Category: Education

From preschool to college and beyond. I am a big fan of online learning.

How Do You Write A Great Personal Statement?

"Highlight" your achievements! (har har)

I’m staring at my screen, watching the cursor blink at me as if to say, “come on come on come on” while I feel that paralysis in my bones that comes from not knowing what to say.

There are a hundred things I could say, but I don’t know the right thing to say. The one that ensures my acceptance this fall. The one that means my transfer will happen and I’ll complete what I started. The one that means I didn’t blow it.

The right thing.

Let me put it this way: Depending on who reads my personal statement, the right answer will vary. If the person who reads it finds the Lifetime channel to be the best thing since sliced bread…the answer is to write a fantastic statement highlighting any abuse or trauma and how I, as a strong woman, rose above it. If the person who reads my personal statement is more of a Comedy Central fan then going for the humorous side of life and showing an upbeat and positive attitude will be a sure-fire winner. If they like suspense, I should write it that way.

I’m pretty sure the only thing I don’t want to write is a bland non-fiction piece. They must get a lot of those. A “just the facts ma’am” listing of qualifications and intent. No one wants to read another one of those.

So…how do I put me in my personal statement? You know, without adding comedy, drama, and suspense in one small package – that would just make me sound crazy.

I wish I could just put the link to my blog. That would be convenient and revealing. But I’m a “follow directions” kind of person, so I’ll write it. I mean, how hard can it be? I basically write to you every day 🙂

Here are some resources that I’m going to use to help me get a good finished product!

Textbooks or Heroin? A Price Study

Ok, I’ll let you off the hook, heroin is more expensive per ounce than textbooks, bar none.

But that still didn’t stop me thinking about that all the way home from school today with $1000 in textbooks in my backseat (for those of you that read $1300 on facebook, I bought my Finite Math book a couple months ago from the OTHER school’s bookstore because I’m taking classes at TWO schools this semester.) I mean, I could get them used but then I have to be super-bargain-hunter and find out where to get the disc and code to access the Pearson online learning stuff that comes with most of my books (since I’m taking all the classes online or partially online) – even my Biology prerequisite class is a hybrid class. The class is online and we only meet Tuesday nights for lab.

How cool is that?

Back to the books – my Spanish book came with some folder thing and a dictionary. Because Google wouldn’t have been good enough for spanish-english translation I guess. I hate to think how much I paid for it. But I had to get the bundle or find the pieces separately and that’s always a scary prospect.

I should get around to finding ways to get really cheap textbooks, but I just don’t have the energy to “get good” at something I’m only going to use for (hopefully) three more semesters of school.

So, even though heroin costs more – it has to, it’s an illegal drug – my book still feel like they’re coated in 18k gold.

And I know there are places where I can the books for less. I cannot figure out how to get the CD’s that connect the class to the Internet for less, and those come with all but one of my books. Pearson seems to have figured out how to keep textbooks expensive.

Oh, here’s the breakdown.

Macroeconomics – Softcover $190
Microeconomics – Softcover $190
Spanish 101 + Dictionary + Folder with helpful grammar hints = $218
Finite Math – $218
Biology – $175 (cheaper because it has NO online learning CD with it. I probably could have gotten a deal on this one and may still look just to see what’s out there and if I find another one I can return the one I purchased.)

Fall Semester Over and Now I’m Sick (of course)

For the first time in my personal life history, I got sick at the perfect time.

Ok, it’s never really a perfect time to be sick, but if I had to pick a few days where I could afford some sickness-related downtime it would be right now.

I am done with classes (AND got my 4.0GPA) and it’s the week before Christmas. So it won’t affect my kids’ holiday or my final exams. There is work to consider and I feel just awful about not being at 100% for that, but you know what, nothing is happening right now that I can mess up, so that’s just fine.

I’m registered for five classes (18 credit hours) in Spring. Mostly online classes. The science class is a fun “hybrid” class where all the work is done online but you meet in person once a week for the lab portion of the class. So hardly any class time but still a full education.

