Saturday, December 26, 2009

The post Christmas/post college tour report

Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you have had a great holiday season and that if you ended up trapped in any of the two Category Four Kill Storms that have reared ugly heads that you have survived. Of course you did ... you're sitting here reading my journal.

University of PittsburghWe've had a busy December. Jess is about 1/3 of the way through her senior year in high school, and right now we are vetting institutions of higher learning for her giant smart brain and butt to go to. Doug, Jess and I took a trip to look at three colleges during the beginning of December. We looked at Pitt, Syracuse and Buffalo.

Buffalo didn't impress me overall, but if they gave Jess a pantload of financial aid and scholarship money, I'd force her to go there. She likes Pitt. Who wouldn't? They have a 40 plus story tall building called the Cathedral of Knowledge, which Jess has rechristened the Cathedral of Kicking Ass. I liked Syracuse, the feel of the campus from the center where the Saltine Warrior shoots his arrow to the sky out to the little street with the pizza shops and boutiques. And not a Dunkin Donuts in sight... which to me is a selling point because it means the city has not been purchased by Dunks. The architecture is amazing. The facilities perfect. It made me wish for a do-over for my college career.

Both Pitt and Syracuse have friendly faculty whereas Buffalo wouldn't even meet with us. Jess reached out to the freshman advisor and his abrupt "I'm too busy to meet with you" email kind of bothered me. Dude... how about "I'm really sorry I'm unable to meet with you on your visit. I realize you're coming from about eight hours away, so please meet with my colleague Dr. XYZ and I hope you enjoy your visit to Buffalo." Thanks for putting in the effort to wow prospective student families. I would be happy if she went to either Pitt or Syracuse...Syracuse is closer which is good.

But even closer is Umass Amherst, which is also on her list.

We have no money with which to send her to college, I have no idea how she is going to PAY for this, how WE are going to payJess and the hall of languagesfor this. She wants to study languages and linguistics, but I don't know that she really is married to the concept of a career in the field. She says she wants to be a translator or interpreter. What does that mean? Will she get a $19,000 a year job in the national parks translating for Germans and Ukrainians when they come to visit? Or is there actual, lucrative dough available for her out in the world. I remember the day that I realized I earned more than both of my parents. Unless she gets a Masters or Doctorate, I'm not sure she'll beat Doug for income, but she very well could beat me considering I don't make very much more now than I did when I made that realization about my income.

Truth be told, I just want her to make a good income where she doesn't drown in debt, like I feel I'm doing now, and part of that will hinge upon how much she ends up having to borrow for college. The schools we are looking at run about 20-30,000 a year. Times four.

That's a bucket of debt. A really big bucket.

I truly wish we'd had the money to plan better for her. She deserves it. She really does.

Highlights of our trip were dinner with Doug's parents and our niece and nephew, and watching how much Elyse loves Jessica, eating at Primanti's in Pittsburgh and the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, seeing my old (long term, not ancient) friend Eva for the second time this year, and meeting her husband and son... those in addition to visiting some mighty fine campuses.

We had some Christmas Decorating Malfunctions that make for a fun tale. When we got back from our trip, I wanted to get the Christmas tree immediately. Doug wanted to wait. So there we were on December 19th doing our Christmas shopping and buying our tree.

New England Snowstorm and Christmas...Sunday we had a Category Four Kill Storm, and didn't get much done that day, so the tree stood outside in the back yard under the awing, getting snowed on.

Monday night we set to getting the job done. Doug set it in the tree stand and we discovered the stupid stand was busted. Repeated attempts to adjust and make do with said tree stand were met with utter failure. It was decided that I would go buy a new Christmas tree stand. The tree went back outside again to wait.

I left work at 6 pm Tuesday and went to seven different stores. No one had Christmas tree stands. I was treated piss poor at both Walmarts when I asked. At Lowes, the kids were friendly and apologetic and made suggestions for where there might be one to be found.

