Monthly Archives: November 2013

Punkin Chunkin’–And a First Attempt at Vlogging

Last week my son’s Webelo den was invited to participate in a “punkin chunkin'” with a local Boy Scout troop.  The Boy Scouts had built 2 trebuchets, the larger standing approximately 10 feet tall at its axis.  Here’s an explanation of how a trebuchet works. Modern, homemade, medieval weaponry and flying pumpkins?  What’s not to love? This seemed like a good opportunity to give vlogging a try–I hope this video does the experience justice.

Boy Scouts Punkin Chunkin–November 2013

Any thoughts?

[Special thanks to National Pike District Boy Scout Troop 882 for inviting the younger boys to share this experience.]

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Filed under Activities & Sports, Blogging, Holidays

Dealing With (A) Loss

My daughter’s high school volleyball career ended in the state semifinals last week.  And dealing with that has been another in a string of dad-challenges as her senior year unfolds and her college days approach.


Playing at Penn State, age 12

When she was only 5 or 6 years old and I was a high school varsity volleyball coach, I started teaching my little girl to pass a ball.  In 3rd grade she played on her first recreation league team, and in 4th grade I became her coach, first in the rec league, and then on club teams.  Even after I stepped into the background to cheer as she played for other coaches, I remained my daughter’s personal advisor, unwavering fan, and honest critic.  We spent hundreds of hours together reflecting during rides home from practices and matches, and in recent years she actively sought me out during down-time at tournaments for advice when she felt she was struggling.

Last spring my favorite player hung up her club uniform, in part because she wanted to end her competitive career representing her high school as the team’s libero through her senior season this fall.  And that season turned out to be the ride of a lifetime:  They finished 19-3.  Regional champions.  State semifinalists.  Just 3 points short of a trip to the state championship game…and that was the end.

We are both making peace with the playoff loss–a match, honestly, that her team probably should have won…but that’s just sports.  The most difficult loss is not that match; it’s accepting that a connection we shared for 9 years will never be quite the same.  9 years of tryouts.  And practices. And matches.  And tournaments.

PPC ph-hs-3-volleyball-county-championship-1024.jpg

Protecting the floor as a senior. Photo by Nate Pesce, October 24, 2013. Used with permission.

Wins.  And Losses.  Good times.  And struggles.  All now part of our history.

I realize the end of the volleyball season is only one milestone in a senior year that is slowly preparing our entire family for this time next year, when my daughter will be living on a college campus.  And whether it comes down to a graduating senior’s final game, final competition, or final performance, I doubt we are the only family working through this type of change.  So, to borrow from The Player in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, I suggest that we–the parents of high school seniors and our seniors themselves–need to “look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.”  ‘Somewhere else’ is going to be great–but so was the scene we just left, and getting used to moving forward is going to take a little time.


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Filed under Activities & Sports, Transitions

The Great College Search–Part Three: The Road Trip Continues

Once again, please consider:  All of the impressions below were OURS.  The aspects of each campus that we considered positive might not impress you or your student, and our concerns might be strengths to someone else.  But the intent of this post is not so much to ‘rate’ these schools as to share my experience accompanying my daughter on this once-in-a-lifetime journey.  So here is the rest of our trip….

A Smaller Campus

The most memorable part of our college tour was ‘phase 3.’  We headed out in the evening for a 6+ hour drive to Winston-Salem, NC.  With 2 possible routes of more or less the same distance, I chose the scenic route through the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia for the trip south.  Along the way, we talked about 17’s senior year, what she had liked & disliked about the campuses we had already visited, whether she should take the SAT for a second time…and dozens of other topics.