Balancing that with going in to the office twice a week doesn’t have me nearly as freaked out as I thought it would. Sure, there are the jitters of having to go into a physical office and be socially acceptable, but I think I can handle it.

Then, come September, it’s time to transfer. I still have to fill out the transfer application this month before Christmas but first I have to have a real record of my grades and my registration printed out to send to them so they can see I’ve takien care of all the prerequisites.

It’s a balancing act, to be sure. All around me the kids are growing up and it seems I’m finally making a decision rather than letting the tides of life decide where to take me.

I think I like being a focused non-procrastinator. I like working hard and reaping the rewards.

Sick or not, I’m digging my life right now.

High School Sticks to Me Like the Jain Concept of Karma

One of the religions we studied in class was Jainism.

They believe that karma actually sticks to you, these little molecules of badness, weighing you down. Your goal through life is to get rid of that and become enlightened. Light in both a physical sense (because all those molecules weigh you down) as well as a metaphysical sense.

It’s an interesting theory.

One that I thought about as I dragged my friend with me to order my high school transcript. You can’t do it by email, you can’t do it by fax – you have to walk your happy old butt inside of that school and walk into the guidance office and hand deliver it with a dollar bill. Of course, the school is different from the last time I went. They have a security desk and you have to have your driver’s license scanned and they give you a visitor badge and if your friend wants to take a picture of her locker on the second floor you are going to get radioed into security and get a lecture about Columbine when you check out.

Because I totally remember that Columbine was because they let two 30 year old moms into the building and they ran willy-nilly for an extra two minutes in the hall. Honestly, we should have KNOWN we were a threat since we were, obviously, the threat. I know it sounds like circular logic but really, it makes perfect sense.

Making the joke about sneaking in the oregano and selling it to the dumb kids probably didn’t help my case.

But now I have to go back in on Tuesday to pick the friggin’ thing up. Sure they could just mail it but from what I saw when I was in there everyone moves at the speed of not, so it’s far better to hustle my butt in and get it done than wait for people who look like they’ve been frozen in time (especially their faces, no one in the guidance office smiled – not once) to take care of my future.

Why do I need a high school transcript when I haven’t attended high school in EIGHTEEN YEARS you might ask. Great because I keep asking myself the same question. I’ll tell you why and you can tell me how much sense it makes.

My school only offers finite math in the summer. It’s a prerequisite for Econometrics as well as Economic Statistics classes at UIC. Summer classes only meet for 8 weeks and I’m afraid to smoosh a whole math class into 8 weeks. I’m smart and good at math, but let’s be honest, that’s scary. Maybe not for you, but for me it’s scary.

So I looked around and found out that Joliet Junior College offers Finite Math as an ONLINE course, and all online courses from Joliet Junior College (and there are a buttload of them) are priced at in-district tuition rates. Bonus. The only thing is you have to go to the school for the tests, but you have a days-long window to go in and complete the test at a convenient time of your choosing. Bonus x 2! So I call up the math dude that handles all the math classes and getting into them and he was very friendly and told me my Pre-Calculus would not be enough to get me into his Finite Math class.

I needed a year of high school geometry.

I tried to remember if I’d taken high school geometry. I asked, “That’s the one with the protractor and the compass and the golf pencils, right?” He laughed and said, “Yes.” I said, “What should I have learned from Geometry that I’ll need to know? He said, “The Pythagorean Theorum.” I said, “You mean a-squared plus b-squared equals c-squared?” He said, “Um…yes.” I said, “Didn’t think I was going to know that, did you?” He said, “No.”

So I’m getting the transcript and if I’m not mistaken I did take geometry because the teacher might have been the one that tried to have me committed for reading in her class when I was supposed to be listening. Or something. I didn’t like her much either but I didn’t make phone calls to get her yanked from school. She should have done the same, but that’s okay, I’m pretty sure she was not and is not a happy woman, wherever she is. All that to say I’m pretty sure I took the class. Hopefully.

