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!

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.

The Signs Were There All Along – PSA

police car

police carI secretly wanted to be an actress.  In junior high (that’s what we called middle school back in the olden days) I was very active in the drama club and we put on plays and weekly skits at lunch time. For a variety of reasons I didn’t continue with drama in High School and by the time I went to college it seemed like pursuing a business degree made more sense.

It was the right decision, but I always wondered what it would be like to be an actress.  As a senior, Christian has the unique opportunity to participate in an independent study program focused on film.

One of his recent projects was to create a Public Service Announcement for a local organization that is focused on educating kids and parents about the risks associated with things like teenage alcohol use.  His teacher, Mr. Mahoney, teamed up Christian and Chris and gave them complete freedom to develop the storyline, coordinate production, and create the video.

“Would you be willing to be in a video for school?” Christian asked.

My ears perked up, ever since he and Jeff made the silent movie last year, I’d wanted to be in one of Christian’s video productions, “Of course I would.  What will I be doing?”

“We’re making a PSA about alcohol awareness for the Lower Makefield – Yardley – Falls – Tullytown (LYFT) organization.  Its supposed to be focused toward parents and that they need to be aware of what their kids are doing. So we’d like you to be the mom of a teenager who is drinking and you are completely oblivious.”

I looked up, “So you want me to be a bad mom for the video?”

“Not necessarily bad just unaware. Oh and by the way, I won’t be your son for the filming. So I hope its OK if we have a few pictures of Chris around the house for a while,” he replied.

We grinned at each other, “I suppose it would be hard to keep us in the same frame.  You’d either have to walk on your knees or I’d have to stand on a stool or learn how to walk on stilts.”

“Exactly,” he said.

The filming began a couple of weeks later. For the following month I looked forward to the days when I would take an afternoon break from working and became an actress. It was great fun to work with the boys and they did an excellent job of directing.

My favorite part was watching and listening as they collaborated on the scenes and figured out the best way to work around issues and get the best shot.

The final scene was surprisingly emotional to do.  The police officer that volunteered his time was super.  He provided some great insights and was extremely supportive of the boys.  We also managed to have some fun with it all.

I have to wonder what my neighbors thought when they saw a police car parked in my driveway for the better part of an afternoon. A “behind the scenes” post will be coming with lots of great pictures.

Whirlwind Weekend

Chicago in the Fall

Last weekend, I had an unprecedented experience in the long term parking lot. The shuttle bus picked up everyone but me.  I don’t know how the driver missed me, I drove right past him on my way in.  While I watched him leave the lot I called the main number (I just happen to have it stored as a contact). They were very apologetic and assured me that the next shuttle would pick me up.

Thankfully  I’d been smart enough to leave my house at 5:30 am for my 8:00 flight so while I was slightly annoyed at being left behind, there was no danger of missing my flight.  I shivered and waited for what seemed like a lot longer than 15 minutes. Finally I saw the lights of the shuttle bus.  I watched them bob and weave from one aisle to the next and for whatever reason, my row was passed by, not once – but twice.

I thought for sure the driver was going to turn right and pick me up but he kept going straight.  What baffles me even more than the fact that I’d given the dispatcher my location was the fact that it was dark and I was wearing an ivory cape and he still didn’t see me.

For the first time in my life I was glad that I have a loud and rather booming voice. I’m sure I looked like a crazy woman running from the middle of the row toward the shuttle.  Trying to wave your arms and shouting “STOP” at the top of your lungs isn’t as easy as it sounds when you’re rolling a giant purple suitcase and the straps of your laptop case and purse keep sliding down your arm.

Surprisingly, he heard me even though my starting point was the middle of a very long row of cars.  My fears about looking like a crazy woman were somewhat confirmed by the looks on the other passengers faces; either that or they were just displeased about having their exit to the airport interrupted.

The rest of my trip was smooth and even though my boarding position for my Southwest flight was B15, I still scored an aisle seat in the second row.  My bag was the first one on the carousel (that never happens) and I got a cab driver who didn’t need directions to Katie’s apartment.

