Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Skinny

So, things have been just...well, busy around here. I got offered a new job at Germanna (yay!), which has a campus in Germany (might as well be; it's FAR), and one in Stafford, and one in Fredericksburg (both very close). Well, Fredericksburg is close to C's school and Stafford is halfway between the house and his school. I would not teach at the "Germany" campus (for argument's sake, it's in Locust Grove--doesn't mean much to really know, does it?). I was supposed to start in the fall, but they called last Friday, and asked if I could start on Tuesday. Tuesday. That's right, in three days. Ahhh, the life of the adjunct. At least I got three days to prep this time. And, at least I already had the books! 

That's the least of the busy. I've been studying anywhere between 4 and 9 hours a day for the GRE, which is NEXT Saturday. Ohmygod. The last (two--gasp) times I took it, I walked in without a care in the world, because I truly didn't value the test. Perhaps that's why I did so poorly. In fairness, I did study the second time, and I took it seriously-ish; but, I still skipped the whole math section. I know, I know, terrible, right? I have no one to blame but myself. I guess I couldn't wrap my brain around the fact that schools really used such a ridiculous thing as a true measure for viability of a candidate. Unfortunately, is an easy cut-off for them. Packages with a GRE score of X and below, they can just throw out and not even read. GRE scores with X and above, they get looked at and evaluated. Who cares how awesome your package is; if it's below that cutoff, from some arbitrary test, it's useless. So, I've got to do well, and not just well, knock it out of the park well. The last practice test I took, I scored in the 97th percentile in verbal (I was shooting for 99, so I'm  happy with that), and still in the 50th for math (I'm shooting for 60, but I'll take what I can get, considering where I started). I think I'm as prepared as I can get. 

Other than that, I'm working on getting some new papers at new, better, more prestigious conferences, so my CV looks like it wasn't dead in the water for a year. This means that in addition to studying, I'm writing and reading, and trying to research and write proposals. No biggie, right? It's exhausting. I feel like I'm in school again, only worse, because I'm the teacher too. I'm the grader, the assigner, the everything, but I'm overloaded with work at home too, all in hopes that I can be the student again. Every time a student comes to me and asks if they can turn in an assignment late because they ran out of ink, their printer didn't work, or they had to work late, not surprisingly, I've become a real hardass. Dude, get it done. I do. 

So, that's the update with me. Bryon is done with his basement rotation. Yay! Shockingly, we miss it. Collin said, the other day, I don't like Daddy's "new" job, which is really his old, regular job. When I asked him why, he said that it was because he's gone every day, and all day. He missed that he got four days off in a row, and that sometimes he was home in the afternoons. He still keeps asking if Daddy will be there when we get home from school. Poor kid. Change is hard. 

Collin is doing well. In three days, he will be a first grader. How that happened, I'm not sure. I was not consulted on this growing up thing. If I were, I wouldn't be allowing it. His reading is beyond what I could imagine. They keep sending home thicker and harder books. He reads chapter books on his own. He writes stories for us. Real ones. He illustrates them. He amazes me everyday. He comes up with complicated explanations for things, and raises real, interesting questions about the world around him. He is just, awesome. 

We are tirelessly working to figure out what to do regarding helping him now, and in the future. We have forayed into the world of mental health, and we are terrified by what we have found. Tricare gave us a list of child psychologists and child psychiatrists in the area (including Maryland and DC) and we had to call more than you could imagine, just to find one that both took Tricare and saw children Collin's age. Many refuse to see young children. Yet, everyone pats us on the back for intervening when he's young, rather than when he is fifteen and experiencing delinquency or school-related problems. Both fields (psychology and psychiatry) were equally difficult to find him care. When I went through the state clinic for help, I was told that the wait for an appointment for him there was 8-10 months! The same doctor that works there, has a private clinic, so I called there, and he has an appointment in 2 weeks. Amazing what insurance does, right? My heart breaks for families in the state system. It really does. I don't know what I would do without our insurance. I would be devastated not to be able to help my child. 

This whole process has opened my eyes to several things: the mental health world, how complex these issues can be, and how educated a parent must be in order to be an advocate for a child. Each phase does not give us answers, it gives us questions to go home, research, pore over, ponder, discuss until all hours of the night for days and weeks, and come back to the doctors with more questions to go home and repeat. No decision we make is done lightly. Nothing we do is done without reading, writing, thinking, talking, hoping, weighing. I will never, ever, in a million years judge or question another parent who has a child in a similar situation. I will assume that they've had these same conversations with themselves and with one another, and will know how hard these choices are and how difficult and overwhelming the information is, and furthermore, how complex and different each child's situation is. 

All we know now is that we have a couple of appointments coming up in the next few weeks that we hope will shed some more light because we have several more questions that we need answered, but those appointments will likely leave us with more questions, as they always do. We're looking forward to a fun summer vacation though, and Collin has already created a checklist of activities for his Mommy and Collin summer of fun (as he calls it) because I only work at night and don't have to study (I hope!--oh god, if I have to take it again!). 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

In a Nutshell

Yeah, I got rejected. Everywhere. It sucks. It's the worst. It's awful. It resulted in a few mopey weeks, a couple of days where I cried inconsolably, a couple days where I'm not sure I showered, and a few days where I got up, then went right back to bed. And now, I'm on track to try it all again next year. Yaaaaay (sense the meek tone of defeated encouragement).

First step: GRE. Again. To be competitive, I need to place in the 99th percentile for Verbal, and the 100th percentile for writing (you read that right: Mother F'in 99th percentile! I have to be smarter than 99 percent of the people who take the damn test; and write better than 100 percent of them). No sweat, right? Don't worry, I only have to do better than 65% of them on math. Shockingly, reading comp is proving to be the biggest challenge to this goal, followed narrowly by (not surprisingly) math. Ugh, math. What else is there to say about math, other than ugh?

