping, stunning view of the landscape across the Dan River valley, to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. Here we reunited with the rest of our buddies for high-fives, photos, and of course admiring the glory of the Great Outdoors.

Once we’d had our fill of Mother Nature’s splendor, we banded together for the return jaunt…which took about TWENTY MINUTES. Seriously, a couple of us who’d participated in the lengthier expedition looked at each other in disbelief when we realized how many more steps we’d actually covered. Suffice it to say, the Ranger might have fudged the numbers a little…or vastly underestimated the extra loop she advised us to take…or we goofed up ourselves, and failed to stick to the prescribed route. In any case, my FitBit indicated that we had traveled more like 5 miles

All I’m saying is that we definitely earned our lunch, which we gathered together to eat in a picnic shelter before heading back east to the Triangle. So to sum up: we had charming companions, pristine weather, awesome scenery, and a wonderful hike. Therefore I’m proclaiming the inaugural Fresh Air Fitness Field Trip to be a rousing success! Now, please feel free to take deep breaths and ogle these mountains while I go stretch my (still) weary legs…    

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Haunting...and Humor...on Halloween 2018

Even though my boys have well passed the "adorable costume and trick-or-treat" phase, I still have a soft spot for Halloween. And in our neighborhood, it's clear that other people feel the same way--up and down every street you see spooky lights, spiderweb-draped porches, inflatable yard-monsters, intricately carved jack-o-lanterns, and grinning skeletons in a variety of menacing...or amusing...poses. I mean, folks do it up All. The. Way, y'all...and it's A-W-E-S-O-M-E.

This year, without his designated Pumpkin Buddy (or, you know, "Derek", as we like to informally call him), Husband took on the sculpting duties himself. He opted for a style I'll describe as "simple yet expressive", and I think they came out quite well. (Several impressively polite candy-seekers actually complimented them when they arrived at the door. Extra sweets for you, lovely children!)

Then, in a calculated...um..."diplomatic appeasement maneuver?"...he took the innards of said winter squash and placed them strategically in an accessible spot behind the house...as enticing deer snacks. You might recall that last October the dratted...vegetarian poachers...sauntered cheekily up to the front door to munch on the carved ones...while they were still installed as Halloween decorations...RIGHT UNDER OUR NOSES. So Husband figured he'd just go ahead and give the bold beasts a preemptive offering--and possibly prevent them from...storming the keep for their supper...or whatever. (Thus far it seems to be working: November 3rd, and our little orange pals are still intact; meanwhile, the back yard buffet...has been completely demolished. Mission accomplished!)

Next, in an effort to include our college son in the festivities, I wrapped up a care package for him and sent it to his post office box at the university. The way it works is that when a box arrives, they send an email to the student, informing them that they have something to pick up. So, during our conversation last Sunday I asked if Derek had enjoyed his surprises...to which he professed ignorance...since he hadn't bothered to respond to the summons and actually retrieve the goodies. Siiiighhh...well, I suppose it was smart of me to select only non-perishable edibles, yeah? (Eh, he's still new at this--I have faith that he'll get the hang of it...eventually...)

And in an exciting development, I was able to participate in our office's group costume (which I'd missed several previous years, when the sharing time fell outside my work hours). This year someone suggested the brilliant possibility of each person representing something unique to North Carolina. The ideas started flowing from there--a lighthouse, moonshine, the Durham Bulls' mascot, Duke and UNC fans, the Triangle. I didn't have my own lightbulb moment until the afternoon of the 30th, when it occurred to me that one particular town in our immediate region was in danger of being left out of the fun...so I took it upon myself to illustrate Carrboro--Chapel Hill's funky, artsy, earthy next-door neighbor.

Once inspiration struck me, it was so easy to imagine the props I'd need: organic, fair trade coffee in a reusable mug (naturally....ha!); vegan, gluten-free snacks; a yoga mat for my peaceful, centering practice; my cloth bag to pick up local produce at the Weaver Street Market co-op; and of course a clipboard so I can gather signatures for a variety of environmentally conscious causes. And to further personify the part--while I wasn't quite committed enough to rush out for any tattoos or piercings--I bought a can of temporary hair color to add sassy purple streaks to my tresses. Aaaannnd...modern flower child, DONE!

I have to admit that I was inordinately pleased with myself over this--and while I assumed that no one in the Bethesda or Minnesota branches would understand it completely, I knew my  office-mates would get a big kick out of it, which was good enough for me. And as an undeniable bonus: it was sure to absolutely horrify my kids...so count that as a TOTAL WIN as well.

