Thursday, June 21, 2018

Final school and home Again!

Sunday night saw us safely in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, which somehow seemed very similar to Memphis. We were instructed to walk PAST Pizza Capri and into the nearby neighborhood to have the best Chicago deep dish pizza in the area.  We were not disappointed!  

Stuffed full of pizza, we walked back to our swanky Chicago hotel and went to bed early.  It was great to be back in the central time zone!  The next morning we had breakfast, got our final cup of Starbucks (My souvenirs as we traveled were the "been there" coffee mugs from all of our fun places!) and waited on the shuttle to take us to our final destination, the University of Chicago.

The University of Chicago is yet another urban campus.  Same song, different verse... we listened to an admissions presentation and then went on a tour.  The speeches were beginning to sound strangely familiar at this point... We heard the joke about siblings getting dragged along against their will, we heard about holistic application processes, and so on. We joked about the common story of the mom who tested the blue light safety system and was surrounded by campus police within 60-90 seconds.  Was this the same mom traveling to all of the schools we were? Did she really test the blue light system at EVERY college?  Or was it a different mom at each college?  Whatever the case, the blue light system is a good idea and seems to have improved campus safety around the country!

One funny story unique to U of C pertained to their annual scavenger hunt, which is an elaborate, fun event.  According to our tour guide, the challenge was to re-create a nuclear reactor.  Some highly intelligent students took this too far, created a real nuclear reactor, and were raided and arrested by the FBI.  When the misunderstanding was discovered, the students were subsequently released, and they were eventually offered jobs working for the government upon graduation.  Now, the University clears the scavenger hunt list with the FBI beforehand. This story cracked me up!

Here is the list of pros for University of Chicago:
Beautiful campus
Students are paired with a career advisor as well as academic advisor
90%+ students do internships, and there are internships reserved all around the city for students
There is an online platform that helps you find research opportunities
Dorms/ houses seem to have feel of community
Smaller school- 6,000 students
Students use ID to get passes to museums and cultural opportunities in the city
Chicago Transit is free with ID
You can check out artwork from the art museum to put in your dorm
More research is available for undergraduates than there are undergads to fill them
Financial aid follows you with study abroad
The school meets demonstrated financial need

The marine lab is in Massachusetts
Registration for classes is random and based on a computer algorithm

After our tour, we loaded up the car and hit the road for the last time.  Our 9 hour drive home seemed like a piece of cake.  About 10pm we completed our circle around the eastern United States.  The week actually flew by, and we all had a great trip! It is fun to go, but it is always good to come home. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

College tour continues...

This is Saturday night, and I am currently in Erie, PA.  I think.  Maybe.  Yes, that's it.  The admissions counselor from Duke accurately pegged it when she mentioned being on the college road trip.  "Some of you" she joked, "are living the life of a rock star right now.  Sleeping in a different hotel every night, going from city to city each day..."  So true!! I can't believe this is our 7th night away from home.  The week has FLOWN by, perhaps because we have stayed so busy each day, but definitely NOT too busy to take in some history and culture along the way!

I left off about our travels the night we were in DC.  We woke up the next morning in DC and left our car parked at the hotel, hoofing it to the metro station.  Like professionals, we checked fair prices, loaded our metro cards, and hopped on the subway to metro center. Because the museums were not yet open, we grabbed a cup of coffee and went on a walking loop past the White House and around all of the monuments. 

I'll pause here and say that if I was going to live in any big city, it would be D.C. I LOVE it there.  Sipping Starbucks and walking amid the hustle and bustle of our nation's capitol, I reveled in the fact that I was surrounded by so much history. We made the corny joke about "You may not see the Trumps, but you can always see the Bushes!" as we walked past the White House.  The color change in stone was noted on the Washington Monument.  Pausing to soak in the fact that over 400,000 soldiers died fighting for our freedom in WW2, we admired the details and symbolism of the WW2 monument.  As we headed toward the reflecting pool, we told Noah the story of Kilroy and told him about how my Pepa would stamp his woodwork with "George Lark was here."  At the Lincoln Memorial, the boys looked for the face on the back of Lincoln's head and we sought out the word which was almost misspelled.

