Monday, November 20, 2017

It's Time to Play The Family Feud (Or, How One Family Conquered the Family Feud Audition)

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt

I am nothing if not a taster of life.

For some time, the delightful DP and I have been hankering to get an audition for our favorite TV dinner pastime, The Family Feud.  We have been meaning to send in an audition tape for forever but, like with many things, I just didn't get around to making The Big Idea into reality.  However, when the announcement came that The Feud was making its way to Charlotte to audition families, we knew the time was now.

And so I did. 

Here's what I wrote:

We are a modern day mini-Brady Bunch blended family from Greensboro, NC. We watch Family Feud as a family EVERY NIGHT from 7pm to 8pm while we're making (and, sometimes, eating) dinner! We all shout out the answers to the questions while everyone makes fun of me for shouting out the same answer OVER and OVER. I am Kelly Patterson, a 46-year-old mother of two boys and stepmother to two girls. I am in marketing and I do a little writing on the side. The Husband, age 50, is my new husband who is the father of two girls and new stepfather to my boys. He manages a shop that restores classic BMWs and teaches High Performance Driving School instructors. (He can drive FAST!) DP is his beautiful daughter, a 22 yo college student who lives with us. She'll be in Serbia until December 7 on an internship with the US Embassy there. My son Thing 1 is 17 and is a marching band leader who is searching for colleges and my son Thing 2 is a cool 15 year old who thinks he is a whiz kid at the Family Feud. We would love to come audition in Charlotte, NC! DP said she could FaceTime or send a video for auditions! Yes! Pick us! Pick us!

And, guess what?  THEY PICKED US!

Unfortunately, they wouldn't allow a FaceTime audition so we enlisted MP, The Husband's youngest daughter, to join us.

And so for a few weeks, we watched The Feud with a new, more discerning eye.  We (and by "we," I mean "me") analyzed the outfits of the contestants (they're always color-coordinated and the women always wear dresses), practiced channeling our inner Average American to get the top 5 (or 6, or 7, or 8) answers and even rehearsed our aggressive X signs with our arms to taunt our family opponents.

When audition day came, we. were. ready.

We made our way to the Omni Hotel in Charlotte.  Our young charges looked g-o-o-d dressed to impress.  MP brought her FiancĂ© and The Husband's tiny grandson as Cheerers-And-General-Hangers-On.

We navigated the always-harried Charlotte traffic and eventually found our way to the lobby of the Omni where we were instructed to follow the herd of Family Feud wanna-bes to the our family audition room.

Inside the room were about 50 or so eager families.  Some may have been a little too eager and hyped up on Mountain Dew (and I'm referring to the 'shine version and not the caffeinated version).  Those Woo Girls jumped up and hollered at the slightest provocation.  They made me glad I wasn't part of their family (I know, it's mean, but it was in my head!).

The rules were explained to us.  No video.  Excitement was mandatory.  Family huddles were also mandatory as was smiling.  Two rounds of questions for two families at a time with each family getting the opportunity to go first.  No buzzers were available but there was a bell because...well, people wanted to PRESS SOMETHING.  On-deck families were called to be ready so that delays were minimized between rounds. Check. Check. Check.

We watched.

The VERY first family had a team member who COULD NOT REMEMBER the things her family members had said.  When they were repeated to her, she would inevitably use one of them.  We couldn't decide if she was doing it on purpose to get more camera time or if she really was missing that many brain cells.

We watched some more.

For the next two and a half hours, we sat while teams of families went up, answered their questions and left the room with high fives and hoots aplenty.  The noise was nearly migraine-inducing between the buzz of the activity in the front of the room and the bored families waiting for their turn in the back of the room. While the other families were up, the Things studied their Family Feud questions.

We watched. And waited.