In other news, there's news regarding Collin and his doctor's appointments, which I'm sure you're all abreast of, by this point. Suffice it to say, we are learning to navigate the wacky world that is mental health, and we are learning to be advocates for our child. We are learning to come armed to every appointment, not only with questions, but with the right questions, because we've done our homework. This is a big, scary thing to jump into, but it'll all work out, in the end. And, we're learning that they could tell us that Collin has an extra brain, or will develop a third eye, it wouldn't make a difference in the world; hearing that your kid needs more, is more and wants more, or is "special," (or any other way someone wants to describe it), seemed to only make me want to protect him, mama-bear style.

Oh, and tattoos hurt. Not that this would come as a shock to the general population, but just as point of interest, they really do. And, since I withstood the pain for two hours, on what is noted to be the most painful spot on the body, for nearly two hours, I currently hold the crown for family badass, in our house. No, it's not visible. Yes, it's big. No, I didn't cry, whimper or move (thankfully! It would've ruined it!). Yes, it looks great, but it's still healing, so pictures look awful. It's peeling, scabbing, swollen  and flaky in some spots.

And no, this wasn't a spur of the moment decision. I'd been telling Bryon I wanted this for years now, and we decided it would be a perfect graduation present. That's right, graduation present (remember that event, almost a year ago?). I knew what I wanted, sketched out an idea, and gathered information. I spent a lot of time researching artists, studios and reviews in the area to find someone who would not only do a great job in general, but a great job on the style and image that I wanted. Some artists are really good at cartoons, some are really good at flags, etc. I had an idea of what I was looking for. Then, I met with the artist to ask him if he could draw something I wanted. Since he was such a great artist, and so sought after, I had to wait six months (six months!!) for an appointment. Alas, I finally got it done this week. So, there was plenty of time to back out (and forfeit the deposit, of course!).

Anyway, it's done. Collin loves it, despite telling me for the past six months that he'd hate it. I love it. Bryon loves it. Now, it's just a matter of time, waiting for it to stop hurting. It feels like a sunburn that someone just scratched, and where it crosses my ribcage, it feels like someone punched me. It's been a few days, and it gets progressively better each day, but I'm impatient for it to heal. Overall, I've been pleased with the process, despite being really nervous to walk into a tattoo shop (I mean, seriously--I often don't like getting my hair cut because I don't feel like I "fit into" a salon; I couldn't imagine fitting into a tattoo shop!), and ask for someone to jab me with a vibrating needle for hours on end.

The "procedure" was as quick as can be expected for the area being covered, and because I chose such a consummate professional, I think it went even faster. It took about two hours and it's about 8 inches long, by about 2 inches wide. There is lettering and it's full color. The outline and lettering were the most painful, but after that, he could use a numbing agent on many spots, which made it almost painless for many areas. Note that I said "almost" painless. When there was no numbing agent, it hurt like hell and I'm glad it was done when it was, because I was reaching my pain threshold. At this point, it looks to be healing nicely, but I may have to go back and get one small area touched up; it's difficult to tell if the ink needs to be corrected, or if it's just blood at the surface of my skin that is marring the color that's there.

Like I said, it's not healed, so there is some light scabbing, peeling and discoloration that makes it look not so great. In my imagination, you walked out of the shop and the area is red, but it looks "normal" the next day. Not so much: it looks and feels like shit. For the first day, it actually felt like someone had taped a cardboard cutout of the design to my skin because it was so crusty and hard. It was amazing to me that the whole thing just didn't peel of like a fake tattoo. It's a little unnerving that each time I wash it now (2-4x a day), itty bitty flecks of skin and scab fall off, and they are brightly colored bits of skin, tinted with ink. It's a strange feeling to see your scabs suddenly dyed blue white. Crazy.

I guess you'll just have to be patient if you want to see what it looks like. Or, maybe not. Maybe it'll be my little secret.

Anyway, that's all the news there is to print for us lately.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Agony of....Defeat??

Most of you know that I was "rejected" from UVA last week. "Rejected" is in quotation marks because  I still haven't been officially notified. I sent an email to the admissions director of the English Department, asking if PhD candidates are automatically considered for unfunded MA's if they are not suitable doctoral candidates. This is sometimes the case. In most instances, people refuse this offer, as why in the world would someone want to repeat a degree they already have, and pay for it to boot?

After some soul searching Bryon and I thought, in our situation, it might not be a terrible idea, to at least start an unfunded MA at UVA, since it would keep my foot in at UVA, and it would be our best bet at keeping our family together. Then, I could reapply there the following year, and transfer the same credits to a doctoral program (assuming I got in). See, my PhD dreams are complicated by Bryon's career, which is at a crossroads with IDE (his military education). He has to put in where he wants to go (like as in this week). He can select someplace like here, or Alabama, and then a follow-on here (which would align perfectly with a school like UVA--one that I have almost no chance of getting into, but keeps our family together); or, he can select a random location like TX or some other locations, and I can hope that I get into a school there (but, that's like winning the lottery twice--he has to get that assignment AND I have to get into that school). So, we are putting all our eggs in the UVA basket and hoping.

Alas, the director replied to me almost immediately with the devastating news that no, they do not automatically consider PhD applicants for MA programs, and that no I'm not into either program. He did say that they aren't done considering, and that it's not official, however. So, I've spent a couple of days either moping or diligently planning what I should be doing to fix this situation (mostly moping). I pretty much cried it all out when Catholic's rejection came. Still, there have been some tears (mostly whenever Bryon tries to comfort me).

Anyway, I've got some concrete plans about what I will do and what I should be doing to improve next year's application and what I hope to accomplish by then, but it's all still a crap shoot, I've learned. We'll see what happens. I'm not giving up hope. The goal is to move to Fredericksburg, apply for the fall, get in, and forget this whole mess.