You do have to take math all four years you’re in high school, right? Because I cannot remember my fourth class. I took Algebra, Algebra II, Geometry, and then they put me in Calculus and then I was all, “Oh hey, get me OUT of here, I am not a Mathlete!” (ok, I was for one semester, but shouldn’t have been – I didn’t know crap about math) so they would have had to transfer me into another math class that wasn’t Calculus but I can’t remember what it was because it wasn’t Trig because I have NO idea what happens in a Trig class. I can’t even spell the full word Trig is short for, but I could say it if I had to. Maybe spell check can help me out Trigonometry. Ha! It didn’t even correct me!

I wish the school would just fax my transcript for me. But at the same time, it will be nice to look and see what that fourth math class was. I hate not being able to remember.

Ok, I’m done rambling. I hate waiting and right now that’s what I’m doing. I’m either taking 14 or 18 credit hours for the Spring semester depending on if I can get into this math class at Joliet. It is going to be a very, VERY hectic winter and spring and I have to say, I’m a little scared.

But then I’ll only have to take one class during the Summer, and won’t that be nice? Like taking a break before my transfer to UIC in the Fall. Funny, I’m taking all these classes and credit hours and even got special permission from the teacher to take two courses in economics at once, but I’m not going to be downright petrified until I transfer to UIC. That’s where my life’s work will truly begin.

Parent Teacher Conferences (or … They did What?!)

I spend many hours analyzing my parenting.

  • Am I too harsh?
  • Am I too giving?
  • Do I let things go too much?
  • Do I catch too many infractions and not let enough go?
  • When my kids push me, do I let them get away with too much?
  • When my kids push me, do I out-logic them too much?
  • Are they getting enough hugs?
  • Am I smothering them?
  • Do I yell too much?
  • Do I respond appropriately when they fight among themselves?

Plus the other million questions I ask myself every day during every moment I’m interacting with my kids. Am I raising that rare female serial killer? Am I raising the kid who will expect the world to owe them something?

Needless to say I was dreading parent-teacher conferences. I went through a round of these in a past life and I had no reason to think these would be any less painful or that I would cry any less once they were over. I mean, I had hopes, but you don’t know until you’re sitting in a chair that’s too small at a table that’s too low wondering if you’re about to hear that you have a sociopath on your hands.

Yeah. I was a wreck.

First we had the Kindergarten conference. I was late, but the teacher didn’t know because she ran over, so I didn’t come in making a bad first impression. We sat down and the teacher wanted to focus on academics. I finally told her, “My daughter is five. I am sure she’ll catch on to reading, writing and arithmetic…what’s going on with her social skills?” I held my breath as the teacher processed my question. Hoping beyond hope everything was going to be okay. Then she smiled and said, “She’s fine.”

I’ve never heard more beautiful words.

She has a little bit of a crying problem. Not for herself, but for others. She cries when bad things happen to other children. To a slightly absurd extent. I told her that we’re working on boundaries at home and she would get there and the teacher told me that she’d already seen improvement from the beginning of the year.

All is well and progress is being made. What more can you ask of a five year old?

Next was the preschool conference. My 4yo has only been in her new preschool a month and I was worried the transition might cause problems. We went over the same academic stuff and I said the same thing about social skills and again the teacher had the same reaction and said, “She’s great!”

There were some suggestions of things to work on, but they were SO small and SO easy I couldn’t believe how well things went. Both teachers think I’m funny and love how I parent my kids. They think I’m doing a GOOD JOB.

So yeah, I cried. I cried a lot. But they were the happiest tears in the world.

Everything is ok. I’ve been scared for so long that I almost forgot that I’m not an awful mommy.