Therefore I set off for ye olde place of business in high spirits (ha! I swear, I'm not planning these today, they're just happening)...and the reaction when I showed up did not disappoint, either. First there were the hoped-for giggles, and nods of comprehension. And also hilarious, helpful suggestions for how to authenticate my character even further, such as "You could practice tai chi in the lobby/set up an easel and paint something!" Or my personal favorite, delivered with an earnest, thoughtful tone that implied she wasn't even really kidding about this, "I feel like...you should be riding your bike up and down the hallways, instead of walking." (All GREAT aspects of Carrboro...which definitely lie outside of my talents and/or comfort level! Except the bicycle, of course...which unfortunately is a safety hazard that HR would surely fail to appreciate...)

Anyway, at showtime, as it were, we connected with our colleagues in the other locations to see what others had concocted...and let me just tell you, as if I needed any further evidence of this: our company is chock full of creative, funny nerds, my friends. (And you know I mean that in the most positive and supportive of ways, right? Also "pot/kettle", yeah, yeah...) In the end, the NC office proudly accepted 2nd place...and then celebrated our victory by getting all sugared up, thanks to a plethora of tasty offerings people had brought in to share. (Mmmm....)

Finally, later that evening we hosted a few trick-or-treaters, but we've noticed that some of the Halloween wanderers--especially the very young--tend to pass by our driveway without attempting its steep slope. I know it's a bit of effort for the uncertain payoff--unless we were to advertise down by the mailbox, they can't know for certain that we're giving away quality yummies. (But we ARE! I promise you that I only buy stuff I would eat, and I'm super-picky!) But it seems like every year Husband and I have lamented the fact that we don't get more traffic.

And then the amazing solution was revealed to me when I drove through the neighborhood to pick up Riley at a friend's house (which was a LOT harder than it sounds, incidentally: avoiding roving packs of young people weaving through the center of the roadway like they'd suddenly forgotten everything they ever knew about how to use a sidewalk...or were waaaayyyy over the legal limit for glucose consumption...ay yi yi...). I  passed multiple houses at which the parental-type-people had stationed themselves in lawn chairs next to the street...with an adult beverage in one hand, and a bowl full of sweets waiting to be passed out in the other.

Oh. My. Word. Is this the freakin' perfect setup, or WHAT? To sum up: these folks are my new heroes, and we're copying the heck out of them next year. Unless it's raining...then we'll just eat all the fun-size candy bars ourselves. (Do me a favor and forget I ever said that, 'kay? Thanks...)

In conclusion, I leave you with the card I found for Riley, who has for most of his life been enamored with amphibians . It's admittedly terrible, but it made him literally laugh out loud first thing in the morning on the 31st, so that's all you can really ask. And with that, I pronounce that the Holiday Season has officially begun--let's commence the sugar detox...and move right along to the Turkey Day Countdown, shall we? Whoo hoo!

Monday, October 29, 2018

They don't call it "Guardians of the HILL" for nothing, friends...

So, continuing with the theme of "let's pig-headedly ignore the chronically-inflamed-and-painful left knee and finish out the running season strong", I registered for an October 5K. (The thought process went something along the lines of "Eh, doctors keep insisting there's nothing physically wrong with the stupid joint, so what the heck? Might as well keep pounding on it until I, you know, actually break something that they can fix, right? I mean, doesn't that sound totally sensible and understandable?" Your job here is simply to nod and smile...thanks...)

Anyway, I was prepared to do this one solo, but at the last minute Riley decided he wanted to participate as well. It was a course we were very familiar with, at a nearby community sports complex that's quick and easy to get to, with abundant free parking--so the logistics were quite favorable. And as a bonus, Mother Nature blessed the occasion by providing a cool, cloudy day that felt conducive to a bout of vigorous outdoor exercise. 

Adding to the festivities, the race organizers--local law enforcement personnel--announced prior to the start that the volunteers offering their support along the course would be...UNC football players, on loan before their own home game against UVA later in the day. That certainly explained the gaggle of Carolina-blue-clad, LARGE young men gathered off to the side of the trail, all of whom smiled and waved in a friendly fashion at the crowd of people warming up and stretching.

