Saturday, February 22, 2014

Going to Graduate School

In December, at the end of the fall semester at Virginia Wesleyan, I decided on a whim to apply to graduate school.  I was initially planning to enter the work force first, and then I'd consider pursuing a graduate degree, but why wait?  I've taken breaks in my academic career before due to military moves and having children.  It was necessary at those times.  It's not necessary now, and there's no time like the present.  I love my field of study so much.  I'm not ready for it to be over, so graduate school it is!

December is a little late in the game to begin applying to graduate school.  A lot of work goes into these applications, so my entire winter break was dedicated to the application process.  You have to write personal statements and statements of research interests, proofread them, and re-write them over and over again until they are just right. You also have to prepare for and take the Graduate Record Examination, which requires quite a bit of time dedicated to studying.  

My initial choice was Old Dominion University since it's really the only college nearby that offers a Master of Science in my field of study.  I could apply to work as a T.A. and R.A. and have my tuition waived, so that would be a huge bonus.  The excitement of the idea of attending graduate school was so overwhelming that it took me a while to consider how it might affect my family.  If I worked as a T.A. and R.A. in addition to taking classes full time, how much time would I get to spend at home with my children and my husband?  The commute to ODU is terrible, so that's even more time I'd spend away from my family.  I met with a faculty member in which we discussed the program and research opportunities.  They have never had anyone go through the program who was a primary care provider for their children, which made me wonder how flexible they'd be.  I've been fortunate to have very understanding professors at Virginia Wesleyan.  They understand that my husband is not home much of the time because of his career in the Navy, so when the kids get sick or have snow days, etc., I have to stay home with them.  They've even avoided scheduling classes I need for my degree in the evening because that's just not something I can do.  The enormous benefits of attending a small college!  I know my schedule won't be nearly as flexible at ODU and evening classes are a real possibility.  No matter what, my children come first.  It's hard enough on them that their father is constantly gone, so it is important to me that I be the constant in their lives.  Also, two VWC alumni that have gone on to attend ODU in my program of interest have taken nearly five years to complete their M.S. program as full time students!  That's too long, isn't it?  These factors led me to look into online programs.

For residency purposes, I first searched for online programs in Virginia and then Florida, since we live in Virginia but also maintain Florida residency as a military family and intend to move back there within the next 5-6 years.  Virginia Tech had some interesting programs that I bookmarked, but they weren't exactly what I was looking for.  Then, I found an Environmental Science M.S. program through the Soil and Water Science department at the University of Florida and I could hardly contain my excitement while browsing their website.  This was it.

I completed my applications for ODU and UF at about the same time.  The day after I submitted my UF application I was contacted by a member of the Soil and Water Science department thanking me for my interest in the program and informing me that he would be my point of contact through the application process.  He was literally in touch with me through the entire application process, from the day after I submitted my application to the day I received my acceptance letter.  He emailed me every time they received a part of my application; GRE scores, official transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc.  He answered any questions I had and when my application was complete he recommended a faculty advisor to me.  He asked me to cc him on my initial email to whichever faculty advisor I chose so that he could ensure a timely response.  It was truly remarkable how informed I was during the entire application process. Meanwhile, ODU can't even respond to my email regarding a letter of recommendation that was sent weeks ago which is not showing up as received in their system.

After researching the potential faculty advisors at UF I did end up contacting the one who was recommended to me because we share very similar research interests.  Again, the very next day I received a response.  We spoke on the phone a week later and he seemed very eager to bring me into the program.  He even had a research project already in mind for me based on my interests and previous experience.  The day after I spoke to him on the phone he informed admissions of his intent to serve as my advisor and hours later I received an electronic copy of my acceptance letter.

The Soil and Water Science Department at UF has got their stuff together!  I am beyond excited to become a part of their program and know that I will still be able to dedicate much of my time to my family.  I am incredibly grateful to my EES professors at Virginia Wesleyan College who have given me the knowledge, skills and confidence to get this far.