Finally, it was our turn.  We channeled our energy and made our way to the front of the room.  We wrote our name on the whiteboard (as previously instructed) and posed with smiles for the camera.  The Husband was our Team Captain and he steadily placed his hand on the table and one hand behind his back (as instructed) for the first question.  "One hundred people surveyed, top seven answers on the board.  Name something in your home that you want to remodel."  DING.  The Husband answered, "Kitchen!" with enthusiasm.  Number one answer!  The question went through our family, one by one, until we finally gathered our three strikes.  The other family had the opportunity to steal...and didn't!  We won that round.

Round 2.  "100 people surveyed, top eight answers on the board.  Name something people do more of when they're worried."  DING! I get the question and I immediately say the answer that popped into my head, "DRINK!"  I totally thought I had it.  Because WHO DOESN'T DRINK MORE WHEN THEY'RE WORRIED?  Stupid 100 people don't, apparently, because that answer wasn't on the board.  That was OK, though.  The other family got the question and we formed our Mandatory Family Huddle.  Our ace in the hole, MP, came up with our team answer but we needed to shout answers at our captain when the other family struck out.  They did.  We came out of our huddle and started yelling answers to The Husband.  He turned and gave our answer, "They BITE THEIR FINGERNAILS."  Ding, ding, ding!!! We won the round!

Our host thanked us.  We exited the noisy, hot room and found a bigger-than-life-sized picture of Steve Harvey to pose with.

So. Awesome.

It was a great deal of fun to be a part of the audition process. Our chances of getting on the show look slim (because there were SO MANY PEOPLE!) but, hey, how many families get the chance to say they had a shot at The Feud?

Our family can now say that we played a little bit of The Feud.  We missed our DP but there will be the chance for OTHER Great Family Adventures again.  I feel certain of it.

Still winning.  This blended thing is totally going to work out after all.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Senior Year...and Sayonara!

“Insanity is hereditary. You can catch it from your kids.”
― Erma Bombeck

Thing 1 stares into the future

I am ready for the end.

A few nights ago, a Band Mom sat next to me at the band banquet and bemoaned, "I am just so sad that this is the last year."

I looked over at her between bites of brownie, shrugged and said, "Let's get this OVER WITH.  I am READY for it to be DONE."

She looked at me, slightly horrified and then laughed nervously.  As if she knew I didn't really mean it.  But here's the dirty secret:  I am done.  Finished. Party over.  Let's move on.

OhMyGosh, I haven't taught him everything.  I mean, he still will often wash his whites with his colors.  I don't know if he'll ever get a job.  I don't know if he can DO THIS. 

Today Thing 1 entered his senior year of high school.  I have not yet booked his senior pictures.  We haven't finished touring colleges.  He JUST took the SAT.  I'm not quite sure if he's even INTERESTED in life beyond high school (nor, to be frank, is he actually interested in life at high school).  His life as he knows it is morphing into something completely different.

And I'm ready.

I'm not ready.

I know it's not say that you're done with parenting.  But I'm TIRED.  See, I never really knew that I had to worry about homework, teacher notes, whether or not the guidance counselor even knows who my kid is or why everything has to be so HARD for a kid who doesn't fit into the mold.  Actually, let me make that a little clearer:  I don't know why everything has to be so hard for the PARENTS of a kid who doesn't fit into the mold.

But, God forgive me, there are times that I long desperately for that rule-follower kid (you've met them) who does all the homework and turns it in and inspires a smile on teacher faces.  Sometimes, I am so tired of the everyday battle of just getting him to do the bare minimum.

I'm ready for 18.  I'm ready for next steps.  I'm ready for that little bird to fly out of the nest and test those wings that I've been helping him to strap on for the last 17 years.  I'm thrilled about graduation.  I'm ready to be a half-empty-nester.

I'm terrified he won't find his way.  I'm overcome with worry about whether or not he'll shower or properly use his alarm clock or wash his socks.  I'm worried that he'll be...lost.  My paranoia often manifests itself with a vision of an unshaven, unkempt 42-year-old sitting on my couch playing video games and eating Cheetos.  