We walked back down the mall until we reached the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. This was a "payback" visit of sorts.  When I took the kids to D.C. back in 2010(ish), we skipped this museum because Will was the only one who wanted to go.  Last November, I visited the Museum of Natural History with Josh and Unee, and I immediately regretted not taking Will all those years ago.  The boys were not disappointed.  After a few minutes in the ocean exhibit, I set a meeting time and decided to let the boys read all the details while I went to the gift shop and then to my favorite museum next door, the Museum of American History.

After visiting the museums, it was time to hike back to the subway, this time via Chinatown, and then to the car... the drive to Boston loomed ahead. 

According to to google maps, the drive was supposed to take six and a half hours to get to Boston. Unfortunately, road work and traffic extended the drive to TEN HOURS. Speaking of traffic... the route took us through New York City.  Holy cow.  This Mississippi girl will NEVER, EVER drive in NYC again if I can help it. That was the most stressful drive ever, but we survived and arrived in Boston after 1:00am on Friday. 

Way too early, we woke, dressed, and headed into Boston on the commuter rail train.  This was a different experience, because it was a real Amtrack train!  We boarded at the platform, took our seats (after an embarrassing fall down some steps), and the conductor walked up and down the aisles punching tickets and taking money.  It felt like we were in an episode of Thomas the Train!

By 10:00am we had gotten our coffee and arrived in the admissions office of Boston University.  Although BU had a very modern lounge with coffee and tea, the information session seemed much like the others we had heard.  It was probably the lack of sleep, but the session seemed flat.  Our tour guide did a good job, but we weren't "wow-ed." 

Similar to Charleston, Boston University is a VERY urban campus- So urban, in fact, that one of their dormitories is an old Howard Johnson Motel.  Will has decided that he definitely likes the idea of an urban campus because of the access to city life and culture. 

After our tour ended, we began a long walk- twas a very long walk, indeed.  From Boston University on Commonwealth Ave., we walked to Boston Commons, stopping by the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  You know, just to tell it hello and that I would be seeing it again in 2020. :) 

After a nice cafe lunch, I signed us up for a freedom trail tour led by a man in colonial dress.

  Will was mortified, of course, because the man was shouting in Boston Commons, "Here ye, here ye the 2:30 tour will begin in 5 minutes." However, it turned out to be fun and we appreciated the fun facts and anecdotes that the tour guide supplied. 

For example, in the graveyard beside Park Street Church, standing beside the grave of founder Samuel Adams, the tour guide pointed out the Beantown Pub.  "Over there is the only place you can sip on a cold Sam Adams... while looking at a cold Sam Adams."  Bahahaha

We finished our portion of the freedom trail at Faneuil Hall, walked back to the South Station, and caught the commuter train back to Natick.  By the end of the day we had about 24,000 steps without exercising!

Friday night we spent another night in the same hotel, and then slept late this morning.  Well, the boys slept late, and I got a great treadmill run in with my companion, Madam Secretary. 

Today was a driving day.  We made it from Boston to Erie, PA in about 8 hours. 

We tried to make a pro/con list for Boston University, but each time we just kept coming up short.  It just seemed like we didn't know much more about the school than we did reading about it on the internet, but here goes:

Pros for Boston University:
Urban Campus (VERY urban)
cool town/ history
Freshmen do community service together during orientation week
94% of students do at least one internship
Handshake Program (kind of like linked in for BU students)
If accepted, financial aid package would probably be better than W&M

Larger school- less personal feel
Career center seemed a little more formidable/ less accessible from what the guide was saying
Larger class sizes than the other schools

The next few cons are mine- not Will's
WINTER!!!  Will assures me that this is NOT a con for him, but large amounts of snow were mentioned in several situations. 
Distance from home- 20 hours is a LONG way. 

