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Stepping Backward and Leaping Forward

August 15, 2010 by · Comments Off on Stepping Backward and Leaping Forward 

Sending Your Kid to College

Auburn University

I’d been through this three times before, but needed to gather my inner strength to approach the process again. The act of matriculating a child into college calls for foresight and patience, and guarantees the addition of more than a few gray hairs. Guidance counselors usually push teens to get involved around the junior year of high school, perhaps earlier. Why, some parents even plan the choice before the child is born.

The road to enrollment follows a jagged course; one that bumps along, occasionally hitting potholes like SAT tests, college visitations and those dreaded application essays.  (AutomotiveTraveler.com readers may recall my somewhat ill-fated spring break odyssey two years ago.) Once the admissions paperwork is submitted, relax and idle the engine while waiting for a green light. Will the checkered flag of acceptance unfold or the agony of rejection?

By the end of the senior year, the path narrows, a selection is made and deposits sent. Post graduation plans include road trips to orientation and shopping for what my daughter calls necessities: extra-long organic sheets, memory foam mattress topper, futon, flat screen TV, coffee maker, i-Pad, computer and books. Seems she slants towards conspicuously posh.

And so last Thursday, my husband, daughter Laura and I made final preparations. Our car(s) were jammed like the Beverly Hillbillies, albeit with higher priced items. Laura packed clothing for  every imaginable occasion and essentials for the entire freshman class; and then, she crammed in a little more. Hubby Jay would drive our BMW along the 350 mile sojourn to Auburn University in Alabama and I would follow in Laura’s car.

About two hours into the trek, we entered Interstate-75. Suddenly, a warning light alerted Jay to low tire pressure. (Yes, the car was unusually weighted down.) He maneuvered onto the highway shoulder and I proceeded likewise. Whoa, one of the rear tires was a shamble, a near blow-out. Thank goodness, he avoided an accident.

Getting to the spare tire, hidden in the lower well, required the removal of all the suitcases, duffels, lamps and assorted items stashed within the trunk (think– a garage sale on the side of the road). No sooner had the bags been unloaded when it started to rain. Alas, the travel gods were not happy, opening the clouds with a torrential downpour; the type that stings worse than a failing grade. Jay quickly restashed the luggage and called BMW Assist.

A decision was made for Laura and I to proceed on while dear old Dad stayed behind to mount the spare, then purchase a replacement tire at the BMW dealer in  Albany, Georgia. This plan safely brought us all to our destination by nightfall. Funny, but one of Laura’s classmates, who was also in transit, sent a text message saying her Mom was nabbed for speeding.  As I mentioned, the fates were swirling that day.

Next morning dawned hot and humid with overcast skies.  The heat index called for another 100 degree scorcher; after all, this was Alabama in August. We followed university directions and unloaded the immense pile of belongings at 11 am. Then I, and a number of other Moms, guarded the stacked assemblages as the cars were parked.

When Laura entered the dorm to check-in, we discovered a wrong key had been given out earlier in the morning. A student who was not supposed to move into the assigned four-girl suite had already done so.  What?? And another suite mate had moved into the side where Laura and her roommate were to share the space.

Much confusion followed and move-in came to a stand still. Read – I sweltered in the sun waiting with the bags. Just when I thought I would expire, we got the go-ahead to haul her belongings to a lobby. We paced and waited for the resident director to sort out a solution. This was our chance to meet Laura’s roommate and her parents, who were the epitome of southern charm and easily rolled with the drama. Finally, at 2:00, we began to fill Laura’s new digs.  She had chosen a lofted bed; one which Auburn hires installers to construct– of course, at added expense. Long gone are the days when my sons used concrete blocks to raise the beds in their dorms.

By now the atmosphere has transformed from high anxiety to family friendly; parents planned future tailgates and football weekends. Jay was in charge of piecing together modular storage units, a project reminiscent of Christmas Eve toy construction. The Moms made a run to Wal-Mart. By 6:30 pm, we’d all had it; dinner and drinks called.

On Sunday morning, Jay and I stopped by with foodstuffs and good luck wishes for a successful year. We found four girls a flutter, wearing dresses that would stir male hormones, yet they had donned them for the first day of sorority recruitment or rush. My, they looked beautiful (yes I’m biased), but the insecure girls worried about their shoe selection and make-up smudging in the heat. To be honest, my daughter almost forgot to give us with a good-bye hug. So much for poignant moments

Shortly thereafter we left for the six-hour journey home. The desired transition was not what you’d call stress-free or uneventful, but our daughter was officially a college coed with a school address. That meant we were empty nesters. For the first time in 36 years, I did not have a child living at home.