I've never mourned the passing of time.  I don't wish he was a squirming, pudgy little guy anymore.  I don't miss breastfeeding and diaper-changing and waking up at 5 am to blearily load the Toy Story DVD in hopes of catching another half-hour of shuteye.  I was not sorry to see elementary school go and I was absolutely thrilled to wave goodbye to middle school.

But I sometimes wish for those simpler times when he didn't question my judgment and when the consequences for actions weren't so...high.  I hope that he doesn't regret not going to the junior prom.  I hope he doesn't wish that he had signed up for yearbook staff/the school paper/insert name of club here.  Did I encourage him enough?  Was I supportive enough?  Did I nag too much?

I swear that I did the best I could with the tools I had.  I was as engaged as I possibly could be without inserting myself into every aspect of his life.

I let him have too much screen time.  I am too emotional/inconsistent/crazy/uninvolved.

He's going to be absolutely fine with the next steps.

What if he fails?

He'll make this year work.  He'll rise to the occasion and he'll get those college applications turned in and, finally, he did take the SAT.  He will pass all of his courses this year.

What if he fails?

 I'm so proud of who my son is.  He is kind and caring and more than enough of all of those things that make character shine.  He is so bright and so funny. 

Will he be taken advantage of?  Will this be enough?  Can he find the motivation he needs?  The hardness?  The tenacity?  Will he roll over and give up or does he have the strength to make a way in this hard, cold world?

He's a senior.  He's at the edge of the nest.  And he will learn to fly.

The end.

And the beginning...

Monday, August 21, 2017

Ode to the Chateau Graphite

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Author's Note: Pronounciation of Chateau Graphite:  Shat-OH Gra-FEET (like the French, right?  Hush, it's TOTALLY LIKE THE FRENCH.)

This weekend, we said goodbye to a friend.  As the friend slowly moved out of the driveway, I felt a wave of emotion wash over me.  We had done so much...seen so much...weathered so much, really.  But the friend was destined for new things and different experiences with new friends. And so, we parted ways.

Obviously, I'm not referring to a real, flesh-and-blood person but the Fleetwood Graphite Pop-up Travel Trailer.  That pop-up has been there for so many of my face-aching-from-smiling, side-splitting happy moments over the last several years.

  • It was there for a tequila-laden day that bled into night when we listened to music, swapped stories and waited for our chicken to fry in the howling wind.  We took a magical wintry walk through the snow-covered forest and returned to the warmth of the cozy pop-up.  That weekend, we were the only (foolish?) campers to brave the weather in the Grayson Highlands.
  • We spent that one weekend just...sleeping.  We were so exhausted from just living our lives that we slipped away to Stone Mountain State Park and slept.  We didn't even hike that weekend...we just took a short walk and returned to the pop-up for another nap.  It was a welcome relief from the demands that reality forced on us at that time.
  • There was the time when we hosted our non-camping friends in Hot Springs.  We shared wine and laughter but, we found out later, did not share the love of the camping experience.  One of our crew found the entire thing distasteful with cold showers and dreary weather.  But she later decided to give us a second chance anyway in more hospitable conditions...and without the pop-up.  She is one of the people we love best in the world now.
  • Then there was the time when we saw other people heading out early from the campground.  We shrugged and proceeded with our dinner. The next morning, with tent poles collapsed and easy-up shelters along with our dishes blown askew and a mix of snow/sleet coming out of the sky, we realized our mistake.  We gathered up the shrapnel as quickly as we could, ushered the kids into the warmth of the pop-up and had bagels before making our getaway with our gear a little worse for wear.
  • The pop-up was a central figure as base camp for our wedding this April.  We gathered a few close friends and family members into a camping circle and said our vows.  Appropriately enough, we retired to our little pop-up, exhausted but happy and certain we'd taken the right step for our future.
  • We traveled cross-country with Things 1 and 2 in the pop-up.  By the end of two weeks, we were a well-oiled machine of handle-cranking, window-zipping, slideout-pulling, bed-making people.  We slept in that pop-up in Tennessee, Illinois, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.  It was a great place to rest our weary heads in the city, in the plains, on a high mesa and near the Grand Canyon.  