Most of all, I am thankful to have such a supportive husband.  He allowed me the opportunity to stay home with our children when they were little and has encouraged me to achieve my academic goals ever since I got out of the Navy.  I would not be where I am today without his continued support and encouragement.  He works so hard to support our family, which is what doesn't require me to work, and I cannot possibly thank him enough for his continued sacrifice.  I know how hard it is on him to be away from home so much.  I honestly don't know how he does it, I just know how lucky I am to have him in my life.

So, here we are again.  Change is ensuing once more.  Let the journey begin.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Minecraft and Geology Themed Birthday Party that ROCKED!

Our big boy turned 7 this past summer.  When I asked him what theme he wanted for his birthday party he said "Terraria and Minecraft".  At the time, he was really into those two games, as well as another game called Miner Warfare.  If you have a boy between the ages of 5-12, there's a good chance you've heard of Minecraft. All of these games involve mining, and as someone studying Earth Sciences, I immediately realized I could turn this into a really fun AND educational theme.  Also, as it turns out, you can't find party supplies themed with any of those games, so no matter what I had to come up with everything by myself.

The kids had SO much fun!  Here's a list of all of the activities and other details involved in this rockin' birthday party, along with pictures and links to the products I purchased.

1. Dressing the Part
Construction Hats
You may be able to find them at your local dollar store, but if not, these ones will work.  I did a lot of research on these, and if you read the reviews, child-sized ones run very small.  Many reviews stated that they don't even fit their 3-year-old, so definitely go with the adult size.  I put the kids' names on the front with foam stickers.

Game Themed Shirts
If you don't have too many kids coming, or you can find decent priced shirts within your budget, you may consider matching shirts for the kids.  Since our little guy was just having his two best friends and their siblings, each of the big kids got a shirt.  The fact that they were on sale for only $5 each played a big role in that.  The ones I got were from Kmart, but there are a number of Minecraft Shirts available at, Target and Kohls.

2. Activities
Gem Panning

For this activity you will need: Plastic Tubs (I got one tub for every two kids), sand (I believe we used one bag for all three tubs pictured here), water, small sand sifters and shovels for each kid, assorted treasures: rocks, minerals, shells, toy fossils, etc, a collection cup or bucket for the child to put their treasures in, something for them the kids to sit or kneel on, towels, a tarp or something similar if you care about containing the mess.  During the activities we had a loop of the music from Miner Warfare playing, which the kids found hilarious.

I bought the plastic tubs (dish tubs), sand sifters, shovels and cups at the dollar store and you can find playground sand at home improvement stores such as Lowe's or Home Depot.  If you have a sandbox you could easily just bury all the stones in there and have the kids dig them out like a treasure hunt.

I bought the stones and minerals at a local store in Virginia Beach called Beads & Rocks.  They were not cheap (I spent about $70), but I wanted to be sure they had actual stones and minerals that they could keep for a collection and identify.  I purchased quartz, citrine, desert rose, amethyst, amazonite, tiger's eye, sodalite, pyrite (fool's gold), peacock fool's gold, emerald and assorted tumbled agate.  I also got each of them an arrowhead.  If you're not concerned with this you can buy tumbled stone assortments online.  I also decorated a small Sterilite storage box for each of them to keep their new rock collections in.

Break your own Geodes

For this activity, you'll need geodes (semi-hollow rocks with pretty crystals inside), safety goggles, a hammer, a hard surface, ziplock bags, and adult help and supervision.  
What worked best for us was putting each geode in a ziplock bag (to contain all of the pieces once broken), then setting it on top of a brick paver to be broken open.  If you order a box of geodes, there will be instructions on how to crack them open.  Do not let small children do this by themselves.  Adult assistance and supervision is a must!  I saved a few geodes for the adults to crack open, too, and even we had fun with them.  The links below are to the items I ordered, which I was very pleased with.

Homemade Fossil Rocks
In my online search for other party ideas I found an awesome blog post on how to make treasure stones.  I decided it would be fun to put toy fossils inside of the treasure stones.  They turned out great.  I failed to allot enough time to let them air dry for 2-3 days, so they were still a little moist in the middle, but they worked and looked just like real rocks.