However, this morning, I emailed the director again, and asked him who I should speak with in the Medieval department about improving my application specific to that department and he told me to hold off until I'm officially rejected because there's an open house for accepted applicants. Seriously? Why are they torturing me? If I've been rejected, why aren't the notifications out? Why does my application show that it's still processing? Why make me wait? Why the delay? Why the grey area from this guy? What is the deal? This is horrid. I know that it's over, but this is just awful. The official word from the admissions office is that notifications must be out by 1 April, so at least permanent torture will be over by then.

I'm very excited to do this again next year.

Rambling post: out.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Beginning (of the end??)

As most of you know by now, I got my first rejection today. George Washington sent out a bunch of notifications today, and from the looks of the stats it's been all rejections (so, at least I'm not alone). Well, I did hear of one girl, who was bitching about being on the waiting list. To that I say, "Yeah, it must suck to be not outright rejected. Tell me more about how your life sucks."

Bryon was sleeping when the email came in to check my application, so Collin sat on the chair with me, and literally held my hand while I checked. When I immediately started crying, he didn't know what to do, so started hugging me, and started crying too because he was as sad as I was. He told me, "Mommy, when you are sad, I'm sad." Then, he said, "Mommy, I wanted them to say yes for you too!"

Without my boy, I'm not sure what I'd have done today. Once I stood up, to go wake Bryon (he agreed that any school news was grounds for waking him, even on midnight shifts), Collin ran to the garage to get me a Coke, because in his panicked, must-make-Mommy-smile-state, he figured that would make me happy (since I love Coke!). Then, when that didn't work for more than a second, he ran to his room and started furiously coloring and writing. He wrote me a poem/song (I think he might know it from somewhere that I'm unfamiliar with?):

Things will change
Things will change
So even thoe [it] is sto[r]my
ther[e']s 1 thing
vary kleer
things chang[e]

He also drew me a lovely hot air balloon, with my whole family inside, lifting my spirits. Seriously. I can't make this stuff up. 

All day, he sat with me, held my hand, and generally made me smile whenever he thought I started to get a cloudy look in my eye. We watched a movie together, ran errands, and I'm glad I had my best little buddy around on this "snow" day with no snow. This afternoon, when he determined, out of the blue, "Mommy, I think that there's nothing to worry about, because you still have two schools to hear from...and, they will both say yes." I realized that while this was a terrible blow, I'm glad I got it now, at 34 with my (almost) 6 year old son as a buffer. 

So, the blow: GW was the most competitive program that I applied to. They are a private school, with a reputation on par with Harvard and the like for English alone. The Med/Ren department is leaps and bounds out of the park compared to anywhere in the country. It'd be like me, as a runner, deciding that if I really try, I could qualify for the Boston Marathon next year. Sure, it's possible, but incredibly unlikely. 

As such, the rejection was not unexpected, but devastating nonetheless. It means I do only have two left to hear from, and two more shots. Most people apply all over the country; I'm limited. I had three shots. For example, I have a friend who applied to ten schools. Ten. She's been accepted to three, and rejected from a few, and wait listed on a few, to give you an idea on odds. So, applying to three is a very big gamble, especially when the three you apply to include two of the top schools in the country (GW and UVA). 

Alas, I'm still waiting, but it's the beginning of the end. I feel ten times worse than this morning (before I knew), because now I know what a rejection actually feels like, and because the waiting feeling is still there, only even more amplified now. So, not only am I still waiting, I'm also sad. It's a surreal feeling to know that you are out of the game, and still in the game at the same time. And, it's terribly terrifying to imagine the very real possibility that what you really want to do with your life may not happen, at least not this year. 

In case anyone is wondering, this is what a $75 application fee and countless hours of application time and worrying gets you. A form letter, that you have to login to see: 

Another Day: More Waiting

Since I'm in pain, you get to be too.

Yep, yesterday was another day of NO news. I was sure, certain, positive that I'd hear from CUA yesterday. The change in my application status on Cardinal Station has been sustaining my hope for a few days now. The mailman has been stalked even more heavily in the past few days now, as I'm positive he's going to bring me a HUGE envelope (or, a teensy, weensy, depressing one).

Collin and I heard him pull up on the opposite side of the court, and it takes him about 35-40 minutes to complete the other side of the street (about ten houses), and get to ours. Seriously, I'm not sure what he does on that side of the court, but it must be ah-may-zing, to take that long.

After the appropriate amount of time (about 30 minutes), I had Collin put his boots and coat on, and get "ready" to grab the mail, because he would be back any minute. Well, he was back about 15 long minutes later. Fifteen long minute of us staring at the window, anticipating his arrival any second. Fifteen minutes of hanging out with the boy, just chatting isn't so bad, but it was tense waiting.

Why did I make my boy go out in the freezing cold, snowy weather, you ask? Because I'd literally just finished running, and was in the middle of lifting weights. I was drenched in sweat. I figured it was hypothermia, or send the boy out in wonderland (he was loving the snow).

No matter, the mailman came to the door! There was a package from Gramps and Nana for Collin's birthday, so he didn't want to leave it in the snow. We greeted him at the door, which surprised him to no end (and terrified him, as the dog was exuberantly pleased to see a "guest"). People (especially mailmen, I suppose), tend to find her a little intimidating. Perhaps it's because she's, umm, large?

He ONLY brought the package to the door. When I asked if there was mail as well, he looked at me dumfoundedly, as if to ponder why anyone would want their mail? When he said that it was in the box, I asked if he'd bring it. I know, I ask a lot. So, he went to the box and got it, after dropping it in a puddle.

Alas, nothing but junk. All junk. It was perhaps, the most disappointing day, so far. I was so sure it would be yesterday; then, waiting so intently, and having the mailman bring the mail to the door. It just seemed like one big, long drum roll.