It's funny how much an inanimate object can become a part of your personal lore and even, perhaps just a little, become enmeshed with who you your core.  This pop-up was a part of our falling-in-love story.  And it showed us how much we share the love of the Great Adventure and how much we want to carry that impetus on into our future.  I'm an emotional creature.  I had a little hitch in my chest as that little home-on-wheels eased away.  But I also had a smile on my face because, now, the pop-up is off to Great Adventures with a couple of grandparents with three active grandsons.  We know that the new memories made with the Chateau Graphite will last a lifetime for those little boys whose future surely holds s'more-sticky giggles.  Our collective lifetimes have certainly been made richer by it. Roll on, little pop-up.

For now, we're prepping the Minnie Winnie for new memories of our own...for we are camping people and the wilderness always calls to us.  And there are Great Adventures around every corner on every day.  There are still face-aching-smiles, belly laughs and coffee-and-wine-drenched weekends to be had. And, instead of my usual hashtag of #StillWinning, it has become filled with the promise of #StillWinnie.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

25 Things I Learned Camping Across the Country

“No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one.”
― Elbert Hubbard

The Four of Us at Mesa Verde National Park's Cliff Palace
The Husband, The Things and I have logged just over 5,000 miles together on the road for our Great American Family Road Trip, or, as The Husband named it prior to our Great Adventure, the PTSD (Patterson Tilyard Southwest Debacle).  Admittedly, I was a wee bit nervous prior to our travels.  We’re a newly forged family and I’m not always sure how the Things are going to take my Alpha Male husband.  To my great relief, we’ve made it all the way across the country and back and I think the boys have a firmer understanding of who their new stepfather is and are even able to joke around with (at?) him. 

Completely exhausted from the last year in which we have prepped a house for sale, sold the house, built an addition, moved our families in together, we opted for this Great Adventure many months ago.  We packed our things, loaded up the trunk and camper and we left the Eldest Daughter in charge at the homestead, keeping watch over our faithful hounds.  The two youngest Things came with us, mainly because they, unlike their fully grown step-siblings, simply don’t have a choice in the matter.  We’re going and you’re going to have fun, dammit.”

We’ve missed our other children and our puppies tremendously along the journey but I’m so thankful we’ve had this Great Adventure together and for the things we’ve learned along the way.