You can find the recipe here.

I used the Dinosaur Skulls Toob by Safari Ltd for my fossils, but you could use any of these:

Pet Rock Painting
Another fun idea I had, which we ultimately ran out of time for, was painting pet rocks.  We ended up doing it with friends a couple days later and it was fun.  I found some nice round rocks at the craft store and paint sets, googly eyes, puff balls and glue at the dollar store.  I also found round cardboard boxes at the craft store to paint as the pet rock's home.  

 Pet Rocks

Other Activity Ideas
Here are some other activity ideas for a mining or geology based party.  We were going to grow crystals and do a model volcano, but we ran out of time.  I bought all of the kids foam swords at the dollar store.  They played a real life Minecraft with them, pretending to ward of zombies and creepers.  You could have an adult dress up as a creeper by wearing a green sweatsuit and decorating a box to look like a creeper head.  Then, when the kids are playing with their swords the adult creeper could come out and surprise them.  If you have any other ideas, please leave a comment for other people planning a similar party.

3. Goody Bags
Hopefully I can remember everything I put in them.  It's been over three months since his party!  You don't have to go nuts since they are already getting a bunch of treasures from the activities.  I bought simple camo black and gray colored gift bags.  You could easily get more creative here.  In the past I have personalized little canvas bags from the craft store.  I included rock candy, pop rocks and ring pops as a treat. I found mini crystal grow kits at the dollar store.  I also bought them each this mini encyclopedia to help them identify rocks and minerals and a book about Earth.  

4. Food
I think we just ate pizza, but for dessert we had fossil cookies (which only turned out OK, maybe you could have better luck) and E's super favorite chocolate cherry birthday cake decorated with chocolate rock candy, cookie crumbs, and gummy worms to fit the theme.  I did the fossil cookies as directed, but they rose so much while cooking that you couldn't see the imprints anymore, so we imprinted them again after cooking. Chocolate cherry cake my personal favorite that my mom would always make for me for my birthday and now it is requested by both of my kids every year on their birthdays.  It's a very simple recipe using a box cake mix and it tastes amazing.  Click the pictures to see the recipes.

Fossil Cookies

Chocolate Cherry Cake

Here are links to candies for goody bags and cake decoration:

Well, I think that covers everything.  If I remember something else I will edit the post to add it in.  If you host a mining and/or geology themed party I hope your kids enjoy it as much as mine did!  If you blog about it, please link in the comments.  Also please share your ideas for other activities or goodies in the comments!


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Let's Catch Up!

Hello world.  It's been a long time since I've written on the ole blog.  My last post mentioned my blogging hiatus due to returning to school full time.  I would say that first semester back was probably the most stressful few months of my life.  Not just because of going back to school or the hub's deployment, it was just one of those periods where everything that could go wrong did.  But, I survived, the hubs is home, and our family is complete once again. 

Here's an incredibly brief summary of what has happened since my last full update.  The hubs deployed twice last year on two different ships.  I went back to school last August (2012), studying Earth & Environmental Science at Virginia Wesleyan College.  I'm now a senior and set to graduate in May of 2014. The little lady started pre-school and did ballet and tap dance.  The morning of Halloween my car got totaled.  I was driving to school and had just merged onto the interstate.  Traffic was stopped, so I stopped, but the 20 year old girl behind me wasn't paying attention (texting?).  She was accelerating to merge onto the interstate when she pummeled into me, forcing me to crash into the car in front of me.  It was traumatizing, but luckily no one was seriously injured and now I have an even nicer vehicle than I had before. Shortly after that I began coaching E's basketball team.  That was so much fun!  I'm doing it again this year and can't wait.  For Christmas the kids and I went to Wisconsin.  We flew in during a blizzard, which was crazy.  The kids LOVED playing in the snow.  Dad took me to a Packers game.  They won!  It was freezing cold, but totally worth it.  E played baseball for the first time in the spring.  It was so exciting to finally be done with t-ball and move up to the next level.  He did great and had a lot of fun.  The hubs came home at the end of March, which was definitely the highlight of the year!  We took a nice little family trip to Shenandoah National Park in May and did some hiking serious hiking.  I love that place!