The funny thing is that CUA is my last choice (patooey--bad luck to admit it! I want in somewhere, anywhere!). If it's CUA, I'll happy dance and scream at the top of my lungs, crack the champagne that I've been saving since before I got my MA (it was supposed to be for graduation, but we forgot, and now I'm superstitious about it).

Anyway, another day of waiting. This is one of the longest notification seasons on record for any of these schools. I think they are torturing us. Oh, and the snow day yesterday didn't help anyone. Decisions, final decisions have to be made, by those offered admission, by April 15th (if they've been offered funding, especially), because the school's finances have to be worked out by certain fiscal deadlines, and they need to offer refused offers to the next in line with adequate time (sometimes, in cases like this, mere hours). I'm going to be kind of ticked if I get an offer ON April 15th. Oy.

Collin's school registration for next year is due March 22. A lot is riding on this. Please be today. Any school, please be today.

Most of you have seen this, but Collin decided that I was qualified for all the schools yesterday, and he made me this. I taped it to the wall, in efforts to remind myself that my boy thinks I'm wonderful, even if no one else, more qualified in the discipline of Medieval Literature does!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Okay, I'm Going to Say it

I rarely, if ever make a "deal" out of being a vegetarian. Mainly because people who do are preachy and annoying. No one likes being told that they are eating "wrong," or that the reason that someone else has made a life choice that is different from yours is based on a set of moral principles that are different that yours, that at the end of the day, you can get behind (a little), but can't reconcile with your dinner. Because, despite all the science, no one can deny that it feels icky to slice up a cow, with big ol' cow eyes. Right? It's easy to eat steak; it's difficult to eat cow.

I never argue with ANY of the facts, figures and data behind a meat-eating lifestyle. Top of the food pyramid, blah, blah blah. Got it. Protein, etc. Check. I've been doing this for over three years now and I'm good to go. Protein in check, balanced meals; I'm good. I don't subsist on mac and cheese (as some would believe) and I am happy and healthy. And, I'm not wasting away (as other meat eaters would assume vegetarians do).

The sole reason for my choice is because I cannot, ever eat another animal. We have recently made a conscious choice to buy free-range eggs as well. Because I'm not a vegan, I eat eggs. I can't stand the thought of not knowing what type of farm my eggs come from, and I've seen research on farms where chickens are kept in anything from drawers to coops where they can't even turn from side to side. Nope, can't bring myself to eat an egg that was laid under those conditions. Over the years now, we've made lots of conscious decisions like this. For example, we don't buy Tyson products; we buy Purdue because their factory/slaughterhouse practices have a better track record for cruelty. Not to mention, their products are "better."

You may ask, how can I eat cheese and buy leather. I struggle with it. Cheese is one of my sources of protein, and I know what cows go through to be milked (hormones to keep them producing milk, and sometimes ridiculous conditions). I try to limit cheese, truly, because of this, and work protein in from other major sources. Leather. I have no good excuse. Literally, none. I can claim that real leather lasts longer than Vegan Leather (yes, that's a thing); I can claim that I won't buy anymore (I would by lying); I can pretend that my one Cardinal sin here won't matter (it does). But, in the end, we aren't all perfect and have to accept ourselves for who we are. I am a boot-loving vegetarian. End of story. Maybe one day, I'll change. Maybe I won't. If my lifetime consumption levels saves a pig or two, I'm happy.

Peta (I know, groan now) despite it's reputation, has taken a much more moderate stance these days, and is much more, of a do-what-you can, organization. They are certainly "NO CRUELTY" ever, but they don't believe you are horrible if you have some boots. Their suggestion is to give them away, obviously, but they don't advocate throwing them at someone, or destroying them, for the sake of making a statement. They sort of think that, they have been made, the damage has been done, wasting them is wasting the life of the animal.

Recently, I was assigned to teach an argument class. We have tons of interesting discussions in there, and I'm teaching my students proper argument techniques. In other words, they can't shoot from the hip and fly off the handle. We are learning the logical fallacies, and how to construct a coherent, logical argument. For the most part, I allow the students to lead these discussions (come up with topics that are relevant to them, and I moderate, and interject when I see fallacies that they should be noting, etc). You should've heard the debate we had about whether welfare recipients should have to drug test. It was amazing. Just coming up with the terms of our debate (whether we should agree on random or scheduled drug testing was a lively discussion).

Vegetarianism came up last week, and the conversation has been sticking with me. A few of the points that stuck with them for many minutes are ones that I get asked all the time, whenever we have dinner with someone new, and I'm sort of forced into my "not a soap box," but stock speech arena.

1. What about bacon? Aren't you tempted by bacon? (Seriously, people are OBSESSED with bacon these days).
2. Why do you worry about animals, when there are so many people to worry about? Abused children? Homeless? (fill in the blank with your oppressed population)

So, based on argumentative writing, both of these points are a problem. Let's start with point 1:

Yes, bacon smells good. I'll never eat it again. Here's an example of why.

To me, bacon is not "bacon," it's a pig. It's a mother sow separated from her piglets. It's fatty and delicious to you because she was raised in a pen where she couldn't turn around, for her entire life. It gets fatty because she wasn't allowed to move. Yummo. Nope, it's not bacon to me, to me it's a sad life and it's horrible. I can't put that in my mouth without feeling devastated. When you taste salty goodness, I taste salty tears. (that was an argumentative appeal to pathos, by the way).

Pigs are highly intelligent creatures, and the term "hog wild" comes from keeping them penned in conditions like this. From lack of stimulation and movement, they will literally go "wild." I can't make it through a video like this without sobbing. When bacon smells good, I can literally, in my head, hear the squeals of piglets, taken from their mother; or, I can imagine that woman, sitting on the broken leg of the sow.

