57 Days Until the Next Chapter Begins

Graduation Caps in the Air

In some ways I think it’s a bigger milestone for parents than it is for kids when they graduate from High School, especially when it’s your youngest child. On June 19th we celebrated Christian’s graduation in Yardely, PA with family and friends.

For whatever reason, the tradition for Pennsbury High School is to hold graduation on a Wednesday evening which makes it a little tricky when it comes to inviting guests and making party plans. My guess is that we were one of few, if not the only family who had guests coming in from Nebraska and Missouri.

My parents arrived the Sunday before graduation and immediately started helping me prepare. They spoiled me rotten while they were here. I didn’t cook a  single meal outside of my famous enchiladas for the night of graduation.

Monday they tore into my outside porch and cleaned it from top to bottom. My dad had to improvise work clothes (which was a tad bit entertaining) and my mom even ironed the freshly washed window coverings.

Tuesday my mom made several trips to grocery store in between the torrential rainstorms while I prepared the enchiladas. She spent the rest of the afternoon preparing food for the party. I still can’t figure out how she managed to fit everything into the fridge and when the time came we still managed to squeeze in a few more bottles of wine.

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I scheduled myself to teach a workshop the morning of graduation, but for some reason it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was wired by the time I got home, too much caffeine, not enough food, a late co-presenter, and technical difficulties did not make a good combination.

Thankfully the jitters passed and I was able to decorate the house and iron the graduation gown. Ironing a graduation gown is truly a labor of love. Why do they have to get so wrinkled and be made of a fabric that seems to hold onto those wrinkles like none other?

We posed for pictures in front of the house and then Christian’s girlfriend took him to school. The plan was for her to come back to the house and we would all drive over together.

Family Picture on Graduation day

It’s about a ten minute drive and they left the house around 4:30, which in theory should have been plenty of time for her to drop Christian off and get back to the house by 5:00.

4:56 pm
Christian: Traffic is crazy. We’re not even at school yet

Me: Ok – just have Katie meet us there

Christian: You need to leave soon

Me: We’re leaving now, we’ll be there as soon as we can

5:15 pm
Me: This is insane. Are you there yet?

Christian: I know. I’m still in the car outside school

My stomach was turning and panic was rising because we were still a few miles from school and the ceremony was scheduled to start at 5:45 sharp. It could have been worse, at least he wasn’t the poor kid who abandoned his car and whose robe was flying behind him while he ran along the sidewalk.

5:32 pm
Christian: We’re lining up now. I have to put away my phone

We were still over a mile away from school and the minutes were ticking away much faster than the lines of cars inching their way toward the school from competing directions.

5:45 came and went while we were made our way through the parking lot.  Three phone calls later we found Katie, Christian’s girlfriend, and made it to the football stadium just as they started calling out last names starting with the letter “B.”

I didn’t get to see him walk, but we did hear them announce, “Christian Paul Browning,” so I didn’t miss it completely. Phew! Normally having a last name that starts with the second letter of the alphabet is a good thing, not so much on graduation day.

When I saw the concession stand was open and they were selling everything from hot dogs to pretzels I thought we might be there until midnight, especially since the line of kids waiting their turn wrapped around the entire track and overflowed outside of the stadium.

Students lining up for Graduation

I’m not 100% certain, but I think Christian was in fourth or fifth row of black robes.It was quite a different experience than Jeff and Katie’s High School graduation where we knew all of the kids by name.

Pennsbury High School Graduation

It took nearly an hour to announce all of the names and my concern that we’d be there until midnight seemed more than legitimate.

Pennsbury High School 2013 Graduation

As it turned out, we were home by 8:00 pm. The enchiladas were in the oven, the food was all set up (thanks to my wonderful family and friends), and by 8:30 the rooms were filled with laughter and celebration.

It was strange to celebrate the occasion without the big kids, but it didn’t make sense for them to use up vacation time to fly in for an event that lasted a few hours. After nearly missing graduation completely, I was really glad that they came out over Memorial day weekend instead.

In 57 days Christian will be starting his life as a college student and I’ll experience my first day as an empty nester.

Here’s to the “Next Chapter,” and new adventures!

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Trains and Markets, and Magic, Oh my

bike tire wheel window

Last weekend was without a doubt the best Memorial Day Weekend of my life.  A few weeks ago, the “big kids” surprised me and purchased their own plane tickets to come visit me in Pennsylvania.

We started something new during Christmas travels; we now depend on SEPTA and New Jersey Transit for train transportation to and from the airport. It’s awesome because instead of spending time on I95 or the New Jersey Turnpike, I can clean like a mad woman up until the very last moment. Katie texted me two stops early so there would be no risk that she’d have to wait in the rain at the train-stop.

Somehow I managed to stay awake long enough to pick Jeff and Justin up from Trenton Transit Station. I’d like to say it was an uneventful drive, but apparently my daughter and I have a different vocabulary when it comes to driving directions and we almost ended up headed to NYC instead of Philly.

Saturday was a kick back day, the kids went to the mall and played games while I prepared the meals that had been requested for the weekend menu.  As always enchiladas were at the top of the list.