We had an incredibly busy summer.  It started with swimming lessons for the kids, which they loved.  Then we had an almost two week long visit from my best friend, Jaime, and her kids who moved to Italy last winter.  Our friend Pam even flew up from Georgia for a weekend.  It was a little Great Lakes reunion!  The timing of Jaime's visit was perfect because her son, who happens to be my son's best friend, was here for little man's 7th birthday (which had THE coolest theme).  I definitely need a separate blog post for it.  Then, as soon as they left my Father-in-Law came to visit for the weekend.  The boys all went fishing and had a great time.  Then, a few days after he left we drove to Wisconsin for some summer fun with my family.  It was SO MUCH FUN!  Wisconsin summers are the best.  We went to a Brewers game, the state fair, Wisconsin Dells, and Devil's Lake State Park.  As soon as we got back home it was football season for little man.  It's been an interesting season to say the least.  We've been through three different head coaches and are now going to have a fourth give it a shot. Thankfully, the season's almost over.  A little over a month ago I turned 30 and had a totally rad 80's/90's themed party.  We even went roller a rolling skating rink!  Then, three weeks later my baby girl turned four.  We celebrated by going to Great Wolf Lodge for the weekend.  The following weekend I headed back up to Wisconsin for a wedding.  My best friend from high school, Kassy, got married!  The hubs stayed home with the kids and my mom was my date.  :)

Here are some pictures from the past year!

Packers Game with Dad
He's Home!
Jaime, Me & Pam
Best Friends Reunited
E's 7th Birthday
Big Rick's Visit
The Beautiful Wisconsin River
Wisconsin Deer Park
Brewers Game

State Fair with Grandma
First Day of School

My 30th Birthday!
The Birthday Girl at Great Wolf Lodge
Kassy & Nick's Wedding in Wisconsin

OK, I think we're caught up now.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I'm Alive

Clearly the blog is on hiatus for the time being.  It's only been half a year since my last post!  I'm back in college majoring in Earth and Environmental Science, which is quite a bit of work, so I'm focusing on that right now.  I've also been coaching peewee basketball, which has been so much fun.  The family is well and the hubs will be home from deployment SOON!


Monday, July 23, 2012

"It Starts with Food" and The Whole30

Have any of you heard of or read It Starts with Food or the Whole30 program?  I saw it mentioned in a comment on a blog I read and checked it out a few weeks ago.  It is somewhat similar to the Paleo diet, if you're familiar with that.  The Whole30 is "a short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, calm systemic inflammation and put an end to unhealthy cravings, habits, and relationships with food."  Basically, you cut certain foods from your diet for 30 straight days and by the end of those 30 days notice a vast improvement in your health which will help you make better food choices from there on out.  Foods that were cut out can be re-introduced after the 30 days and you can then evaluate how they affect your body.

When I initially looked up the Whole30 I read that dairy would be cut out of my diet for 30 days.  After reading that I updated my Facebook status, "I was thinking about trying out The Whole30 | Whole9 since I eat too much crap, then I saw the part about cutting dairy from your diet COMPLETELY. Yeah, fat chance you're gonna get a cheesehead to go along with that plan."  But I just couldn't get this program out of my head.  I've had some minor health issues for a while now, including dizziness and fatigue, and I've always had problems with acne.  I've also always had a crap diet.  My whole life I have been tall and thin and never had to worry about my weight, so I eat whatever I want.  I never really considered how my poor food choices affect the way I feel.  Obviously, it makes sense.  So, I purchased the book on my Kindle Fire and am so glad that I did.