Tomorrow we will complete the drive to Chicago and hopefully have pizza for dinner!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

College Tour Day 4

I woke up earlier than the boys and took an exploratory run around Williamsburg and found exactly where we were supposed to meet at 10:00 this morning.  We ate a breakfast of leftover pizza and coffee from the campus bookstore, and made it to the admissions office with time to spare.

Very similar to the other colleges, William & Mary had an information session followed by a campus tour.  We learned some useful information during the information session, but the campus tour was AMAZING.  We walked around the campus for almost two hours and talked about everything a person could possibly wonder about the school.  As the tour guide described campus life, the college community, and the W&M experience, I could see Will as a student there.  Looking at him told me that he felt it too.  He was smiling, asking questions, and nudging me/ making positive eye contact from time to time. 

Although William & Mary undoubtedly boasts the "best and brightest" as well as Duke and other prestigious schools across the country, the atmosphere was not at all intimidating.  While promising to be rigorous and challenging, the school is a friendly, inviting place. 

As the visit ended, Will confirmed that he had it.  "The feeling."  THIS was his place.  The pro and con list was easy to make for this one, and I was thrilled to see that he had found a place he wanted to call home for four years.

PROs for William & Mary:

  • Color, symbol, mascot- love them all
  • 70% of undergraduate students participate in research, MANY of them get published as undergraduates
  • Great campus atmosphere and active campus life (lots to do)
  • Urban-ish campus/ adjoins colonial Williamsburg, great location
  • Lots of quad type areas
  • Career center is instrumental in finding internships for students early on in undergraduate career
  • VIMS (Virginia Institute of Marine Science) is connected with the University, and W&M undergraduate students have a greater chance for admission into the graduate program. 
  • Don't need a car
  • less than hour and a half from the beach and only 2.5 hours from DC
  • 12:1 student: faculty ratio... AND the professors TEACH the classes, not graduate assistants.  Also, the professors and research opportunities are very accessible to students. 
  • It was awarded one of the top schools for having a "happy student body," and this was evident in talking to the tour guide and the other people on campus. 
  • The tour guide spent a few minutes discussing how W&M was the first college to have an honor code. Apparently, the students were the first to be asked to swear not to lie, cheat, or steal upon enrollment. This may seem silly, but she took a moment to explain that although the pressure on students can be great, the honor code continues to be taken seriously. Additionally, the students encourage one another and rejoice when fellow students rejoice instead of feeling like they are in constant competition with one another. 
  • Acceptance rate is 34%
CONs for William & Mary:

There are only three.  Two are minor, but one feels somewhat insurmountable.  

1. Not all dorms have A/C!  (This was a shocker to the us, but she assured us that it is only hot the first week or two of school, and a fan is just fine)
2. Community bathrooms in freshmen dorms
1 and 2 are the minor ones.  

3. It is a public university, actually considered the "public ivy league" school. Because it is a public school, they have out of state tuition... and it is MAJOR.  Scholarships for out of state students are HARD to come by in a ridiculously competitive environment.  So, prohibitive cost is the only major con for W&M. 

After being encouraged by admissions to go ahead and apply for regular decision and apply for all outside scholarships we can find, we walked back across the street and had lunch at the Colonial Williamsburg Cheese Shop then got a few souvenirs from the bookstore. 

Spirits were high as we left town in the direction of DC.  Will informed me a little later this evening that he plans to research and apply for outside scholarships, keep studying to improve his ACT score, and come up with an outstanding admissions essay.  Actually, this is all his plan B.  I think his plan A is to be adopted by a family in Virginia for the in-state tuition and VA grants. We will see how that goes, but I am thinking plan b is a better option.

We still have two more schools on this road trip, and I am always holding out for Southern Miss as an option, so who knows how it will all work out! 

The drive to DC was only three hours, and we were able to exercise and then go to dinner at a local Greek restaurant.  
Tomorrow morning we will wake up and take the metro in to visit the monuments and Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.... AND THEN DRIVE TO BOSTON.  