I should probably mention that the purpose of my trip to Chicago was two-fold.  It worked well for my client to meet on a Monday which created an opportunity for me to mix business and pleasure and spend the weekend with my daughter.

I love the fact that my kids and I really like each other and enjoy doing things together.  Sometimes it’s hard because we live so far away from each other, but in other ways it makes our visits even more special.

I was anxious to see Katie’s new apartment and to finally meet her roommate Dena.  The cabbie found her apartment with no problem. I’d been warned that the neighborhood isn’t “the best,”  but I was very pleasantly surprised and thought her building was quite cute and welcoming.

There’s no buzzer, so I texted my arrival and Katie flew out of the front door and into my arms for a big hug.

We spent the morning lounging and deciding what to do. After much discussion and no decisions, we headed to Walgreen’s to buy umbrellas and a day pass for the train.  Katie took me to one of her hangouts, a fun restaurant called The Blue Line.  Believe it or not I didn’t take a picture of it.  I was hungry, it was raining, and I forgot my camera.

After breakfast we spent the afternoon dodging raindrops, running for trains, and laughing about the things you can learn when you eavesdrop.  It was fun to get a feel for Katie’s surroundings and simple things like how she gets to work. Now when she calls me and says she’s almost at the train or bus stop, I can picture it in my mind.

Katie had an alumni event to attend on Saturday evening. So I hung out with Dena and prepped for my Monday meeting until it was time to call a cab to meet up with Katie and her friends.

The cab ride downtown was the polar opposite of my ride from the airport.  I don’t think the driver took a single breath.  By the time he dropped me off at the club, I knew his entire life story as well as his sister’s, and at least one member of his church.

I arrived at just the perfect time, they had just gotten a table for the group.  It tickled me to no end that every time someone new arrived Katie put her arm around me and announced, “This is my mom!”

Beth and Katie

After four years of hearing about Katie’s adventures, friends and coworkers I was finally able to put names with faces.  It was a fun night and we kept each other out until 2:30 in the morning.  I can’t remember the last time went out, let alone stayed up that late.

Sunday was a lazy day.  We slept in and then watched the movie Rent, which is one of our favorites.  Katie’s voice was so hoarse from introducing me over the noise at the bar that she couldn’t sing along.  After lunch we braved the rain, took in a movie, and picked up some groceries.

Last year I started watching The Walking Dead with Christian, so it worked out perfectly that Katie and Dena wanted to watch the premiere and have dinner at the Blue Line.

In addition to the regular fare, such as nachos, burgers, and beer they also created and served Halloween themed shots and drinks – which went well with the theme of the night.  It was awesome to finally have the chance to treat my daughter and her roommate to dinner.

Katie and Deena

We called it an early night and it was lights out around 10.

The rain and cloudy skies cleared overnight and I hugged my daughter tight and tried not to cry while we said goodbye.  I couldn’t help but take the sun peeking through the clouds as a sign that the meeting with my client would go well.

Chicago in the Fall

It was a whirlwind and completely wonderful weekend!

D.L. Day – And so It Begins

no standing - dancing only

I know many parents that dread the day their kids pass the road test and get the green light to drive from the state department of Motor Vehicles, or in the case of Pennsylvania – the Department of Transportation.  I am not one of those parents.

In fact I was a little concerned a couple of years ago when Christian expressed very little interest in driving and wasn’t even sure he wanted to get his license to drive.  Thankfully a trip to North Dakota with my parents last summer changed his perspective.  My uncle Alan has given all three of my kids their first driving lessons.  (I think I secretly wish he’d given me mine, but we won’t talk about the experience on the interstate between Lincoln and Omaha.)

Seven months ago Christian got his permit. He passed on the first try – not really a surprise.  I’m sort of hoping the daughter of the guy who sat next me that day never passes.  It was her fifth attempt.  I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say it may not be a good idea for her to be driving.

Surprisingly we’ve had very few “moments” since he’s been driving.  That includes the night before his final road test when we drove to the site of the test to re-run the course and to practice parallel parking.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was when we drove into the parking lot and there were at least a half dozen hopefuls hitting the curb and bumping into pylon cones as they tried to master parallel parking.  Christian and I ran through the course and several parking exercises without incident and mutually agreed he was ready for the final test.

