What I Learned in 2014 (And Other Things)

2014

Some years I learn a lot. Most years I am greatly reminded of things I already know. This year was a bit of a mix. But whether I learned it or already knew it, here are some things (as Oprah would say) I know for sure…

Being married for 20 years is an accomplishment to be proud of. (And not for wimps.)

The mama bear instinct to protect your child when an injustice is done to them does not wane as your child approaches adulthood. If anything it becomes even more fierce.

Parenting a teenage girl is also not for wimps. (And probably why wine was invented.)

I can run a 10K (and  not die).

Middle school sucks.

Helping your child through the college application process is more stressful and overwhelming than can possibly be imagined. (And must be added to the list of things that is not for wimps.)

The joy of reconnecting with an old friend should not be underestimated.

The most wonderful blessing can come from what at first appeared to be an unfortunate situation.

 

High points of 2014…

A trip to Paso Robles to celebrate our 20 year anniversary (with lots of wine).

A crazy 3 1/2 day college tour road trip that covered 1,365 miles. (Yes, you read that right. 1,365 miles in 3 days. In a car.)

A girls’ trip to my family’s lake house in Michigan. We did nothing but lie in the sun, float on the lake, drink wine and eat.

A trip to Fresno (yes Fresno!) to watch Chandler run in the 2014 Cross Country State Championship race. He ran the race of his life and his team placed 2nd. A proud mama moment for sure.

My two favorite books in 2014

Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan

This is a beautiful memoir about the mother-daughter relationship told through the eyes of Corrigan as she remembers an around-the-world trip in her early twenties when she ran out of money and got a job as a nanny in Australia for a recent widower’s children. It is laugh-out-loud funny, heart wrenching and heart braking.  At the end of every short, wonderful chapter I would say to myself (often while crying), “I wish I could write like that.” Trust me when I say, that you will love this book.

 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I loved this book so much. It shifts through time both before and after the apocalypse caused by a flu killing 99.9% of humanity. But it is less about the apocalypse and more about being stuck. One of the main themes of this tale (taken from a Star Trek episode) is “survival is insufficient.” That art must be experienced and appreciated and that we must live our lives to the fullest.

Here’s to wishing your 2015 is lived to its fullest.

Happy New Year!

(P.S. I’d love to hear about something you learned or loved in 2014.)

 

 

 

Road Trip: Next Stop – College

GOOD LUCK with the college visits. My heart is soaring and sniffling for you, my friend Julie emailed me before we left for our Memorial Day weekend college tour road trip. She nailed it. (As she always does.) In one year and two weeks Chandler will be graduating high school. Two months after that he’ll be heading off to college. Out of our home forever. Or at least until Thanksgiving break. My heart is indeed soaring and sniffling all at once.

Teaching him how to tie his shoes, how to cook (or at least how to make a grilled cheese sandwich), and (especially) how to properly clean a toilet has all led up my casting him off into the world to survive and thrive outside of our household. It’s enough to make me want to vomit. Happy vomit of course. If there is such a thing.

Thursday afternoon, right after the kids got home from school, we left on a 1400+ mile, three day road trip to visit three universities. Go big or go home right? (Or rather stay home in this instance.)

 

First Stop UCSC

Chandler wanted to start off driving so I buckled down in the back seat with a semi-cranky why-do-I-even-have-to-go-on-this-stupid-college-tour-trip Marley. We battled Santa Barbara traffic, chowed on Double Double’s in Atascadero, and arrived in Santa Cruz about six hours later.

back-seat-of-car
Hangin’ in the back.

 

We can’t afford two rooms -in fact this was a budget travel trip with coolers packed full of sandwich-makings and our rooms booked on Priceline– so we slept boys in one bed and girls in the other since our children refuse to sleep together. We weren’t expecting much from our $50/night 2-star hotel, but it was clean, had enough towels, and the free breakfast included a make-your-own waffle station, so we deemed it a success. (Even though the coffee -if you could even call it that- was incredibly weak.)

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the university and didn’t know if Chandler would really like it or not. We chose UCSC because of the D3 athletic program (Chandler wants to compete in college athletics, but isn’t sure he want to at a D1 level), the majors it offers, and the beautiful location. But it has a reputation for being a bit of a hippie school and Chandler is 0% hippie. Well, he’s an environmentally-minded liberal, but a buttoned-down, rule-following, environmentally-minded liberal.