As for the path itself...let's just say that we knew going into it that the one word best describing this particular venue is HILLY. I swear, I know it's not possible, but it feels like you're plodding up a steep slope BOTH ways...and unfortunately, no matter how many times we run this route, it never gets any easier for me. Now, don't get me wrong, I super-appreciated the sunny grins, enthusiastic high-fives, and encouraging words from those delightful Tarheel athletes--but I'm not gonna lie, it was an all-around rough 3.1 miles for me, y'all...as well as the slowest time I can ever remember recording. Siiiighhhhh...

Of course, none of this seemed to have any effect whatsoever on my speed-demon son, who looped the turn-around point and passed me on the way back in what seemed like a ridiculously short amount of time. He also appeared to be in second place headed back to the finish line...and still moving faster than I probably ever have in my life. But hey, no matter how challenging I, personally, found the endeavor, I still clocked in at a little over a half-hour...and could happily check "sweat session" off my To Do List for the day--that totally counts as a WIN in my book.

Image may contain: 9 people, people smiling, people standing, outdoor and natureAnd speaking of victories, Riley did, in fact, finish #2 overall, earning himself a gift certificate to Fleet Feet, where he can pick up some cool workout swag. (In case you were wondering: new PR of 19:08, which averages out to 6:10 per mile. And no, I still haven't a clue where he gets it...) And you wanna hear something absolutely hilarious? No doubt due to the tremendously small field for this event...I also ended up placing in the top 3 for my age group, and received my own store credit to add to our shopping trip. (Whoo hoo! We are a Family of Champions, folks! Or at least some of us are...while others will gratefully yet sheepishly accept their prize, whether they feel they truly deserve it or not!)

Finally, after all the presentations, the emcee commented that catered food would shortly be arriving...and that the college kids would be hanging around a while longer if anyone wanted a photo with them. Well...HECK YEAH I do! Not that I knew who any of them were, to be perfectly honest...but the opportunity to get a picture with members of a hometown sports team was waaaaayyyy too good to resist. So I got Riley--who was far too embarrassed by the whole thing to jump into the fray--to capture a shot of me...surrounded and dwarfed by the charming football dudes. It was a satisfying conclusion to the experience, so we took our lovely parting gifts and headed home. Now I have a solid 3-1/2 weeks to baby (or bully--we'll see how it goes) the recalcitrant knee into behaving for one last 2018 trot...wish me luck!! 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Fall Fun with the Fam

If good old Will Shakespeare was right, and "all the world's a stage", then Mother Nature certainly picked up on her cue this past week, (Well, really, how could she miss it, loudly and fervently whispered from the wings, by all the Summer-weary players?) by presenting us with lovely seasonal weather on the heels of the receding tropical storm. This was just in time for the aptly named Fall Break that brought Derek back home to roost for a long weekend. (Get it? Because he's a...Gamecock? Ha! Nope, not sorry...)

And believe me, his family was more than ready to see him, after his 8-week absence. Husband took time off from work to drive down and pick him up on Wednesday, when his scheduled classes wrap up by noon. Then when Riley and I returned home from his soccer match that evening, we had a full Casa de WestEnders once more. (Yaaayyyyy!)

After bounding past Husband to claim my nice big Derek hug, I took a step back, waved my hands in the general direction of his head, and inquired, "What's happening here, with this...situation?" He smirked, peered over my shoulder at his father, and said, "What'd that take, like 1.5 seconds?" You see, it seems that my eldest child had been exercising his right NOT to shave since the last time I'd actually laid eyes on him, and had acquired a robust covering of...auburn....face fuzz.

Image may contain: 1 person, standingAnd apparently the road trippers had discussed how long I would be able to refrain from commenting--and expressing my...lack of enthusiasm, let's say. He claims it's because the extra growth protects that portion of his skin from the sun...which of course is true...but I'm still chalking it up to college student laziness. Eh, it's his mug, he can do with it what he pleases, right? (Especially because he promised me he'd clean it up some before Christmas--I'll take it!)

Also speaking of exercising his newfound independence and grown-up (ish) status, later that night, as I was preparing for bed, he sought parental permission to go to a friend's house (around the corner) and watch the rest of the Red Sox/Astros game. I spared an incredulous glance at the clock, then stared confusedly back at him. "But, it's 11:06!" I sputtered. He laughed at my reaction and burst out with, "Mom! I'm in COLLEGE, you know!"