Sunday was a beautiful sunny day and I was happy to wait for a few minutes for the train and take some pictures on the platform. I always laugh when I look at pictures of my kids and me.  I’m so much shorter  than them and they’re so much fairer than me it’s sometimes hard to see the family resemblance.

wating for the train with my kids

I probably shouldn’t have let Katie sit on the edge of the platform with her feet resting on the tracks, but I couldn’t resist taking a picture. Maybe it was my way of making up for not letting her eat dirt when she was little. (that’s a funny story)

waiting for the train with feet on the tracks

Apparently my children are never too old to play complicated versions of Paddy Cake.  They  make me laugh out loud.

Grown people Playing Paddy Cake

Our first destination was Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens on South Street. It’s over 3,000 square feet of mosaic art and the walls are covered with shiny glass and mirrors from floor to ceiling, both inside and out.

Philadelphia Magic Garden outside wall

The second floor was a perfect place to check text messages and send funny pictures.

texting in the magic garden

I wonder what if the walls of the artist’s home are covered in tile and mirrors as well.

It was a great location for a mother and daughter picture.

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The plan was to go to the Italian Market on South Street after the Magic Garden, the only problem was that I didn’t know the name of the market. The Italian Street  Market is lined with shops and stores of all kinds. It’s like taking a step back in time to the days before grocery stores and malls.

We’d been there a couple of Christmases ago on a walking tour, but the only thing any of us could remember was that it was on South Street. (I can’t believe I’ve never written about it the walking tour)

I made up my mind that it was called the South Street Market and so that’s what we set off to find. After a mile and change, we reached the South Street Supermarket on the corner of South Street and something. It was pretty obvious we were in the wrong place. Everyone whipped out their smart phones and fired up Google.

Within a few minutes we discovered that the Magic Gardens is two blocks away from where we had intended to go. We were limited on time (lasagna was waiting for us at home) so I suggested we take cabs to the Italian Market. I was instantly overruled and the kids voted to continue our impromptu tour of the city and head toward the Gelato shop.

It was Justin’s first trip to Philly and he wanted to make the trip complete with a Philly Cheese Steak. We’re not sure why, but Yelp led us to Di Bruno Bros and there were no Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. On the plus side, they did have the gourmet cheese spread that we’d hoped to buy at a shop in the Italian Market. Score!

A few blocks later we stumbled across an authentic Philly Cheese Steak shop and the day trip was complete. It was a day where nothing went according to plan, but everything turned out just right.

Home Alone – A Glimpse of my Empty Nest

Colorful Ink Drawing on handmade flax paper

It’s impossible for me to believe that in just a little more than six months I am going to be an Empty Nester.

Christian is in St. Louis this weekend. He and Jeff went to a concert last night and are hanging out today.  I think it’s awesome that my kids get along so well and enjoy doing things together.

We listened to one of the band’s CD and Christian navigated us along the New Jersey Turnpike.

“So am I taking the train or are you picking me up from the airport?”  he asked.

“Well, I hadn’t really thought about it.  It would be good practice for when you’re coming home from college for breaks. I’ll leave it up to you, just let me know what you decide.”

The phrase “coming home from college” caught in my throat just a bit.

He looked more ‘grown up’ than ever as he flashed his boarding pass and driver’s license for the TSA agent and he exuded the confidence of a well grounded teenager. It was as though I was watching a movie preview or looking into the future.

It’s been an adjustment each time I watched one of my kids begin their college adventure, but this time is going to be the biggest change of all.  Christian and I have been on our own for the past three years and have developed a very comfortable routine and enjoyable relationship.

I’m so happy to be among the parents who can say that they genuinely like their kids and that my kids like me back.

My nest will soon be empty and although I have some apprehension about being on my own, I’m also looking forward to exploring the next phase of my life.

Who knows what my next adventure will be?

What is More Quiet Than Quiet?

Christmas Tree In Rockerfeller Plaza

I had a very special Christmas this year.  Jeff and Katie, my two oldest kids, were both able to get the same days off over the holiday.  They both flew in on the 21st of December and we had until the 27th to enjoy being together.

I’m getting pretty creative these days when it comes to travel, and I’ve become a huge fan of taking the train any time I can.  Jeff and Katie both agreed to take the train from the airport (I really didn’t give them much of a choice). This meant that instead of trying to coordinate arrival times, airports, and costs for flights from two different cities I could focus on getting the best fare.

Things went smoothly aside from a couple of flight delays and a train stop due to a police  check and they were both here by 3 P.M.  We kicked off the weekend with a night of food and laughter with friends.

Dan, Brian, Paul, and Mary arrived on Saturday evening bearing gifts and board games.  We played Say Anything before dinner and laughed until we almost cried.  We played another game after dinner and wrapped up the evening with hugs.

We had a traditional Christmas Eve;  and although the minister attempted to draw an analogy between the movie Elf and Buddy’s use of maple syrup to the joy of Christmas, the church service was very nice.