I suppose you don't need the book to do the Whole30, but I have found it to be incredibly interesting, and if you understand how the food you eat affects your body you'll be more motivated to give the program a shot and stick with it.  Also, there are so many fallacies out there regarding nutrition that we've all been lead to believe that this book explains.  It's a real eye-opener.  There are testimonials from people with all sorts of different ailments that say the Whole30 program greatly reduced or completely eliminated their symptoms; people with diabetes, high cholesterol, MS, acne, migraines, injuries that just wouldn't heal properly, aches and pains, low energy, etc.  The book has definitely motivated me to want to make better food choices for not only myself, but my family.  While I won't make my kids strictly follow the Whole30 program, I will certainly be more picky when it comes to what they are eating.  Processed foods are nasty crap and we've come to rely on them so much.  Luckily, they like fruit and vegetables, but I need to remember that treats like cookies should be just that, special treats that are few and far between, not eaten every day.

If you have done the Whole30 or are planning to do it, please comment!  What have been your favorite resources and recipes?  I've been pinning recipes and resources on Pinterest and have found a couple good blogs out there.  I'm aiming to start my Whole30 on August 1st.  Wish me luck!


Monday, July 9, 2012

Your Mom Goes to College

My time as a stay at home mom is about to come to an end.  After taking an almost three year break from school to stay home with the kids after my daughter was born, it's time to head back to college.  The timing is right.  There will be big changes for myself as well as both of the kids.  My son will be in first grade, which here in Virginia Beach means he'll be in school all day now  (kindergarten here is only half-day), and my daughter will be old enough to begin the three year old program at preschool.  She's going to the same school her brother went to, so it's somewhere we're familiar with and it is super close to the house, so that is convenient.  Unlike my son, however, she will be going to preschool full time (he only went 3 days a week, half a day).  I really do think she will love it.  She is so social and eager to learn and they have supplemental afternoon activities like dance, tumblebus, soccer, etc. that I know she will enjoy.  I am really excited for her!

I am beginning to stress out a little bit about my schedule.  I am going to Virginia Wesleyan College (VWC), which is a small, private college, and majoring in Earth and Environmental Sciences.  I am going for a Bachelors in Science rather than a Bachelors in Arts, which is more difficult, simply because it will give me more career options.  I won't be limited to just teaching.  I want to earn my degree in two years because that is how much longer my husband's orders in this area are for.  We want to try to stay here for his next orders, but that's never a guarantee, and this is already my third school.  I'd like it to be my last (as far as earning my bachelors is concerned).  This means taking 16 credits (four classes), each semester (12 credits is full time).  The first semester I am signed up for Calculus (math is my worst subject), Chemistry, Climatology (writing intensive), and Intro to Geographic Information Systems.  Calculus scares the bejesus out of me.  I haven't taken a math class since 2006!  Chemistry may be challenging.  I know I got an A in Chem in high school, but that was a long time ago and I know it's a challenging class.  Also, I looked up the professor on and she has less than stellar reviews.  At VWC one of the graduation requirements is that you take two writing intensive courses.  Climatology is the first that I'm taking, so I can expect to be writing a lot of papers for this.  I am excited to take the class though.  With all the crazy weather we have been having lately due to the heat (and possibly global warming), I think it's a great year to take such a class.

As you can see, I'm jumping right in.  It's a heavy work load, and on top of the busy class schedule I'll be single-parenting while my husband is deployed for the entire semester, during football season.  It's amazing how time consuming football for 6 year-olds is!  The coach asked me to be a team mom this year at the end of last season.  I would love to do it, but I also don't want to over-extend myself.  I guess I'll just wait and see if he brings it back up.  Also, my class schedule overlaps my son's, so he requires before and after care on some days.  Since it's not every day and only for a little over an hour, I really didn't want to pay for full-time before and after care somewhere.  Luckily I was able to hire my neighbors, who have a son the same age, to help me out with that little headache.  It seems like everything is coming together, and hopefully it will be smooth sailing, but I'm sure there will be a few hiccups along the way.  My only wish is that we had family nearby to help out, but luckily I have some pretty great friends that are willing to fill that void.  It's just so much easier to ask family for help, though!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Let's Play Catch-Up

As I tend to do every now and then, I've let the blog fall to the wayside.  My last blog post was regarding my impending jaw surgery.  Well, after struggling with the decision for weeks I decided against the surgery.  Long story short, to me, the risk greatly outweighed the benefit.  Since that last blog post, we've been a busy bunch.