College Tour Day 3

Tuesday morning in Durham dawned cloudy and threatening rain.  This was the big day- we were off to see DUKE, as in THE Duke University, home of the basketball playing blue devils. We arrived at the office of admissions and participated in a well-done information session touting all of the amazing things about Duke. 

The speaker did a great job, and it was reassuring to hear her say that they wanted to see that students took the most challenging classes available to them.  This was particularly comforting, because most students who apply at more competitive schools have multiple AP classes and honors classes on their transcripts.  Although Will has a great ACT score, this will be the first year AP classes will be available for him at our school, and he worries about being handicapped by a transcript which lacks evidence of academic rigor. The admissions officer emphasized the importance of the essay in the application process, and I think she made Will feel somewhat better about doing the best he can with what he has... an important lesson for all of us to remember!

Some positive notable things about Duke from the information session:

  • IF you get accepted, the school expects students to get $5,000 per year in loans, do work study, and parents pay no more of their expected contribution as determined by the FAFSA. 
  • Study abroad is included in the cost and the Duke Engage program.
  • Undergraduate research opportunities
  • Only the "Best and the Brightest" go to Duke
  • Freshmen live together in a place called East Campus.  This builds camaraderie and friendships.
  • It is possible to do without a car- transit around campus and Durham available
  • GREAT place for grad school (well funded marine biology research opportunities)
  • Color is blue

The room was packed, and we were broken into six groups to disperse and take a 90 minute walking tour of campus.

This is where the visit took an unexpected turn.  Instead of walking onto the chapel quad and feeling as though THIS IS THE PLACE, the Gothic architecture and single digit acceptance rate settled over us, somber and intimidating, like the ominous clouds threatening rain. To clarify, the lack of "the feeling" may really have just been the rain clouds dampening our spirits or our tour guide's several references to depression and mental health; however, I don't think it was the case. I just couldn't see Will "THRIVING" and "EXCELLING" there, like Dr. Sancho (College of Charleston) mentioned being so important. 

When we got into the car heading toward Williamsburg, we all needed a while to decompress and process.  Eventually we made a pro/con list.  The pros are listed above, but here are the cons:

  • The meal plan seemed expensive
  • Community bathrooms in the dorm
  • SMALL dorms
  • Intimidating atmosphere
  • 8% acceptance rate
  • Campus set apart from town (surrounded by 9,000 acres of Duke forest)
  • MINIMUM $20,000 student loans for an undergraduate degree

About 7:00pm, we rolled into Williamsburg, VA. It wasn't quite bedtime yet, and we were hungry, so we checked into our room and then headed to explore around Colonial Williamsburg a little. At the bookstore, we discovered that William & Mary is the "Tribe," but the griffin (half eagle/ half lion) is their mascot.  School colors are green and gold (Will saw this as a positive thing). Their logo is a W and an M meshed together with a crown, because in 1693 King William III and Queen Mary II of England signed the charter for a college to be founded in the Virginia Colony. 

We loved the area and found a quaint deli to enjoy some dinner and the latest episode of "America's Got Talent."  Back to the room, and off to bed we went. Although it was cloudy in Williamsburg, the next visit at the College of William and Mary already seemed promising. 


Monday, June 11, 2018

College Tour Days 1-2

Yesterday Will, Noah W, and I left church and hit the road for the first leg of our our American Road Trip 2018. I spent a while attempting to invent a catchy, clever name for our adventure, but that was the best I could do. After a happily uneventful journey, we safely arrived in Charleston and went straight to bed about 11pm.

 Monday was college #1, The College of Charleston. With approximately 10,000 students, the campus is urban, set right in the center of downtown Charleston.

Sprawling live oaks, impressive landscaping, and historic homes turned into offices and student housing meet modern, cutting edge classroom buildings... all within walking distance of famous Charleston landmarks.