1.     The boys have three food groups.  The Husband likes to cook.  He likes to cook things people like to eat.  He has finally determined that the Things have three favorite food groups:  bread, meat and sugar.  At almost every meal, he assessed whether they had at least two of their food groups and would announce that since they had bread and meat or bread and sugar or, in the case of pancakes and bacon one morning, bread, meat AND sugar, they should be satisfied.  He is working on adding vegetables to their required food group list.
2.     The Kum & Go convenience store makes teenage boys smirk.
3.     It’s good to have an itinerary.  The Husband is a Planner.  He is, in fact, the ULTIMATE planner.  This seems to be a great comfort to Things 1 and 2.  Finally, they have someone who doesn’t say “We’ll just wing it!”  In deference to The Husband’s hard work prior to our adventure and to the Things’ desire to know exactly what is happening each day, I compiled our journey into a handy three-ring binder so they could see how far we planned to travel each day and the things we would be doing (enduring). 
4.     The book IT by Stephen King has some uncomfortable sex scenes (we found that out listening to the audiobook).  Oops.
5.     We can set up and take down camp in record time.  Prior to this Great Adventure, we went through the pop-up camper and streamlined our tools.  We organized everything with efficiency in mind and included only those things we really need.  Yes, a wine tool is something that we really need.  OK, maybe it’s just me who needs it.   At the first site or two, The Husband showed the Things the order of business and, by the last camp site at The Grand Canyon, we were all a well-oiled machine.  The boys grabbed tools before they were asked and everything was put away in the same place every time.  (See number 3…remember how extraordinary The Husband is at planning?)
6.     The restaurant/saloon in Leadville, CO called The Silver Dollar has really terrible service.  Like, terrible.  I wanted to go there because I couldn’t go as a kid (duh, it was a BAR).  During the day, it’s more of a restaurant.  A terrible restaurant.  When I enunciated while giving the (terrible) server my order, the Husband asked if I was using my Colorado accent.  Before I could answer, the (terrible) server answered (she thought he was talking to her). “I’m not even FROM Colorado.  I hate it here. I’m moving.” 
7.     This country is big.  The Husband and I knew that prior to this Great Adventure, having both traveled all over the country.  However, the Things had never experienced THIS long of a road trip.  They saw corn (a lot of corn), desert, mountains, and the wide Mississippi river.  They saw elk up close.  They ran across a bearded lizard on a mesa in Colorado.  They felt the high dry heat of the desert and they stood high on the rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset.  When I was a teenager, I cut out an article from the Reader’s Digest entitled “There is No God?”  The article began with the statements, “There is no God.” It went on to say that the mountains just formed themselves, the animals just arose out of nothing.  It went on like that for a bit and then talked about the glorious beauty of a sunset and how the curves, hard edges and soft, flowing hills are so perfectly aligned against the sky.  It ends with “There is no God?”  I hope that the Things saw the grace and beauty of the earth with an omnipotent presence in mind. 
8.     Museum bathrooms really ARE clean and nice.  We found this out after eating the Maid Rite sandwich at the Mark Twain Dinette in Hannibal, MO.  ‘Nuff said.
9.     I don’t want to live in Nebraska.  Or Oklahoma.  Or Arkansas.  There are probably more states on that list but I guess there’s a reason I moved back to North Carolina.
10.  We can all get along.  As I mentioned, I was a little nervous prior to the trip.  The Husband is a very different parental figure than I am.  But, in almost no time, the two boys had aligned with him to mock me about my rule-following (Hello?  Crosswalks were invented for a reason) or my ridiculous morning-person greetings.  I hope they figure out someday that we went on this Great Adventure for them.  I hope they know how much love he pours into all he does even when he seems all gruff on the outside.
11.  Thing 1 has a new road name:  Trailblazer.  He earned it deciphering maps at Mesa Verde National Park.  Thing 2 is now Two Dogs Hunching.  But that’s just because of the joke.
12.  Satellite radio is a gift.  Even high in the mountains in the middle of nowhere with no cell signal to be found, our Sirius XM worked like a charm.  We listened to blues, classical, hip-hop, pop and, mostly, the Husband’s choice of Classic Rewind or Classic Vinyl. 
13.  There are no (few?) overweight people out west.  They either make better food choices or hike their butts off during the 2 months of summer every year.  This does not make me want milkshakes any less.  Nor does it make me want to move at all in 100-degree heat.
14.  I don’t miss TV.  Period.  Thing 2 has downloaded Mad Men on Netflix (don’t judge me…we’re talking about some of the more questionable things happening on the show) and is watching that during long driving stretches.  But, for the most part, we don’t have TV and don’t miss it. 
15.  You can move past mistakes.  So, SOMEONE left our National Park Pass at home.  I mean, someone PLANNED for it, paid for it and conveniently put it in a folder MONTHS prior to the trip and then someone just went off and FORGOT IT.  (Can you guess who forgot it?  Remember the one of us who is much more likely to just “wing it?”)  I felt bad about forgetting it and thought The Husband was mad (and, still, I think he was, a little) but we worked through the snafu.  I am a huge mess.  Always.  I speak before I think, I fall down, I spill things and I…well…I FORGET things.  We worked through it.  And I guess we will keep working through it. 
16.  There are people who drive with goats inside their personal vehicles.  True story.  We saw it.  And then we made up a goat-song parody to Prince’s When Doves Cry (re-titled When Goats Drive).
17.  Sometimes, lessons in opening and shutting truck doors are required.
18.   Raccoons are little bitches.  With cute hands.  And they try to steal peanut butter.  And they leave paw prints on coolers.
19.  Along the same vein, squirrels will bite.  They will. I have proof from the brochure from the Grand Canyon. And they probably carry diseases.   In fact, squirrels are the only dangerous animal they mention. #Validated.  That didn’t stop anyone from continually making fun of my irrational fear of squirrels.
20.  Camping on top of a mesa is cool.  Best. Campsite. Ever.  You should try it at Colorado National Monument.
21.  Farts are funny.  Always.
22.  A little bit of a schedule is good for me on vacation. A lot of schedule is too much.  This vacay had a perfect amount of schedule. 
23.  A 100% acrylic poncho that makes one resemble Clint Eastwood can be had off I-40 in Texas (or was it Oklahoma?) for about $10. 
24.  Coming home again is sometimes the best and most satisfying reward after a Great Adventure. 
25.  Best. Trip. Ever.  I am thankful…always.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