Then he shook his head ruefully, put his buddy on speaker, and enlisted his support to make his case, "Lou, tell my mother I'm allowed to come hang out with you!" Lou politely greeted me (as always), and played to my sympathies by describing the two of them as "feeling a little boy-deprived" and therefore needing some quality guy time. Oh, sure--how am I gonna argue with that? So, in what I'm certain is going to become a familiar pattern going forward, I agreed that he could go...but warned him not to wake any of the rest of us up when he came back. (He passed that test. Good job adulting, son...)

Image may contain: 2 people, people smilingOn Thursday 3/4 of us had to go about our routine of school/work, etc.--and Derek took advantage of the downtime to enjoy some R&R. But on Friday, he and I got to take a very special field trip...to Costco. Yep, the college kid needed to restock his snack stash, for all those post-workout/slept through a meal/late night studying hunger pangs. Besides, nothing says Mother/Son bonding quite like buying a cartload of food for him to take back to school, right? (Yeah, we'll go with that...)

Later in the afternoon, we all trooped over to the High School to watch Riley's soccer game (yes, another one). Derek basked in his "visiting alumni" status, and his younger brother appreciated having an especially strong cheering section there to witness his moves on the field. Then, for the first time since receiving his permit, Riley took the opportunity to show off his burgeoning behind-the-wheel skills to his sibling by chauffeuring all of us home (in a very circuitous fashion, in order to amass a half-hour of official Log Time). I'm not gonna lie--that was a bit...disconcerting, folks. Not at all because of Riley's performance, which was steady and solid...but the fact that both of my babies are getting FAR TOO OLD for my comfort. (Siiiighhhh...)

Where are we now? Oh yeah: Saturday was designated for "getting ALL the stuff DONE", which required the older teenager to set an alarm and drag himself out from under the covers at a reasonable hour. Before you castigate me as a mean parent for forcing him to do this during his mini-vacation, let me assure you that he had no one but himself to blame, as he had firmly announced that he wanted us to be finished by 11:45...so he could plant himself in front of the TV for many ensuing hours of college football viewing. (So yeah, don't spare any sniffles for the rabid NCAA gridiron fan, 'kay?)

First documented pumpkin patch experience
And lemme tell ya, the agenda was chock full of some super-fun errands, y'all. Like flu shots. (Yippee for...contagious disease prevention!) And haircuts. (Whoo hoo for personal grooming!) And finally, the actual entertaining part: the annual ritual of selecting pumpkins to adorn the front porch in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Now, we've been doing this since the boys were in preschool, when it involved a class outing to a local farm, to tromp around in the dirt and choose your preferred gourd right off the vine. But now that the guys are well past that stage, in recent years we've honed and streamlined the process...to the point that it involves only a quick stop at the supermarket with the largest and most varied array of the orange fruits on display.

This year's winner: Harris Teeter...where they also got their vaccinations...and which happens to be located right next to the Great Clips where they get shorn. Holy Hyper-Efficiency, Batman--that was almost too easy! Aaaannnd, everyone was installed on the sofa--with lunch in front of them--before the 12:00 kickoffs. BOOM!

That left Sunday, with just a few short hours for one last load of laundry and as much more in-person conversation as we could manage, before Husband and Derek packed up the car and headed back to the other Carolina. It was an altogether wonderful stretch of having the whole family together again--not only the precious time I got to share with Derek, but also watching the brother camaraderie in action as they reverted right back to their usual behavior--teasing each other, laughing a whole lot, and horsing around together (video games, football, basketball, you name it, they squeezed in a little bit of a lot of things) as though they'd never been separated. Riley has definitely not yet become accustomed to--or learned to appreciate--being a temporary only child, so I know he was extra-glad to get his favorite partner-in-crime back for a while.

First pumpkins on porch picture!
Oh, and something else that we didn't realize would change about the family dynamic: Derek and Husband are unmistakably the most outgoing and talkative members of Team WestEnders--they'll carry a discussion without anyone else having to do more than sit there, nod, and listen. However, without Derek around, Husband obviously has to shift his attention elsewhere...which means that he often tries to chatter at Riley or me...much to our chagrin. (Hello, a pair of introverts in da house! If you reeeaallly need something, you can find us in our rooms, chilling...)

Anyway, as they were leaving it occurred to me that we've already passed the longest period that Derek will spend away at school this semester. It's only a month until he's back for Thanksgiving, and then about 3 more weeks after that until his Winter hiatus. So we'll all just hang in there for a while longer as a split-squad, until we can be reunited for the next holiday. And maybe in the meantime we'll send Husband out into the neighborhood to get acquainted with a chatty neighbor or two--aha, a mission!