My favorite part was when the pre-k teacher explained what patterns were in order to tell me how good my child was with them. I asked her, “Did you just explain what a pattern was…to me?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “You need to do that.” She looked at me, sighed, and said, “Yes.”

Wow. Who would have thunk it? The kids know more than their parents – sometimes even before kindergarten.

The Best Way to Pay for Summer School

For the umpteen years I’ve been in college, the time I always looked for the most – the time everyone looked forward to the most – was the payout of the semester “extra” student aid money.

I think this was the part of the student aid package that was supposed to help you eat or pay for someplace to live while going to school. Those of us living at home get a check at almost the end of the semester.

It would have been more if I’d taken 15 hours and maxed out my Map Grant, but I was just starting back up and thought that 12 hours was about the extent of what I could handle and be sure I wouldn’t blow everything.

Even without maxing out the Map Grant my check is over $1,000.

There are so many things I’d like to do with the money:

Buy this bike, for example:

It’s the Electra Townie 3i and I test drove it at a local bike shop. With a sticker price of $450 it’s not something I can really just stick into the budget at any time. But with that check, I could not only get myself a bike, but a bike for the girls as well.

Other things I could buy with the money:

  • Presents
  • Organizing stuff for the office
  • A netbook
  • An immersion blender (I would use it more than you think, we make a lot of soup around here)
  • New clothes for the girls
  • Did I mention the bike yet? Yes? Ok.
  • New clothes for the hubby
  • A new winter coat for, like, everyone in the family
  • A maid for like two months
  • A haircut
  • A pedicure
  • Get that thing fixed on the car that makes a clunking noise but doesn’t HAVE to be repaired because the mechanic says the broken part exists to make the clunking noise not happen.
  • Redo the laundry room so the dogs are more comfortable and it’s better organized
  • Buy baseboards for every room hubby has remodeled – because none of them have baseboards since he did.
  • Pay for a couple rooms’ worth of new windows and get that underway.

We’re saving up so a lot of those could, slowly but surely, get taken care of. Quite honestly the honors of the windows for the house will be handled by our tax return next year, so I’m not too worried about it.

But that check? It’s going into a savings account. Because you cannot get federal financial aid for summer school if you attend school full time in Fall and Spring. It’s that simple. (I looked it up all over the Interwebs and asked my school)

So, if you want to get school over and done with – and if you’re old like me you’re probably dying to learn what you need to learn and get out – save your financial aid check in a far away place you can’t access and use it to pay for summer classes. You can’t take more than 6 credit hours (ish) at most schools over the summer because the classes are crammed into a shorter period of time, so you won’t need much more than your student aid check to make your summer school dreams a reality.

Because really, if you’re a kid or young adult and want a summer break I am not going to tell you not to do it. But if you’re a returning adult that wants to graduate sooner, you want to take summer classes. You’re too old to need a three month vacation from life every year. Nose to the grindstone and all that.

Unless you have kids and a shoddy support system, then you might need to take summers off. But check with your school about daycare. My check would cover my summer classes and daycare if I need it to. Plus, I get another check at the end of next semester before summer school starts. I could pay with classes with this check and then pay for daycare with the next check.

I guess the key is to not think about your financial aid as money, but as a coupon for school. Not redeemable for cash value, but worth a lot when applied to the right product.

I’m considering putting my kids into the daycare this summer even though I do have a support system. Simply put, they won’t be in school and they need something to do. Day care will give them other kids to play with and some organized activity while I’m in school. Plus, it will give the husband a much-deserved break.

Censorship Sucks

Even if it’s self-imposed based on good, sound logical advice.

Except…since when to pregnant chicks give out good, sound, logical advice?

I’ll have to think about that some other time. Now? I am going to walk away from the computer and try not to think about self-censorship and the whole “It’s not okay to call people out for being impolite if they could potentially crush your future.”

As if I would warrant such attention or effort.