Stepping back to pre-parenting days afforded a sense of relief and freedom, but leaping forward left me with an empty laundry hamper and a permanent wrinkle in my aching heart.

Park Service Junior Rangers Defend the Fort in St. Augustine

July 26, 2010 by · Comments Off on Park Service Junior Rangers Defend the Fort in St. Augustine 

Touring Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Entering Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Entering Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Got house guests? Bet you have a favorite place to share with out of town visitors. During my childhood days in Arlington, Virginia, we took friends and family to Mount Vernon.  When I moved near Philadelphia, the choice became the Liberty Bell or the Franklin Institute. Now that I reside in Jacksonville, Florida, I venture to nearby St. Augustine and tour a National Park site-Castillo de San Marcos.

St. Augustine, founded in 1565, holds the honor of being America’s oldest city and the fort (Castillo de San Marcos) remains the oldest fortification. Walls of coquina blocks (compressed shells) surround the bastion which has withstood numerous bombardments, sieges and hurricanes during its 335 year-old history.  Each time I return, I learn something new.

Recently I invited my two oldest grandchildren, RJ, age seven and Kyra who is five, and their Mom, while they were here for Camp Lander (their holidays to Florida).  RJ wanted to become a Park Service  Junior Ranger, which he would report to his Boy Scout troop, and Kyra wasn’t about to be ignored.

RJ and Kyra with the Park Service Ranger

RJ and Kyra with the Park Service Ranger

We entered the fortress via a drawbridge through the Sally Port, the only way in and out and passed below the portcullis. We stopped at the Ranger station and the kids were given an activity book to complete and return.

The booklet included a guided tour which pointed out the important artifacts in each area. To be completely honest, I wish they gave these brochures to everyone because the information proves very helpful.

RJ and Kyra had to fill in the blanks, answer true-false questions, match pictures of objects with corresponding parts and organize steps in the proper timeline. They also had to find and ask a volunteer and a Ranger questions about their job. Lastly, they wrote their own opinion about the place.

We watched a video, inspected supply rooms used for food storage, gunpowder, cannonballs, troop quarters, and the all important “necessary”.  We climbed up to the gun deck and saw canons and watchtowers, as well as enjoyed the view of the harbor.

When our self-guided tour was complete, we listened to an animated talk given by a Park Ranger in authentic Spanish dress. Then, the children submitted the completed booklets, their answers were checked and they were asked to take the Junior Ranger Pledge.

Taking the Jr Ranger Pledge

Taking the Jr Ranger Pledge

“I, (fill in name), am proud to be a National Park Service Junior Ranger. I promise to appreciate, respect, and protect all national parks. I also promise to continue learning about the landscape, plants, animals and history of these special places. I will share what I learn with my friends and family.”

The process was pretty impressive and elicited big smiles as they received their badges.  I’ll take that pledge,too, if I can become a Junior Ranger.

Then, we headed off for ice cream cones! What a joy for me, as a grandparent, to share my love of history and one of my favorite destinations.

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Junior Ranger programs are offered at about 286 of the 388 national parks, in collaboration with local school districts and community organizations. Go online to The Ranger Zone (http://www.nps.gov/learn/juniorranger.cfm) to check out individual parks for information about a specific program.

Debi within Castillo de San Marcos

Debi within Castillo de San Marcos

Terracotta Warriors are Terrific, but Marching On

April 9, 2009 by · Comments Off on Terracotta Warriors are Terrific, but Marching On 

Terracotta Warriors Exhibit

Terracotta Warriors Exhibit

My daughter, the critic, is rather hard to please.  So when she called to say, “Mom, the terracotta warriors were terrific,” I was happy.

The museum had this cool video that showed how the soldiers were made,” she added.

And my husband, not the biggest fan of galleries, wholeheartedly agreed. “The visit was fascinating and well worth our time,” he said.

The exhibition comes from one of the greatest archaeological digs of the 20th century, the unearthing of China’s First Emperor’s terracotta army in Xian.  Initially discovered in 1974, more than 9,000 figures were buried for 2,000 years.  The excavations are ongoing, but these pieces exhibited are on loan from the Chinese government.

I was disappointed that I was unable to go to Atlanta, but on Laura’s rating alone, I can honestly recommend the show.  Now hurry, the soldiers are marching on.  They leave Atlanta’s High Museum on April 20, 2009.

Those who live near Houston, Texas can make plans to view them at their Museum of Natural Science after May 22. The last US opportunity to examine the statues will be from November 19, 2009–March 31, 2010 at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC.

To whet your appetite and learn more about the terracotta army, watch this excellent video: A visit to Xian and the Terracotta Warriors

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