 Although Charleston is hot and humid like MS, the campus was shady and pleasant. The presentation and tour lasted about 2 hours, and then we went to meet with a representative from the honors college. Following this meeting, we wandered around campus for a while, checked out the bookstore, and then had a picnic lunch in the car before leaving the parking garage. It was fun walking from campus straight onto King Street, a famous street of shops in Charleston.

 Within 20 minutes, we arrived at the Grice Marine Laboratory. A very kind and helpful professor sat and talked to us about choosing undergraduate and post graduate programs, marine biology careers, and undergraduate research experiences. His advice about how to be a successful student prepared for graduate school was most helpful: choose a school where you will thrive. For your undergraduate degree, it doesn’t have to be a big or famous school- your performance is more important. Go there, work hard, EXCEL, search for opportunities to get involved in your area of interest, NEVER take the minimum requirements for a program, take a wide variety of classes in your department, and be proactive in looking for research experience- this is almost a necessary prerequisite for a masters degree. He assured the boys that the students who follow this advice are successful wherever they choose to get an undergraduate degree and put themselves in a position to be accepted into high-ranking graduate programs.

 I was happy to hear him caution the boys about the long-term burden of taking on student loans. He seemed to agree that (for marine sciences) a debt-free undergraduate degree, rather than obtaining an undergraduate degree from a “prestigious” university, would not handicap them at all in their chances of gaining admission to a top graduate program. Being debt-free would give the freedom and flexibility to take a low-paying/ great-experience type job after college, OR it would make taking a small student loan in order to study and research abroad for a semester more feasible.

With this advice ringing in our ears, we headed out for our next destination: Durham, NC.

Along the way, we made this pro list:

Urban campus

 Museum of natural sciences
Recycles- dedicated to sustainability
Only 20% of students participate in Greek life
Health services is included in tuition
Close to marine lab
Close to beaches
Pretty campus
Friendly atmosphere
Honors college
Great library
Free transit around town (no vehicle)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Cooking Day

In an effort to start 2018 off right, my friend Candice and teamed up to cook for the month.  Years ago I tried once a month cooking.  Hannah was 3, Sarah was 2, and Will was almost 1, and I was a stay at home mom.  Although I was home every afternoon to cook, once a month cooking was the fad among my Sunday School circle, so I decided to give it a try.  Handy meals were nice, but the long day of work (made more complicated with little children) was not worth it to me AT THAT TIME. 

Boy, have times changed.  Now, those little kids have grown up into BUSY teenagers, and I am no longer a stay at home mom.  As a working mother with a busy schedule, I am often not home from teaching and practice until 5:30 pm or later.  This makes cooking dinner, one aspect of adulthood that has never brought me great joy, a difficulty. 

Candice and I decided that quantity was more important than variety, so we made 6 batches of 8 different dishes. We split the meals, so both families had 24 meals in the freezer.  This kept the prep rather simple, and it seemed to work well.  Cooking day was still an all day affair, but it was more fun with a friend, and I think the team work definitely shortened the prep time due to the principle of divide and conquer. 
We will be cooking again, and I think next time we will also add on some breakfast foods such as muffins and breakfast burritos to freeze individually.  These will make healthier "on the go" breakfasts for everyone as we are running out the door in the mornings.

SOUTHWESTERN QUINOA (8 Weight Watchers points WITH cheese)
1 1/2 cups quinoa
1 can black beans
1 cup frozen corn
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tbsp garlic
1 cup onion
1 cup water
1 Tbsp cumin
1 can enchilada sauce
1 pound cooked ground turkey (or chicken- meat is optional)
Optional Toppings: cilantro, cheese, sour cream

Mix all the ingredients except the toppings into a crock pot and cook on low for about 4 hours.

1# ground meat
1 onion
1 can ranch style beans
1 can kidney beans
1 cup frozen corn
1 can rotel
1 can black beans
1 can pinto beans
1 packet taco season
1 packet ranch season
5-8 cups water

Place in ziploc bag (without the added water).  To cook, place in crock pot or on stove top and cook until beans are soft.  Serve with tortilla chips

4 sweet potatoes
2Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp paprika
Sea salt 

2tsp olive oil
1 onion
1 lb ground turkey
2c frozen veggies
2 tsp worsteshire
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 c chicken stock
salt and pepper

Cook sweet potatoes, mash with oil, paprika, and sea salt. 