Posing for the obligatory Christmas Eve family picture took a little more time than usual this year but in the end we decided it was worth it.

her kids on Christmas Eve

One of the things I love most about my kids is that they love being ‘kids’ they are never ‘too cool’ to be goofy and have fun together.

Katie, Christian, and Jeff on Christmas Eve

We packed in as much as we could during the week and in addition to seeing the Hobbit and Le Miz, we spent a cold and rainy afternoon in NYC.

I think it’s a good thing that we didn’t check the forecast before we left or we might have decided to stay home instead of dodging icy raindrops so we could say we’ve seen the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza.

Jeff, Katie Christian in NYCJeff, Katie Christian in NYC

I think we stayed just long enough to flag down a couple of random strangers to take our picture before we hailed a cab.  Which by they way, was the best $11.00 I’ve ever spent.

NYC in the rainy cold at Christmas

Thursday was the return travel day and filled with shuttling the kids to their destinations. I dropped Jeff off and fought back the goodbye tears until I was home.

Christian looked up when I walked in the door, “It’s so quiet.”

“I know, it’s funny how even when everyone is here, even when it’s quiet it feels like it’s not,” I said.

He nodded.

There’s a sound that is more quiet than quiet, and that’s the silent echo that bounces off the walls after a week with all of my kids.  In some ways I think it’s a sound of love.

Where Does Time Go? aka Congrats to the College Grad!

It seems like it was yesterday when Katie leaned as far toward the front seat as she could and without hesitation asked, “Do you suppose I could drive today?”

“Hmmm…well you don’t have a driver’s license yet, so not today,” I replied.

“How old do you have to be to get one?” she asked.

“You have to be sixteen, but you can get a permit when you are 15 and start driving then.”

She flopped backward and rolled her eyes, “But that’s….forever….I’m only five.”

It doesn’t seem possible that she’s is a college graduate and will be starting her first “real” job in less than a week.

She will receive her degree from DePaul which is in Chicago but she decided to bypass the commencement ceremony and we celebrated her graduation a week early in St. Louis.  She made the suggestion to have her party at my parent’s home and make it a family gathering for a variety of reasons.  It’s an easier trip for everyone involved, we didn’t have to worry about finding a place to have the party, and there wouldn’t be the additional expenses for hotels and restaurants.

After we decided when and where the party would be she was faced with a dilemma, to “walk” or not to “walk.”  The date of graduation fell on the same day as the wedding of one of her good friends.  We had more than a few conversations about the pros and cons.  In the end, I think the opportunity to spend time with close friends and family versus sitting for hours with thousands of people and no close friends nearby made the decision an easy one.  She would still receive her diploma and celebrate the event with two parties, but there was one missing ingredient.  She wouldn’t have a picture of her wearing a cap and gown.

I searched and searched trying to find the colors for DePaul and a place to rent a cap and gown on short notice.  I’m famous for my mad Googling skills and have been known to find more than a few obscure but valuable pieces of information.  Evidently I overcomplicated the search in this case.  My mom replied to my email with the colors and website links in under a minute.

I carried the FedEx envelope from the laundry room to the guest room where Katie was waiting for me and hoped I wasn’t holding a paper mache cap and a crepe paper gown.

“Katie, I know the one thing you said you’d miss about walking was that you wouldn’t have a picture in a cap and gown.  Sooo….this might be goofy, but I ordered one for you.  I have no idea what kind of quality it is, so remember it’s the thought that counts.”

“Oh Mommy….of course I will.”

I was pleasantly surprised when I felt a silky fabric underneath the plastic wrapping, “Wow, it’s not bad.  It’s real material.”

She giggled, “Mommy this could be one of the dorkiest things ever, but I also have to say I really love it.”

I think it took her less than three seconds to put it on and the smile didn’t leave her face for the rest of the day.

 

Congratulations Honey!  I am very proud of you.

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Happy Birthday to a Very Special Lady, My Mom

Some people believe in writer’s block and others don’t. I’m in the camp of the believers and I know in my case I get writers block when I’m trying too hard to make sure something is perfect.  I have to admit that was the case when I sat down to write this.

Today is my mom’s birthday and we celebrated it as a family this past weekend.  I wanted to write something to read at the party in honor of the birthday girl, also known as Linda (sometimes Linda Loo), Mom, Grandma, and Oma.

I must have stopped and started a dozen times, the first one was too formal, the second one too long, and as I read each of them out loud, I knew that I still hadn’t just written from the heart.  And then it came to me. I’m not sure which one of us teared up more while I read it.  I’ve revised it slightly since I’m posting it rather than reading it and wanted to share it on this very special day.

As a little girl I remember feeling proud because I had the prettiest and smartest mom on the block.  Our house was always warm and inviting, every holiday was extra special, and I knew she always had my back.  The feeling I had as a little girl hasn’t gone way it’s grown.

My mom is one of the people I admire most in the world.  She inspires me in countless ways and I know I’m not alone when I say that she is  one of my heroes and wouldn’t be the person I am today without her.

Today we celebrate Linda, a beautiful wife, mother, grandmother, and friend.  We celebrate the joy she brings to all of us through the way she touches our lives.

Happy Birthday from all of us to you!