The campus was amazingly beautiful. It felt more like a mountain resort than a university.

UCSC
This feels more like a vacation than school!

 

“I think going here would be great,” Chandler said to me halfway through the tour. “I love everything about this school, except for this view.”

UCSC Beach View
Yeah, this view sucks!

 

“You’re crazy,” I told him. “The view is amazing.”

“Yeah, but the school looks like it’s in a forest and the view of the ocean doesn’t really fit.”

(Have I ever mentioned that Chandler is a little quirky?)

 

UCSC trees
Trees like this cover the campus of UCSC.

 

In my world forest meets ocean equals perfection. But apparently in Chandler’s world forest meets ocean breaks some kind of rule. And as I said, he’s a rule-follower. Wow, is college going to be an eye-opening experience for him.

 

Second Stop Humboldt State

You might think that taking our 0%-hippie, rule-following, buttoned-down, quirky son to Humboldt State with its reputation of schooling hippies with a capital “H” an odd choice. Possibly. But we do want Chandler to consider a state school. And since he has expressed a possible interest in environmental studies, apparently wants to go to school in some sort of forest, and would like to attend college out-of-state, we though that Humboldt -which is an environmentalist’s wet dream, has a 20,000 square foot forest attached to it, and is closer to Seattle than to Los Angeles- deserved a look. Plus we thought the idea of embarking on a seven hour, 356-mile journey that included driving through San Francisco at 5PM on the Friday of a three-day weekend sounded like lots of fun.

The two things (semi-cranky why-do-I-even-have-to-go-on-this-stupid-college-tour-trip) Marley requested of this trip was to see the Golden Gate Bridge and to swim in a hotel pool. Of course it is our goal in life to bitterly disappoint her (just ask her), so we made sure that even though we had to cross the bridge she couldn’t really see it.

Golden-Gate-Bridge-Fogged-in

 

We arrived in Arcata close to midnight, two hours after the pool closed, screwing Marley once again, and headed straight to bed.

Our tour of Humboldt didn’t start until noon, so after more waffles and weak coffee we decided to check out the town of Arcata and happened upon the 45th Annual Kinetic Grand Championship taking place in the town square.

What is that you ask? It is a 3-day, 42-mile bike race over land, sand, mud and water. Which means one must convert their “bike” to be able to successfully handle land, sand, mud and water.

kinetic sculpture bike

 

And the crazier the conversion, the better.

pig-kinetic-sculpture

 

Coincidentally I went to this race with my mom and brother 31 years ago with a “why-do-I-have-to-go-on-this-stupid-trip-on-a-holiday-weekend” attitude and ended up having an incredible time, so I was thrilled to happen upon it again. Unfortunately Marley was even more determined than me (at the peak of my teenaged surliness, I might add) to hate everything about our trip and sat on a bench claiming the kinetic sculpture race lame. But she later told my mom it was “kind of cool,” so while not as big a win as make-your-own waffles, I’ll take it as a minor victory.

 

shark-sculpture
This sculpture was called “Bite Me.”

 

After our tour of Humboldt, Chandler met with a coach and liked him a lot. He also liked the dorms.

Dorms-at-Humboldt-State
Yeah, I could see Chandler living here.

 

Marley loved Humboldt and decided she must go there. Plus we went to a really cool record store where she bought two posters (bonus – one of them I absolutely hate) and we both claimed the Ryan Gosling doppelganger who rang us up super cute.

 

Third Stop: UC Davis

After leaving Humboldt we drove three hours to Red Bluff with me taking most of the time behind the wheel. We got there in plenty of time to enjoy cheap delicious Mexican food from a place called La Corona (thank you Yelp) with a big ol’ margarita for me (hazzah!) and plenty of pool time for Marley after dinner. (So, Marley found her future college, talked to a cute -way-too-old-for-her- boy, and got to swim all in one day. Maybe Dave and I aren’t the worst parents in the world after all.)

margarita
It looks a little toxic, but it was pretty damn good!

