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.