His road test was scheduled for mid afternoon and the drive there was an opportunity for Christian to warm up for the final exam.  The route to PennDot is currently under construction.  There are a lot of lane changes and traffic gets very bogged down.

“STOP, STOP, STOP,” I shout.

Christian turns his head, “What are you talking about? We’re on the highway. I can’t stop.”

I frantically waved my hands at the bumper to bumper line of cars, “You need to slow down…it’s all jammed up ahead.”

With the confidence of a teenage driver he replied, “We’re fine.  I’m fine.  I saw it.”

I wasn’t as sure. It could have been last minute nerves on my part, maybe I misjudged the upcoming traffic jam, or maybe it was a good thing I shouted out.  I knew he was rattled and I felt bad about that.  And as he pointed out later, it wasn’t a great idea to shout out the word “STOP” while he was driving on the highway.

In spite of the poorly timed “moment,” he passed the road test with flying colors, handed me the keys.  After which, he handed me the keys and said “I think it’s best if you drive home.”  I could very well be the only mother whose kid didn’t drive home after getting their license, but it was probably a good call.

He’s off and driving now and in fact the roles have somewhat reversed.  Today I took the train to Philly for my writer’s group meeting and he dropped me off and picked me up from the station.

My Renaissance Morning

My life has been a whirlwind lately and outside of taking gorgeous pictures at the lake, I haven’t had much time for the artsy side of me.  My friend Kim must have somehow known that I needed both a respite from thinking about the best way to build a website and the amplified quiet in my house.  I wonder if she also knew that it has been a long time since I’ve taken myself out on an artist’s date.

Five hours after returning home from Raleigh I headed back to the airport to drop Christian off for a 9:15 am flight to Nebraska.  I95 is unpredictable.  The likelihood of an accident, road construction, heavy traffic, or a combination of reasons for a delay necessitates leaving for the airport a minimum of three hours before the departure time.

I checked my phone after a much-needed nap and listened to a voice-mail from Kim.  Before I could talk myself out of it I returned her call.

“Hey Kim, it’s Beth.  Thank you so much for the invite.  I’d love to meet up with you and your friends tomorrow.”

“Awesome! We’re meeting at Playwicki Park to paint.  Do you know where it is?” She asked.

“Umm, nope.  If you send me the address I’m sure I can find it.  Is it ok if I bring my camera to take pictures and a sketchbook?  I’m still not ready to paint,” I said.

Kim replied, “It’s a bunch of artists and whatever you want to do is fine.  I’ll send you the directions and see you tomorrow morning.  Looking forward to it.”

My GPS didn’t find Playwicki Park (it’s a fun word, I had to say it again)  so I printed out Mapquest directions and headed out for my date.  It turned out to be easy to find and a brick archway at the entrance welcomed me to my destination.  Not one, but three bridges spanned the brown river.  Two grand structures designed to support the weight and speed of a train and one smaller bridge which easily bears the crossing of a car.

I think the weather must have been specially ordered:  sunshine, blue skies, low humidity, and a slight breeze.  I don’t know if it’s possible, but I think it made the greens greener and the contrast between colors more vivid than usual.

I helped Kim carry her easel and paints to the river bank where the other ladies were already set up.  She scoped out a spot, hooked Cosmo (aka the best-behaved dog in the world) up to a tree, and settled in to paint. That was my cue to wander with my camera.

The view of the bridges was breathtaking.  But it wasn’t the water or the history that captivated me.  It was the playground.  It reminded me of a ghost town. Something was missing. There were swings and things to climb on as well as slides and see saws or as I call them, teeter totters. It may sound strange, but I would swear it was begging for kids.  The playground felt lonely.

I haven’t seen a playground with old fashioned swings and slides for years.  There was nothing made out of plastic with the exception of the swing seats.  It brought back fond memories and made me a bit sad at the same time.

Today, we don’t often hear the squeals that mean “you pushed me too high, but I really want to go higher.” Let alone the bump of a teeter-totter in the sand or the sound of wax paper against the surface of a slide. Why is that?