My husband returned from deployment at the very end of March and almost immediately traveled up to Northern Virginia for training.  Once the training was completed in May we traveled to Tampa, where he is from, to visit family and friends.  We had a really great trip, for the most part.  We went fishing out on a boat, checked out the Sunken Gardens in St. Pete and went to a Tampa Bay Rays game with his dad.  His mom took the kids on a little shopping spree at Toys R Us and babysat so we could have some adult time with our friends.  We went out on our friend's boat and hung out on a little island one day, took all the kids to the park another day, went out for drinks one night, and spent a lot of time swimming and just having an all around good time.  Here are a few pics from our trip that already seems like it was so long ago:

The kids with their cousins.

Also, in the Spring was T-ball for E-Ray.  His team was the Muckdogs.  When the coach told us the name I was like:

Turns out the Muckdogs are a minor league team in Batavia, New York.  You learn something new every day!  He had a really great season.  He's definitely come a long way since last year.  He hit just about every pitch (the coaches pitch a few times and if the kids don't hit the pitch, then they hit off the tee) and actually caught the ball while playing first base.  Any kid catching the ball during a game at this level seems to be a pretty huge accomplishment.  He earned the game ball after that game and was quite proud of himself.  

Lulu wanted to play, too!

It's a hit!

E-Ray and his best buddy being goofballs.

Getting his trophy and certificate from Coach.

Also, E-Ray recently began riding his bike without training wheels, so Rick and I bought ourselves a couple bikes at a yard sale so that we could go on family rides.  We've only gone once so far, but it was fun, even though I ended up with three ticks on me.  YUCK!  More often than biking, lately, we've been hiking.  My husband had to head back up to Northern Virginia for training, so we have visited him a couple times.  I have wanted to go check out Luray Caverns for a long time, so this was a good opportunity to head that way. While researching the area online I read about Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and decided that would be a really great place to visit as well.  We made the drive over there on June 30th and had such an incredible time.  Luray Caverns were really neat, but Shenandoah National Park was a real adventure.  It is our new favorite place.  On that day we were looking at the map they gave us when we entered the park and thought it would be fun to hike down to Dark Hollow Falls.  This was a great decision. It was a relatively short hike (it seemed a lot longer than it actually was), and our kids, even the 2 year old, were able to tag along.  It was a fairly busy trail.  When we got down to the waterfall there were quite a few people swimming in the water and hanging out.  The kids loved it and I got some really great pictures while we were there.  We loved it so much that we decided to go back on July 4th.  This time we hiked down to Lewis Falls.  This is a much less popular trail, so we ran into fewer people.  This time there was no swimming at the bottom of the falls, but a ledge from which to view them.  It was a rockier hike that was slightly more difficult than the previous one, but it was fun.  E-Ray is like a little Indiana Jones.  He loved leading our little expedition and it was hard trying to get him to slow down so that his little sister could keep up.  I can't wait to get back up there again for more family adventures!

Inside Luray Caverns

My boys climbed up the side of the falls.

For our second trip I had accidentally left my camera's memory card in my laptop so I had to use my phone for pictures.  I was SO mad!!!

Lastly, as we're gearing up for the Hubs to leave on deployment number eight, we took advantage of the great non-profit Operation Love Reunited to have some family pictures taken before D-Day.  We were fortunate enough to be able to book the same photographer we used in 2010 for his homecoming on the USS Nicholas.  She is so incredibly talented!  Here is the first preview of the images she captured:

What did I tell you?  A-MAZE-ING!  I can't wait to see the rest of the photos.  If you're ever in need of a photographer in Hampton Roads, Kimberlin Gray Photography is a must.  Be sure to like her page on Facebook.

OK, just one more thing.  My husband told me that we could vacation in Wisconsin next Summer.  I just wanted to make sure I made a record of that statement since he tends to forget all of our arrangements/agreements.  :)