There are countless videos like this of modern day, current (in THIS country) slaughterhouses, from reputable research teams, including Peta. No one trusts Peta because they propagandize. So, the Humane Society was my choice here. By the way, slaughterhouses in other countries (oy), I think I'd have become a vegetarian a LOT sooner.

The direct answer to the question of does bacon smell good, though? Yes. Am I tempted by it? No. Is that an argumentative point? No. That's like asking Obama, regarding the budget crisis: Don't you want poor people to have money? Don't you care about them? Well obviously, but that's not the extent of the situation, now is it? I'm sure he wants senior citizens to keep social security too. And, I bet he wants the military to keep benefits. Oh, and I'm pretty sure he wants to work on education and a million other programs.

Now, let's approach point 2:
This is what we call a Red Herring (that's a real thing in argumentative writing). It's a common argumentative strategy that is applied, usually, in the news media or by politicians, when they don't want you to focus on the issue at hand. Usually, the two issues are tangentially related, but they aren't directly so. It's a common tactic, and I call it the "squirrel" tactic. An unskilled debater, or argumentative writer will see the "squirrel" and become distracted, begin arguing that, and forget his/her main point.

For example, the suggestion is that because I don't eat meat, I don't care about children/poor/etc. I could easily become heatedly defensive about the second part of that statement and begin defending myself, insisting on all the ways that I do care about these people. Or, I could dismiss that second half of the statement, and focus on my point. Which I usually do: "I don't eat poor children [or whatever else was suggested] either...moving on to why I don't eat meat."

Another example of a Red Herring is a headline like this:

Rapist innocent of bank robbery.

Um, okay? What does his being a rapist have to do with robbing a bank? It's a piece of information inserted into the headline, in order to sway your opinion of the suspect before you even read the article. A rapist may rob a bank, he may not. These two personality traits are unrelated; one does not beget the other, but because the two ideas were connected, your brain forged a connection between two types of "bad" people and made an assumed (hopefully for the paper/news outlet) presumption of guilt. The implications of things like this are far-reaching.

This is the "what does that have to with the price of tea in China?" approach. It works, a lot, on people early in their writing. This is what I have been using to teach fallacies.

Purdue Owl: Logical Fallacies

It's amazing to see just how many of them you'll find in, say, Facebook memes.

(By the way, the Purdue Owl, is widely known from University to University as a consistent source for reliable, writing information. I've used it since my undergrad, and now I use it as a teacher. This is a reliable source. I love making my students aware of it, so I use it all the time, instead of a book that has the same information, because I know they aren't reading it)

I know this is a total tangent: not related to school, our lives, or to Collin or the family; but, it's been on my mind because I really enjoy teaching, and I'm enjoying this argument class a lot more than I thought I would.

So, that's what has been on my mind this morning....oh and UVA released an English PhD result this morning. One. It was a rejection (with a pity offering to an unfunded MA). It's rolling, sloooowly.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Life: Currently

This is what GW is doing this week: some people are in hell right now.

All those little red boxes, which are hard to see on a screen shot, they're rejections. Gah! There are little areas where you can see what their packages looked like (GPA/GRE, etc), and these people were no slouches (4.0, etc). What is even harder to see, is that all these people were applying to a Political Science PhD program. Phew, glad I'm not one of them. But, it just means that PolySci went through a massive sweep of notifications this week, and it didn't look good for those folks, did it?

Oh, and the kicker? No one was even emailed, or called, or sent a letter. They all just randomly logged into their applications and discovered that they were rejected. Isn't that nice? Spend $75 on an application, agonize for months, and no one even bothers to tell you that you didn't get in.

To be fair, the application system lags behind email notification by a few hours, sometimes up to a day, so their "formal" notification may be to follow, but still. Since anyone in this process checks all their available avenues of information constantly, it's no wonder that they knew via system before they were notified. It's still a bum way to find out, right?

In other news, I hate Liberty Mutual for the rest of my life. They sent this envelope today, which I discovered, face down, in the mailbox. This is what I call a heart attack in an envelope.

See, Catholic is the only place that notifies via mail. They are also the most money-giving of institutions, so it wouldn't be shocking, if I were notified with a big envelope (please) that it looked like this and contained a bunch of stuff about a funding package (please). So, damn you Liberty Mutual for sending an advertisement that looks like this.

Oh, and why such venom? Because my application status changed on Catholic's student system yesterday. So, I can't view it anymore, meaning they are done with it. Done. Finto. I should be seeing something from them. Any. Second. Not just "soon," but any day. Like tomorrow (since today's mail contained this gem, and some circulars).

I may actually burst before then.

Homer is equally stressed out. I know it's a little blurry, but he was sleeping in such a ridiculous position, I couldn't resist the photo opportunity.

My men (and my lady) are taking it all in stride). Daphne is pushing everyone to one small corner of the couch. Bryon wasn't feeling well here. Poor guy gets sick so rarely, guess it was his turn.

P.S. Bryon's sleeping, so I scrawled the following across the front of the envelope and slid it under his door: "Dear Liberty Mutual: F.U. Love and Kisses, Rachel" (I wonder if the envelope will catch his heart in his throat for a second when he wakes up, as it did mine).

Thursday, February 28, 2013


So, the first round of notifications appears to have begun. I think. Yep, it's that certain. I think.

Thanks to the neurosis that this process causes, there is an amazing site where most people post their admissions offers, as soon as they get them. This allows everyone else, still waiting, to track which schools have started notifying, and by what department. It even breaks it out by rejections/acceptances and some people are kind enough to provide comments and their GPA and GRE/TOEFL scores. So, you have something to compare yourself to.

Anyway, when you start to see your schools, and your department appear here, you know that you should hear any day now. Supposedly. As I said before, it isn't necessarily a bad thing to not hear on the first day/round. It may mean that you are a second string choice. I don't care if I'm second string; I just want to get in. An instant reject is much worse!