So Close to the End of the Semester

By Monday I have due:

  • Two quizzes in political science
  • A fully prepared speech
  • A paper on the difference between culture and religion
  • Begin writing a paper on local township government (makes me want to cry)

The research paper on the culture vs. religion question is to be in between 2-3 pages (double spaced, times new roman) and use at least four sources cited in text. How on earth am I supposed to write that paper properly without at least twenty sources and ten pages to work with? I’m afraid going over will get my grade lowered (following directions is so important and going above and beyond is not encouraged in academia, it seems) so I have to stay right in that sweet spot.

Take into account the heading on most papers takes up a third of the first page and it makes my jaw drop that I’m probably the only person in class citing my butt off worrying about going over.

The curse of being a natural writer. Or a practiced writer. Or a professional writer. Take your pick, because it’s probably a little bit of all of them. But you don’t get paid by the word in school, so you do exactly what you’re told to prove you were paying attention and following directions.

Everything ends December 15th. Some classes even earlier. I could theoretically be done with humanities and political science by December 3rd! (that’s right around the corner!) The final exam for communications and physics are in person, so those will be the ones that take me out to December 13th and December 17th.

Then we look toward January and Spring semester. Spanish, Calculus, and Micro- and Macro- Economics. Can you believe I had to get special permission to take both of the Economics classes in the same semester? Like I might mix up the hierarchy of needs with the global perspective of supply and demand. Or something. One is little, one is big. I think I can handle it.

Christmas break will be spent pouring over multiple pre-calculus books I have in the house. Just in case. I want to make sure I’m as prepared as possible. I considered buying Rosetta Stone for Spanish in order to get really good grades, but don’t actually know if that would help or hinder.

Anyone out there use Rosetta Stone to learn a language you also studied in college? Did they compliment each other or was it a detriment?

Book Fair Madness and Scholastic’s Evil Plan

Oh the book fair. It used to be the way to get books when I was a kid.

Not that I ever got any. Books were more of a Christmas gift for me and I had a love affair with the library. I never remember wishing I had more access to books, and my family is generally more about supporting the library than piling up books you’ll never read again? The “only read it once” theory is a sound one – there are so many books out there in the world just waiting for you to discover them… why would you waste your time reading one twice?

Of course, Kafka was an exception.

Yesterday we went and thought we’d be the awesome parents who showed up for the book fair and helped our kids pick out some great books. I felt like an awesome “doing it for the children” mom and hubby felt like the nanny, because in situations like this he’s always stuck with the baby.

We get into the book fair room about ten seconds after my pre-K girl and she’s already hunting the shelves like she has the scent of pray in the woods. We say hello and she barely acknowledges us as she looks feverishly for a book in the allotted time she’s been given – which I think in her mind is not nearly enough.

She chooses a book that comes with a CD of some movie star reading the book. The lazy mom inside of me is thrilled that my child will have someone to read this book to her, because Polar Bear, Polar Bear, I just DON’T CARE is pretty much where I am with that series of books. But I want her to enjoy what she wants and I certainly don’t mind some actress reading to her. Win-Win.

The class files out and we ask the book fair ladies when my K’s class is coming in. Oh, they had book fair yesterday.


I broke the book fair.

My child will never read again.

I push the awful-mommy thoughts from my mind and at about the same time the awesome book fair lady says, “Why don’t we just go pull her from class for a few minutes.” I look at her, stunned, “I can do that?”

“Sure! Why not?” She says.

So we go pull my daughter out of her class, the teacher tells me that yesterday she almost cried but that she didn’t and I congratulated S and reminded her to always have faith in us – her parents – because we might make mistakes but we always work at fixing them. We explained we mixed up the days and now she had the book fair all to herself.

This is where the real story starts.

S is combing the shelves frantically looking for a very specific book. She’s over on the side of the room that’s for the readers and, in the interest of time, I’m trying to usher her gently back to the big, pretty picture books like Olivia and Pinkalicious and Fancy Nancy (is it just me or does she seem fabulously homeless?) and even Dora. But she practically howls at me, “No, mom, I know what I want…it’s over heeeere…”

Ok, fine.