Have we as parents opted for Disney World and jet skis in an attempt to provide ‘fun’ for our children?  Have we forgotten that perhaps what they need is to experience is some imagination accompanied by exercise?

I don’t pretend to know what’s right and I know that times change. However, I couldn’t help but watch the artists painting on the bank of the river as so many have done before and wonder if we haven’t lost something that might be important for the next generation.

Are we forgetting how to observe the world around us without taking it for granted?  Are we neglecting the simple pleasures in life? There is so much to experience that doesn’t require a Visa or MasterCard.

Senior Pictures in a ‘Tux’

On my never ending list of things to do this summer was the task of finding a photographer and getting organized for Christian’s senior picture.  The days were slipping by dangerously fast and this very important task remained undone.  I didn’t know where to start and so I hadn’t.

My older two were sent home from school with packets of information that contained key dates, participating photography studios, and guidelines for the official yearbook portrait.

Last Tuesday afternoon Christian stopped at my desk, “I know you’re working, but have you gotten anything in the mail about senior pictures? I saw on Facebook that today they are starting on the B’s.”

“I haven’t gotten anything. They’re starting on the B’s?  What does that mean?”

“Well I guess they take the pictures at school, but I don’t know for sure if you have to,” he said.

A few phone calls later I was still baffled by the notion that senior pictures were to be taken by photographers in the auditorium and not in a private studio but I was able to schedule a time for him.  Thank goodness for Facebook or I wouldn’t have found out that he missed his original appointment.  I never would have lived that down.

Unlike his siblings’ photo sessions, all of his pictures would be taken from the waist up and wouldn’t include elaborate poses and sets.  They would all be indoors and there would be no props other than a tuxedo and a cap and gown.

The sitting fee was easy to decide on, it was five dollars for an extra few poses in his shirt and tie.

There were four temporary studios set up, three on the stage and one on the main floor.  Each studio had a screen with multiple backdrops, a camera, lights, and a photographer.  I tried unsuccessfully not to giggle about the tuxedo shirt that goes on like a strait jacket and has Velcro closures in back. I laughed out loud about the tuxedo jacket with sleeves that were too short paired with shorts and sneakers.

The photographer pinned a rose to Christian’s lapel, handed him a sheet of paper which he held in front of his chest for the first picture.  I knew it was to help identify the owner of the pictures later but it reminded me of someone posing for a mug shot.

In between the tuxedo and the shirt and tie pictures Christian re-tied his tie.

“Is it straight?”

“The knot is straight, but the tie part is a little off.  Do you want me to try and fix it?” I asked.

“No, just hand me your iPad please and reverse the camera direction,” he said.

Who knew that an iPad could double for a mirror?

We were done in under an hour, the proofs will arrive in two or three weeks, and I have a feeling the pictures will be much less expensive than Jeff and Katie’s were.  I think the strangest thing about it was the image of him in a cap and gown and how real it made his 2013 graduation feel real.

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Mother’s Day Flowers

lilies with color...pastels

I’m not usually one to do this, but I’m going to write a bit about my very ordinary but extraordinary afternoon.  After finishing the things in my life that ‘needed’ to be done I decided to take the afternoon off and enjoy the beautiful weather and my amazing porch.

Sunday morning I received a gorgeous bouquet of flowers for Mother’s Day.  It was one of those funny moments; I was writing in my journal and had just put the period on the sentence, ” I miss Katie and Jeff,” and the doorbell rang.  It was none other than the Fed-ex delivery guy bearing a gift of beautiful flowers for yours truly from my three beautiful children (masterminded by Katie).  No one will be surprised when I admit that I cried.

I’ve enjoyed each day as they have unfolded and revealed themselves in their pink, white, orange, and green glory.  Today was ‘that’ day – the day that all of the flowers were open, the leaves were still green, and no petals had fallen. Before another moment passed I decided to try out my newly discovered drawing skills.  I moved the flowers from the dining room to the porch, set up my easel, and slipped off my flip flops.

I started in charcoal and incorporated pastels.  One thing led to another and before I knew it the afternoon slipped away in a most wonderful way.