After five stops, I decided to write my own script to a little movie or an episode of "My Name is Earl," to bribe God or Karma with a good deed, and then I'd go into the store and poof!! I'd be rewarded with a brand new awesome Christmas tree stand made of awesome.

I went to the Walmart on Rte 114 in Peabody, the parking lot was PACKED and I let people go in front of me, I was nice even when it was obvious people wanted to kill me and leave me for dead over the railing to the cart return stand. Walking to the front of the building, I had two dollars ready for the kettle.

Here's my chance to bribe Karma... mwaah ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

The Salvation Army bell ringer was looking mighty chilly so I asked him if he wanted a coffee. He thanked me and said yes -- and reached into his pocket to give me cash, I waved him off and asked how he liked it. I went and stood in the stupidest line of stupid people in the Subway within the store. "What can I get on my sandwich?" "Are your mushrooms fresh or canned?" "That's too much onion can you take some off."

Finally, I buy the coffee, get it all filled up for the dude, and take it out to him.

"A ha!" I say to myself. "Lord, I know you will reward your servant here at this particular retail establishment!"

Well, there was not a Christmas tree stand in sight, but there were 20,000 tin containers covered in lead paint filled with carmel popcorn from China. There were several dozen open boxes of lights, strings all pulled out, bulbs missing. Not even good lights, just LED stupid cold dead lights that no one really wants. There were wooden pressboard signs of polar bears and penguins wishing you "Happy Holidays!" when everyone knows they don't live in the same hemisphere and would never ever be seen together like that in public, nor do they even celebrate holidays.

My bribe to the universe did not work. But as I left the store I wasn't disappointed with my hands empty when I walked past the bell ringer and he thanked me with a huge smile and a wave of the coffee cup.

I never did find a tree stand. I borrowed one from a friend who had to buy a second for herself because they bought an 11 ft. tall tree and her base couldn't handle the tree.

We set the tree up with the borrowed tree stand, and went to bed.

6:15 the following morning, I'm up sleeping and Geoff was on the computer. Doug was in the shower, the dogs were outside. CRASH! echoed through the house, and Geoff jumped up, ran downstairs and screamed at the top of his lungs "CHRISTMAS IS RUINED!!!!!!"

The tree fell over.

I came down and the tree was horizontal, across the coffee table and all over the couch. Ornaments were everywhere, some broken, some fine. I sighed, found my boots, walked through the livingroom, got some coffee, and came out to start the cleanup. Geoff helped me (God bless him) and we discovered that it would be a great idea to bungee cord the tree to the shelf behind it and pray that it stayed upright while we were at work and school. (It has... thank God).

We lost about 11 ornaments. Most of them were K-mart specials from the past several years that Doug has picked up along the line. Only one of them "meant" something to me... it was one of the ones my friend Courtney had made.

All told, the tree is still upright, crooked but sturdy. Christmas has come and gone and it will stay here until Geoff's birthday and hopefully not fall again.

Christmas was pretty cool -- really low key for us. Now that the kids are older it lacks a certain magic. In years past, long time readers will recall my efforts to get Geoff to go to bed or leave me alone or me wrapping presents until 1am. This year I was done wrapping by 9pm and in bed at 9:15. I told the kids to stay upstairs until I told them they could come down, and they did. Geoff took a book to his room and Jess waited on the computer. Piece of Cake. Why the last 17 years hasn't been this easy is beyond me.

My parents came up on Wednesday, and they just left a few minutes ago. We didn't do anything special or go anywhere, and that's fine... my mom did a hand-me-down of her Gamecube to Geoff so he's been upstairs locked in and playing his brains out. I'm going to have to reorganize a shelf up there for the ten million games she sent up too. Doug made an amazing rib roast and it was perfect. All told, that was the highlight of the holiday. I like it like this... no stress, no travel... bliss.

Guess that's about it... not much more to report. Like I said -- I hope you all had a good holiday that was equally laid back and happy.