What's In a Name?

"Names have power."  
Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief

The future Mrs. Patterson
In less than a week, I will say vows binding me to The FiancĂ© as his wife.  I was so surprised when he asked me to marry him that I asked, aghast and surprised, "What are you DOING?" I gasped, even as he was down on bended knee with a beautiful ring held up.  We have had a long road, the two of us.  He's seen me at my very, very worst and still apparently thinks he should spend his life with me so I guess we're all good on that score.

When we are married next Saturday, I will take his name as my own.  I am thrilled to become Kelly Patterson but I'm finding myself practicing saying it:  "Kelly PATTERSON.  Kelly PAT-ter-son. Kelly Patterson."  It's kind of a nice Scotch-Irish name and I'm completely honored to take it on as my own.

It's a strange thing to change one's name at mid-life.  I've had a few names in my life.  My birth certificate had one.  Then it changed to another in childhood.  Then, I married The Ex-Husband and I took his name in my early twenties.  I kept it when we divorced because, well, I'd gotten accustomed to it and because I liked sharing a name with Things 1 and 2.  And I've built a career on the name Kelly Tilyard.   And if you Google it, well, I'm  the only one that shows up.  Not so with Kelly Patterson.  Will I get lost in the sea of Kelly Pattersons that have had the name so much longer than I?  Will I be compared?  Are THOSE Kelly Pattersons SO MUCH COOLER than me? 

It wasn't incredibly difficult to become Kelly Tilyard.  I didn't have many things to change.  My social security number and my driver's license were the biggies.  Now, I find that I am overwhelmed with the VAST list of things I will have to convert to my new name.  I imagine I'll get around to all of it within the next, say, five years.  I'm really on top of things like that.  (No, no I'm not.)

I never liked being called Mrs. Tilyard back in the day, but I find that I am looking forward to being called Mrs. Patterson.  As a young woman, I was highly irritated that someone would identify me only as my husband's wife.  "I have my OWN IDENTITY," I scoffed.  I didn't like to open mail addressed formally to Mr. and Mrs. Tilyard.  It didn't help that, as a newly married couple, I was a Navy Wife.  You can't do ANYTHING as a military wife without your husband's permission and/or social security number.  I couldn't get a military ID without him signing for it.  It chafed and I balked.  I had my OWN life, thankyouverymuch.  I've softened in the last ten years and I think I know what it means to become a wife a bit better than I did when I was much younger. 

I am not chattel but I am a partner.  And I am honored to take on my new husband's name.

I'm looking forward to being a life partner with Mr. Patterson.  I like building dreams with him and I'm excited about the Great Adventures we're already planning.  He's the yang to my yin.  The black to my white.  The pepper to my salt.  The Mr. to my Mrs. 

And I'll begin to get used to being Kelly Patterson.  (Do you hear how that just rolls off the tongue?  Kelly Patterson.  Dreamy.)

What a Great Adventure this marriage will be all on its own.  I do.  And I will.  Always. #PathtoPatterson