 

Chandler popped out of bed at seven o’clock on Sunday morning ready to head down to the make-your-own waffle station before it got too crowded prompting us to get shaking and get started with our day. He was mostly excited to visit the Capital in Sacramento, but our first stop was Davis. I think he may have been overwhelmed by its size. And while there were plenty of trees, it was certainly no forest. He did not love it. But they have a viticulture and enology major (translation wine making), so it is my new goal in life to change Chandler’s mind and have him go to Davis. I think he owes me that.

UC Davis
The Mondavi Performing Arts Center at UC Davis

After touring Davis we took a tour of the Capital building and Chandler was in heaven. I know I’ve stated that he’s expressed an interest in the environment, and that is true, but he loves history so much, I think his calling is probably political science. With a minor in viticulture and enology environmental studies. Maybe.

After touring the Capital we had a (very) late lunch at a dive bar on the Delta called Wimpy’s where I was once accidentally abandoned Home-Alone-style by my family when I was a teenager. (That is a true story, but a story for another time.)

Then we headed home.

We’ve now toured five colleges total. I hope to have Chandler tour at least five more. This next year will no doubt, like his entire childhood, go by at warp speed. Six months from now his college applications will be complete. Ten months from now all of the acceptance (and rejection) letters will have arrived. Eleven months from now his decision will have been made. Fourteen months from now my son will be going off to college.

My heart is soaring and sniffling.

Colorado Here We Come

5:51        We leave home 9 minutes ahead of schedule.  A Ross Family first.  It’s Friday morning and we are finally taking our long-awaited family vacation.

6:37        The sun pops up from behind the mountains and I realize my sunglasses are in my backpack my husband Dave has so conveniently placed in the back of the car where I can’t get to it.  (In his defense he was trying to give me some room for my feet.)  I have to resort to the ultra crappy pair I keep in the glove box for emergencies.  Sun directly in your eyes before you’ve finished your first cup of coffee definitely constitutes itself as an emergency.

7:20        Boredom has already set in for Marley.  She’s finished her entire breakfast – a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – and claims to still be hungry.

8:07        Our children are lucky enough to have a DVD player built into our SUV and have decided on a Star Wars marathon for our long trip. (Yep, all 6 movies in a row.)  Marley has announced that she is bored of Star Wars.  I hand her a banana hoping it will occupy her for at least a minute and a half.

8:32        We hit our first rest stop to stretch our legs and say goodbye to our morning beverages.

9:26        We cross the state line into Nevada.

9:28        I’m trying to rock out to Joe Jackson.  “Is she really going out with him,” my husband and I sing at the top of our lungs.  “Mom, mom, mom.” I hear from the back seat.  “What?” I ask in the nicest mommy voice possible to mask my annoyance.  “Blah, blah, blah, blahdy blah, blah,” my son says making a joke.  I fake a laugh and tell him he’s funny so I can go back to my music and relive my 80’s youth – hopefully without further interruption until we hit Las Vegas.

9:50        We enter the outskirts of Las Vegas in less than 4 hours.  Good timing.  The last time I drove to Vegas – about a year ago – it took me 7 hours to get here.  Apparently leaving at 6AM on a Friday is better than leaving at 2PM on a Friday.

10:10     Las Vegas Blvd.  Chandler is pissed that he forgot his camera and his cell phone.  His complaining pisses Dave off who is cranky because he’s been driving for 4 hours and really, really needs to pee. (Yes he did use the rest stop an hour and forty minutes ago but then he went and had a 3rd cup of coffee.) 

10:46     We are back on the 15 and passing Nellis Air Force Base.  Fighter jets are mock fighting and doing cool fighter jet turns.  This holds the kids attention for about 30 seconds as they’ve moved on to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

11:44     We cross the state line into Arizona.

11:55     We enter the Virgin River Gorge.  Dave gives a science lesson on sedimentary rock.  Oddly enough this holds Chandler’s attention longer than the fighter jets did.  The mesas are stripes of gold and yellow and Grand-Canyon-red.  It is a magnificent sight.

1:08        We cross the Utah border.  We changed time either here or in Arizona (who knows what goes on with the time zones in Arizona – I can’t keep up) so it’s 12:08 in driving time, but 1:08 in actual time.  Does that make sense?

1:20        Dave and I hit the drive-thru at Arby’s and take our food into Burger King where Marley wants to eat.  I have vowed not to gain weight on this vacation (good luck right?) so I give my 2nd potato cake (minus one bite) to Dave (apparently I don’t care if he gains weight).