The news of the day is that two of my three schools' English Departments made single notifications today. Yep, ONE notification per school. One was an international student, and one was an American. Not sure if that figures into anything, but eh. And both were "rejected." Why "air quotes?" (imagine I air quoted). Well, because they weren't flat rejected; they were offered unfunded admission into the MA program, instead of a spot in the PhD programs.

Oy. What to do if that happens to me? I. have. no. idea. Don't get me started on that.

So, that's the update. I'm currently on a 20-30 second email checking rotation, at this point now. And Bryon says I'm talking really fast, and my hands are all "flappy and weird." This should be a fun week or so (as I've determined that it can't be much longer than that--yes, it's an arbitrary determination).

This process is not for the faint of heart!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Crafty Happenings--In Other Words: Keeping Busy

Two things have plagued the McClain household of late:

1. The agony, and ensuing insanity, of waiting for doctoral school responses
2. Bryon's new ridiculous schedule

Apparently, the Pentagon's control center (trust me, this is the best way to describe it), has a small standing staff, but there is a requirement for a much larger one, so they peg the regular units around base for manpower, in rotations. It's Bryon's unit's turn, and thus, his turn. Because this job is a 24-7 job, it requires staffing round-the-clock. This means that for the duration of this temporary assignment, Bryon has had to take very strange shifts. He works 6 days on, then 4 days off, alternating shifts between days, midnights and afternoons. We're about halfway through this temporary assignment (he's done at the end of April).

It's been...interesting. Sometimes, he's home and able to take Collin to school, or even pick him up; this is something he'd never normally be able to do. Other times, he'll go for long stretches where he barely sees us at all because while he's home, he's sleeping. It's a very weird arrangement, and it reminds me of a modified version of what we went through last year when he wasn't around at all. It is much better because, of course, he's here a lot more; but when he's not here, it's back to me and the boy. A lot.

Anyway, between needing to distract my brain from eating itself and imploding with stress over waiting, and falling back into old Mommy and Collin habits from last year, we've been keeping very busy with crafts and all sorts of nonsense around here. Collin and I developed pretty good routines last year, managing pretty well without Bryon (not that we liked it one bit, but you do what you do), and we seem to have slipped right into them again, and we're making the best of having our time together again.

Last weekend, we had "science day." We spent about an hour making his homemade volcano erupt. We also did about fifteen science experiments from his science kit, but the volcano was the highlight of the day for both of us.

Collin went through a gallon of vinegar and nearly a box of baking soda. He has demanded that we buy food coloring next week at the commissary, so that it looks more like lava.

I was very impressed when he set up all his dinosaurs around the volcano and insisted that it should look more realistic. I wasn't so much impressed by the "realistic" argument, as I was by the creativity he had. It was pretty cute.

Oh, and in case you are curious, I took about 95 pictures of this event. When I showed them to Bryon later, he said that he felt like he was there because when you play them fast enough, it's like a movie. 

We have also been baking. Collin has discovered that Pinterest exists. This means that he's constantly asking me to look on the computer at that "idea page thingy" as he calls it, for new recipes and crafts that he can make with me. Nothing like a boy who wants to scroll through Pinterest, right? He insisted on this strawberry cake the other day.

I thought it looked easy, but it was less easy than I expected. It wasn't difficult, just a lot of steps. He loved it, and I loved making it with him. The best part about baking with a boy? He had his invisible ink pen with him (it has a light on the end), and he insisted that the light was required to "inspect" all of our ingredients for spiders. So, he shined the light into everything we did, and made little beeping noises to indicate that everything was passable.

Today, we made Perler bead bowls, which sort of failed. But, now we know how to make them better for next time around. Collin has a big barrel of Perler beads that he refuses to use. So, I found a way to make bowls out of them, instead of putting them on the peg boards and making flat images. He is pretty excited to make bigger ones next time.

We also made a snow shaker that failed miserably, but he is pretty excited about it because all the glitter stuck to the knight we glued to the inside. Either way, I'm just glad to be having fun doing things with my boy that he thinks are great. I love every second of this time with him.

Collin has become slightly annoyed with how many pictures I've been taking of him lately. What can I say? Who knows how long the camera will be working? I've got to take advantage of it while I can!

Oh, and in an unrelated, but interesting note: the cat has become unbelievably fat. He blames a glandular problem; I blame free-feeding. Bryon has started limiting him to one serving of food a day and has been expecting him to ration himself. This is how Homer spends a large portion of his day now: in total anger at us, planning our demise.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Agony: Defined

I've been getting lots of variations on this question lately:

"When do you find out about grad school?"
"You haven't heard yet?"
"When did you apply? Wasn't it months ago?"

So, here's the skinny on the whole process: basically, it's pretty terrible. It's agony for a few reasons; namely, it's this way because it's more competitive than anyone can possibly imagine, it's seemingly random, and because it all boils down to hopeful students being at the mercy of academia (which we know moves at the speed of evolution).

Firstly, the competition: I know that you all love me and think that because I've gotten everything I've ever applied for, that this is just "Rachel panic," and that it's not really anything to worry about. Well, I've got news for you all, this is, by far, the most competitive thing I've ever attempted to get into. For example, UVA, my top choice, typically gets anywhere from 100 to up to 4-500 applicants a year. It's considered the "ivy league" of public education (I'm not making this stuff up--Wikipedia it, even they know these basic facts--I aim high, no?). They let in around 12 PhD candidates each year. That's right, 12. Go ahead, do that math, because I can't. According to my GRE math score, I actually can't.

*P.S. While I know I would never get into Harvard (the real Ivy League), I actually did look at their program, and I made a conscious decision against it because it relied too heavily on Latin-based texts. Not my bag. Still, it made me feel good to reject Harvard. That's how I'll remember it, and it's how I expect you to remember it too.