Prepare filling: Add olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, stir, and cook for about 3 minutes.  Add turkey and chop into small bites using wooden spoon.  Season with salt and pepper, cook until turkey is ALMOST done. Stir in remaining ingredients and cook until turkey is done.   Place in bottom of a 9x13 freezable baking dish.  Spread sweet potatoes over the top.  Cover with foil, and freeze.  Thaw, bake at 400 for 30 minutes. 

10 large tortillas (burrito size)
4 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
1 onion
1 Tbsp garlic
1 can chopped green chilis
1 can black beans
1 cup sour cream
1 cup frozen corn

2 cups shredded cheese for filling
1 large can enchilada sauce

Saute onion and garlic in a little butter or olive oil.  Add remaining ingredients and stir well.  Spoon into tortillas and add a serving of the shredded cheese.  Fold tortilla into a burrito shape and place in pan.  When all enchiladas are folded and in pan, pour the can of enchilada sauce over the top.  Cover with foil and freeze.  To bake, 350 for 30-45 minutes.

1 pound beef sausage, sliced
1 onion sliced
3 bell peppers (different colors) sliced
2 cans diced tomatoes, fire roasted- NOT drained
1 chicken bouillon cube
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp cajun season

mix all ingredients in a freezer ziploc.  To cook, place in crockpot for 5-6 hours or cook on stovetop until peppers are soft and sausage is done. Serve over brown rice or in tortillas.

4 chicken breasts
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/3 cup cilantro, loosely packed

Place everything into ziploc bag. To cook, thaw and bake 350 for 35 minutes.  Grill until no longer pink inside.  Or cook in crock pot on low for 6-8 hours.

1.25 pound package turkey meat (we used deer meat)
1 /2 cup bread crumbs
1 cup finely diced onions
1 egg
2 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup BBQ sauce

Mix all ingredients EXCEPT BBQ sauce and form 9 balls.  Flash freeze on cookie sheet and then place in ziploc bag.  To bake, remove meatballs and place in muffin tins or on a broiler sheet.  Top with BBQ sauce and bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes

2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp parsley flakes
2 Tbsp lemon juice
4-6 chicken breasts

Dump everything into a freezer ziploc.  To cook, thaw and bake 350 for 35 minutes.  Grill until no longer pink inside.  Or cook in crock pot on low for 6-8 hours.

Along with all of the meals, we went ahead and made several batches of brown rice to bag and freeze. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

December 23

December 23
Ornament with the oil lamp

As we are spending time anticipating the celebration of the birth of Jesus, it is easy to look back with fondness and joy at the ways the Scripture points us to the coming King.  

Yesterday we remembered WHY the King came- to suffer and die on the cross, providing a way for us to be saved.

Today, on the day before Christmas Eve, we will spend a few minutes talking about the SECOND ADVENT.  Did you know that in the Bible, Jesus never tells us to remember his birth?  BUT, Jesus DOES tell us to be ready for his return, or the second Advent.  

Matthew 25:1-13 is a parable that Jesus used to illustrate the need for being prepared for his return.  

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

This is a reminder for believers to continue pursuing the Lord.  We must be concerned with doing our Bridegroom honor and glory, and we should not be like the foolish virgins, who had the lamp, but no oil.  

Those who haven’t yet trusted in Jesus as their King can also learn from this parable.  We don’t know the hour when Jesus will return.  Why delay?  Second Corinthians 6 says,

“We also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain—  for He says,
‘At the acceptable time I listened to you,
And on the day of salvation I helped you.’
Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation.’”

Advent is all about preparing for the coming of Christ.  As we hang the ornament with the oil lamp, let us also remember to be prepared for His return!