2:15        We see a landscape of mesas so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes.  (One day I’ll blog about all the unbelievably ridiculous things I cry about.)  To quote Baz Luhrmann it is ‘Spectacular Spectacular.’  What a gorgeous miracle.  I want to bring it to the kid’s attention but Chandler is actually reading which is a miracle in itself.

3:04        We’ve moved on to the Best of Hall and Oates and Dave and I are now belting out ‘Rich Girl’.  This song came out when I was in 8thgrade and my best friend Dale and I would whisper the word bitch when we sang along because we didn’t want to get into trouble.

3:54        While the scenery is breathtaking the air in the car is a different story.  I mean two kids, a husband, and a fast food lunch…  While there are many giggles coming from the backseat it sure would be nice to be able to roll down the window.

4:39        Chandler just read me an excerpt from his book “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” – that truth be told is little more than a comic book, but as I said before the kid is reading (for about 2 hours now!) without being coerced or setting a 20 minute timer.  It makes me laugh so hard that I have to read it to Dave who couldn’t hear Chandler’s sweet, quiet voice behind him.  It is so stupidly funny I laugh so hard I cry and snot starts coming out of my nose.  I have definitely been in this car way too long. And good news – we only have about  6 more hours to go – you know – if we don’t stop to eat!

5:45        Utah I70 mile marker 125.  Incredible beauty.  I wish I could write beautifully descriptive prose that would give you some idea what the beauty outside our car actually looks like.  (See I just used a form of the word beauty 3 times in 2 consecutive sentences.  I am pathetically unimaginative.)  I’ll say this:  there are a lot of mesas and cool rock formations.  A lot of red, green and gold.  Even my husband’s insistence of listening to his Utopia CD can’t annoy me (too much) with such beautiful scenery to look at.  (See there it is again.)

6:49        I look out the window and see a rainbow confirming that those big, puffy, white clouds to the right (south?) of us are indeed rainclouds.

6:50        I look over our accommodation amenities and notice that Internet access is located nearby (within 5 miles) and not on site.  Not quite sure when to break the news to Dave as he’s got to be online at 6AM tomorrow for work.  This will obviously not go over well.  Maybe things have changed since this was printed out in March.  I mean, hello, we’re staying at a Marriott and it is 2008.  They’ve got to have Wi-Fi.  I decide not to mention it just yet.

7:06        After 12 hours and 16 minutes we cross the Colorado border.

7:12        We see rain clouds on the horizon – big ugly, black ones, unlike the cute, fluffy, white ones that made the rainbow.  And this time they’re in the actual direction we are heading.  I realize I forgot to pack Marley’s raincoat.  (She only has 3 and we live in a place where it never rains.) Dave – the person who has to pack for one, not three (oh and I planned the meals and packed the food too because we’re in a timeshare with a full kitchen) – seems flabbergasted.  After all we did talk at length about raincoats.  And yes I know I should make a list and I did – lots of lists – just not a list of what to bring for myself and the kids.  So there ya go, another point for me in the crappy mom column.  And now that I think of it I may have forgotten Chandler’s swimsuit (2 points) but at least he has a raincoat.

7:32        We stop in an adorable downtown area of Grand Junction, Co and have dinner at a brew pub.  Dave and I both really want a beer.  I tell Dave, who has driven the entire trip that I’ll take over driving.  He has a beer and I order a Diet Pepsi.  Back at the car he tells me that he’ll drive. I try not to be annoyed that I drank a Diet Pepsi for nothing.

8:45        Marley has packed it in and has cuddled up to her pillow and fallen asleep.  Chandler has opted for a movie.  The full moon lights the highway and we can see that this drive would be really beautiful if it were light.  I’m over the beer and put in a Todd Rundgren CD (ugh!) for Dave to reward him for continuing to drive and to keep him awake. 

9:37        It starts to rain.

10:57     16 hours and 6 minutes after leaving home we arrive in Vail, Co. I take back all the mean things I said about my kids in my last blog as they were amazingly (almost) PERFECT on this long, long trip.  The timeshare is beautiful, the rain has stopped, I did remember Chandler’s swimsuit, and – Thank God – we are set up in our room with the Internet.

*This post originally appeared on skirt.com on August 17, 2008. I have archived it here after learning that skirt would be shutting down the blogging portion of its site.