Not to worry, GW, my second choice (only because it means Collin doesn't have to switch schools, if I get in there--not because it's actually my second choice; in a perfect world, it's my first choice by leaps and bounds), is actually on par with Harvard, Yale and the like. Oh, and it's a private school, which makes tuition beyond unbelievably expensive. Even with grants and the GI bill, we may have to eat Top Ramen for five years. Competition there? Whoa. Don't even get me started. They get more applications than UVA for roughly the same number of spots. They have a really famous Medievalist in their department, my favorite Medievalist in fact (does it make me nerdy to have one?), and his existence there alone garners lots of applicants who want to work with him (I'm not exception). It's like rock star groupies, only for nerds.

Which brings me to competition at Catholic; this is the least competitive of the three schools, but still an incredibly competitive one to get into. Why? Because not only do they have a great Medieval Department for literature, they are known for their Medieval History Department. They are an amazing choice, if I can get past all the priests skulking about the campus for seminary. It's also the only school that point-blank asks, on the application, "religious affiliation." I decided to put, "N/A" instead of "I don't believe in your nonsense, but I'll take some wine." Oh, and if this is my only option, I'm pretty sure I'm going to be sick the day that the whole campus participates in the Pro-Life protest. Either way, they also get into the hundreds of applications, for about the same amount of spots as UVA.

For all three of these applications, at least one person told me, "are you sure you want to do this?" Apparently, this is something, I've learned, that everyone is told during their application process. It's an incredibly soul-crushing thing to be told, as you embark on this ridiculously difficult thing to even attempt (let alone the actual education part!). Each time, it made me cry and doubt myself, but I persevered, and completed the 100+ page application packet for each school. Hitting "send" on the packet literally made me feel sick to my stomach, because that was it; no going back. That was November 19th. NOVEMBER 19th!

UVA's applications were due December 15th. GW and CUA have open enrollment, which means that they take (typically) 4-6 weeks, upon receipt of an application, to reply. Pshaw! Clearly, it has been three long months. Three horribly long months.

In that three months I have received four deceptively thin envelopes from CUA telling me various inane things like my file was complete, or that my letters had been received, or that I'd been assigned a student number to check my application. Seriously, I'm surprised I made it from the mailbox to the house without having a coronary with each one. Other than that, there's been nothing. Is this normal?

Yes. Apparently, from massive amounts of research, I have discovered that 4-6 weeks is like when people tell you that you might gain between 15-30 pounds when you are pregnant. It's an insane range, and you may gain 75 lbs (Jessica Simpson). There's an awesome website where people like me post their admissions results daily, so you can see if the schools you've applied to have started sending notifications, and it's just you that hasn't heard (which would be a bad sign--or, good depending). It's saving my life, because I know that despite my not having heard a word yet, no one else has either. No one. Not a single notification from the English Department at any of the three schools that I applied to. Phew.

Why would it be good to not hear, when others have? Well, it's sort of like being second string. The school sends out its first round picks, and because most people have applied to multiple schools, they have to decide which offer to accept (if they've gotten more than one). When they refusals come back, the schools have "extras" to hand out to the next round. So, if you didn't get rejected in the first round, but you know the first round was already notified, it's a good bet to hang in there, your day may still come. It's more agony, but it's still possible!

So, what makes the decision? Who the flip knows? There's tons of stuff out there to "help" you apply and put your best face forward, but in the end, it seems as much a crapshoot as anything else. There's all kinds of stuff about the school being a good "fit" for you, and vice versa; as in, I shouldn't apply to a school that has a strong American Lit Department, but only one Medieval professor. But, in the end, it seems like luck half the time. Each package has a general GRE score (blergh!), usually the subject area GRE score (double blergh...seriously, I did horribly on this), writing sample(s), letters of reference, a statement of purpose (hardest thing I've ever written), and all kinds of little things (transcripts, CV, etc). Talking to friends through the process, someone will get into one school and then rejected from another; meanwhile, someone they know gets into their rejection school with an inferior package in all respects. It's incredibly frustrating, because while you sit here agonizing, and wondering if your package is perfect, it may not make a lick of difference.

Additionally, you wait. And wait. And wait. I've been close enough to the world of academia for long enough now to know that professors are busy people. They are teaching, dealing with difficult students and trying to write their own papers for publication. So, when these packages come down the pipe, they don't have tons of time to read them. So, their department chair probably drops hundreds of them on the desk and says, "two weeks," which turns into six. And so on. Meanwhile, us poor, hopeful students, are running to the mailbox, or checking our email inboxes sixteen thousand times a day for an update to our online application, all in vain.

So, that's what this is like. Yes, I applied three months ago. No, I don't know if I've gotten in. No, I have no idea what my chances are, but they aren't good; but, neither are anyone else's! The only ding in my application's armor is my GRE scores (did I mention...blergh!).

This is what my day looks like lately:
-Wake up--immediately roll over and check my email before I get out of bed to see if any admissions offices did a batch process email overnight, telling students to check their application status
-Get up--get online and check all my applications anyway
-Pretend that I'm done--really, I'm not; check gradcafe to see if anyone got notified since I went to bed
-Go on about my day with an ear trained for the mailman--CUA notifies via mail, so I attack the mailman every day.
-Continue with  my day--Go online about lunchtime and check gradcafe for results again
-Review the admissions pages for all three schools--AGAIN. Agonize over the fact that some say 4-6 weeks and UVA says Jan-April for decision notifications.
-Get ready for bed--Go online and check my applications and grad cafe

Anyway, that's the reality of the situation. If anyone wants to send something in the mail, in the next few weeks, please don't send large envelopes. You're killing me. Every large envelope is like a heart attack waiting to happen; I can't take another false alarm (I'm looking at you Fredericksburg Academy admissions packet and Clinic paperwork!). And, if you want to send a hug, go ahead. Anyway, this was a long babbling update, but I thought I might give you the info because it feels good to vent! This is very, very, very, VERY stressful. I told Bryon the other day that waiting for this is like someone telling you that someday soon, you will either be greeted with the best Christmas-like day of your life, or you will be hit by a bus; but, you don't know which and you don't know when.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

No Pics of the Boy This Time

We've been taking lots of pics lately because we are trying to sell stuff on Craigslist. So, we have been downloading the camera every few days, and advertising. Collin wants a really expensive toy for his birthday, and we are caving and giving him a party this year too. He's practically never had one, so it's time. Oh, and if we (meaning I) didn't do the balloon thing for him (filling his room), he might think his birthday was ruined. In other words, we are being smart, and trying to offset costs with getting rid of crap that we never use. A room full of balloons isn't cheap, folks!