And then she found it.

Two books shrink-wrapped together. With some kind of keychain on the front.

“That’s LIP GLOSS!” my daughter practically shrieks while clapping and jumping up and down. She has scored a find. Not just a book, no, two books – and with a bonus glitter lip gloss.

I start to hate Scholastic just a little for conning my daughter to buy these books based on lip gloss. I’ve already said they can have whatever book they want and can at least get behind the fact that this shrink wrapped package is $9.99 which makes the books very reasonable.

Then I notice the titles. Juicy Gossip and Rumor Has It. Ok, I can work with these – they’ll teach about stuff she’s going to need to learn pretty soon.

That’s when I see it.

A big sticker on the front of the book that says, “Impress Your Friends! Blah Blah Lip Gloss!”

So, just to be clear, thanks to Scholastic’s marketing plan or goodness knows what else:

My five-year-old daughter just bought two books on not being a gossip with free lip gloss attached in order to potentially impress her friends?

Thank you, book fair, for teaching lessons that I thought didn’t start until at least 4th grade.

Luckily she can’t read, so when she asked what it said, I told her, “It says you can only use the lip gloss on the bus and at home, you can never use it at school.” She looked at me and said, “Of course.” So at least I didn’t make the mistake of letting those awful words come out of my mouth to her via Scholastic.

But, whatever, they sold me age-inappropriate books so what do I know. On the other hand, could I possibly have predicted glitter lip gloss when I said, “You can have any book you want!” I think not.

Bittersweet Holiday Season Approaching

There is SO much stuff I have to do before December.

Still don’t know what’s going on with Thanksgiving – I wish I could just skip the holidays this year. Go to Disney or someplace completely weird and off-the-wall (for us – for you Disney people that would be normal and cool) to celebrate the holiday so I don’t have to think about death and loss and no one to tell me the family stuffing needs JUST A LITTLE MORE poultry seasoning five HUNDRED times until your mouth can’t taste it anymore.

Now it’s officially not just my family stuffing recipe, it’s the one that’s been handed down for generations. Because they aren’t there to point to and say, “It’s her recipe.” anymore.

I want to give my kids a beautiful holiday season. I want to find a way to celebrate and remember my grandmothers without ruining the holidays by being a huge-ass bucket of sad mommy. I want to be here, at home, where I feel safe and have my house be filled with the familiar aroma of turkey cooking and stuffing being made.

And stuffing being cooked in the bird. You have a problem with that? Use a better internal thermometer. I’m not ruining a tradition because somebody else gave their family salmonella or e-coli or some other “the stuffing wasn’t brought to the correct temperature” virus. I will happily risk my life yearly in order to eat stuffing from inside of the body cavity of a dead bird. Holla.

The wind down of my college classes is barreling down. Two classes can be done and over with December 3rd, and my goal is to make exactly that happen. Then I can just show up for the in-person classes and rock my final exams and be done for the semester.

I didn’t have any fancy folders, no new backpack, no cool spiral notebooks this year. I used a manila folder for every class and the backpack we’ve had since S was a baby five years ago. I used pencils and pens from around the house and my iPhone calculator (thank you graphing calculator app!) to get everything done.

Even without the super-cool accouterments available to students I managed to perform at a level I can be satisfied with. My late paper (late because there was some communication confusion on both our parts) is going to be accepted and not penalized, so I may just keep my A in that class after all.

Everything is going to wrap up nicely this year, it seems.

Other than my grandmothers both being gone. If I can just navigate around the edges of that hole in my heart, it might be an absolutely beautiful holiday season filled with satisfaction, knowledge of (many) jobs well done that have kept our bills paid, and the love that we have for each other as a family. Because lemme tell ya…Team Family is rocking so hard we broke the amps.

Yes, they were turned up to 11. How did you know?