This results in lots of snapshots. Usually, we have lots of snapshots of the child. I've been happy with this side effect of snapshots of say, the Power Wheels Jeep. But, this time around, I discovered that we have absolutely zero snapshots of the child, and twenty or so shots of the dog in various states of existence.

In most of them, she's in various states of repose. Did you know that our wonderful new couches have to be wiped down with a damp cloth about once a week because she drools on them? The joy of a dog with lips the size of Steven Tyler's.

Or, she's just hanging around, looking like she could eat our house, us or the couch at any given moment. Since she has a penchant for actually eating the house (she likes walls), this is not really as much of a joke as I'd like it to be. Thank goodness for renting, sometimes!

She has been known to gnaw on her own toys from time to time, but she goes through them at an alarming rate. We bought her two new toys at Target yesterday. We had to throw one out within 20 minutes. Yep, brand new toy lasted less than a half an hour. Seriously.

She goes to the vet this week for a booster shot and a nail clipping (because she hates it and wrestles with all her might to object, and when a dog that size wrestles you, you submit). So, we'll get a new weight on her. My guess? 130'ish? She's massive. And no, she's not done growing.

She's 11 months old and she'll grow for another six months or so. She might have another growth spurt, but nothing major. She'll get another few inches in length and height, and probably another handful of pounds. Oh, and yes, she's sweet and wonderful, unless she thinks she hears any type of noise, at which point she thinks she's Kujo and must protect her family. I wouldn't want to be a leaf blowing by, or God forbid, a burglar, because that girl has one scary bark on her. I'm glad to be on the protected side of her wrath.

I'm excited to do this next photo download because I took about ninety thousand pics of Collin doing science experiment day while Daddy was at work. We had a blast. Volcanos, acids and bases, all that messy, fun stuff. He wants a whole jug of vinegar just for his own personal use the next time Daddy goes to the commissary. And, he's insisting that we buy food coloring this time, because you know, white volcano eruptions into a cookie sheet are just not messy enough!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

This sweet little boy is busy making Valentine's Day cards for his classmates. In one year he went from moaning and whining about having to sign his name on every, single card, to willingly signing not only his own name, but writing his friends' names too. Oh, and he's putting special stickers on all of them, and has insisted on creating little treat bags for them. Thankfully, with a class of only 11 students (they got a new kid), we can buy treat bags for all the kids, and it's not going to kill us. Woe to the day when he goes to a school with a reasonable class size. His generosity will have to be nipped in the bud.

Anyway, he's cute, sweet and perfect, and I thought the general population (namely, our family) should be informed of this. Oh, and he's turning six next month. Six! I can't believe that is happening. It seems wholly incorrect, as if some years have been skipped. He has stated, in no uncertain terms that he wishes to continue having birthdays beyond this one, but that he does not want to get any older, nor does he want to increase in size. In other words, he would like to continue an annual present haul, but would not like any of the negative repercussions of aging. Smart boy. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Other Stuff Has Happened Too

We interrupt your daily lives to let you know that this happened:

CHRISTMAS!!! (yeah, I know I'm behind--I told you last time that I wouldn't be much better than I was before).

He looks excited, no? I know it's not the greatest shot, picture-speaking, but it pretty much captures the mood of the moment, I think. This is what his reaction was to seeing the bounty underneath the tree, as he ran to the family room. Ah, to be five.

As always Christmas morning is always over too quickly. And, I know the years that he will wear a silly hat like this are limited. I'll take it while I can get it.

Although, knowing Collin, he might wear one every year. He's kind of a goofball like that.

We have had an excessive number of "Winter Weather Advisories," snow days and delayed starts for Collin's school in the past few weeks, all for 1/2" to 1" of snow, or even for some sleet. Being from Michigan, I can't account for the Virginia area's general trepidation for all things winter.

This is Collin's first snow day. He was utterly thrilled to wake up to his first real snow. He couldn't get outside fast enough, until he realized that gloves do, in fact, get wet and then your hands get cold. This revelation was decidedly unpleasant. By the time I got to the camera, this was his overall impression of snow.

That's my boy.

Not to worry, hot chocolate fixed everything. To be fair, he may have been equal parts disgruntled at wet gloves and the poor functionality of the "sled" that Daddy had tried to rig out of the bottom of Eddie's old travel cage. In other words, Bryon tried to push him down the hill in our back yard on a large, flat, broken piece of plastic. Guess what, it didn't work, and Collin was disappointed.

Oh, and Daphne says "hey," and that she's still giant. She's taken to sleeping most of the day, except for the moments that she's terrorizing the villagers (us). She enjoys the snow a great deal because she treats it like her own personal buffet/playground. She's pretty convinced that if she puts her face down and just opens her mouth and runs, she can scoop up every last bit of snow before we drag her back inside. She usually gets a fair amount. She also nudges up loose leaves or sticks in this process and thinks that they have been placed there for her amusement. You haven't seen anything until you've seen a 130'ish pound dog pounce on a leaf, cat-style. It's quite a sight.