The Chapel–Wake Forest University

After an overnight stay near campus, we traveled to Wake Forest University for a tour.  Wake differs from Maryland and Penn State in terms both of size and of…the best word may be opulence.  At 340 acres, the campus is approximately 1/4 the size of either of our big schools, and the enrollment of fewer than 5000 undergraduate Demon Deacons is roughly 1/5 the number of Terrapins or Nittany Lions.  As we walked the campus, my daughter pointed out the grills (as in ‘charcoal’) outside of dorms, amenities that would be considered liabilities in more anxious (equals northern) parts of the country.  The open spaces were landscaped with near-golf-course quality, the common area of one dorm included a grand piano, and the dining hall could have been part of a country club:  at one point during the tour I may or may not have turned to my daughter and said, “I’m not paying for an omelette station.”  However, one practical luxury we heard about was the school’s laptop program:  Every first-year student is issued a laptop with a complete range of software.  This makes it easy for the university to provide tech support and ensures that everyone has up-to-date hardware and software.

Wake Forest was also my daughter’s first experience interviewing with an admissions officer.  She had the opportunity to discuss her academic and extra-curricular experiences, her hopes and plans for college and beyond, and how she introduced her friends to Dr. Who before the show became fairly mainstream in 2012.  By the time we left campus, Wake had become a solid member of my daughter’s short list.

Why I will be glad if my daughter becomes a Demon Deacon:    Wake is a well-regarded school operating in a beautiful setting.  But its greatest selling point for me may be the reputation of its academic climate.  The school is competitive.  But it is a healthy competitive, as the students pride themselves on celebrating their peers’ successes.  The ‘cut throat’ climate associated with many selective schools was not apparent at any point while we were on campus nor mentioned in the college guides my daughter has scoured over the past year.

Something to consider:  Wake Forest is at the forefront of the movement to de-emphasize standardized testing in the admissions process.  For my daughter, this is a concern, because standardized testing has always been a strength for her.  But for a student who performs better in the classroom than on the SAT, Wake may be a perfect match.

Our Only Disappointment


The Well–UNC Chapel Hill

Apologies in advance to my friends in Carolina blue.  We drove from Wake to Chapel Hill for an afternoon tour.  This was the only school we visited that fell far short of expectations.  One experience after another raised questions:  Charging pre-registered visitors for parking?  Sending (not escorting) tour participants on a 10 minute walk across campus, with little signage, from the building where we had to check in to the building where the informational session was held and the tours departed?  Brick walkways that have not been maintained, turning walking across campus into a surfing activity?  Claims during an informational session that seemed to have more of a “you’d be lucky if we let you come here” tone after the “we hope you will consider us” messages we had heard at Maryland, Penn State, and Wake?  The only campus tour we took that did not include a glimpse of the inside of a library?

Why I will be glad if my daughter becomes a Tarheel:  Separately we both arrived at the conclusion that the University of North Carolina might not be a good match, and my daughter never looked back–She decided not to apply to UNC.  However, I have to note that the school offers the resources of a large, public university and the students who do choose UNC share a proud Tarheel identity.

Something to consider:  The campus neighbors a true college town.  But, like College Park, Maryland, there is little to separate the campus from the town, and the traffic on campus was a factor as we walked around.

Studying [In] History

From UNC we drove north to Williamsburg, VA.  After another overnight stay, we checked in for our tour of the College of William & Mary.  During the informational session, the facilitator asked for a show of hands:  Rising seniors.  Rising juniors.  Younger students.  And parents who would like to go back to college themselves–at which point I have to admit that my hand went up.  I loved college, and I am excited for all three of my kids as they work towards that experience.  In particular, I loved my experience at Maryland, both as an undergraduate and as a doctoral student.  But, that having been said, if I had toured William & Mary in the 1980s, I just might have taken another path.


The Wren Building–College of      William & Mary

Like Wake, this relatively small campus is peaceful and beautiful.  But, more importantly, the tour also affirmed the school as a strong match for my daughter in terms of academics and climate.  My daughter’s interests lean more towards English & social studies than math & sciences; at W&M we saw and heard clear value for humanities, whereas at some other schools–and in much of the recruiting literature my daughter has received from around the country since she took the PSAT–tech fields seem to command more respect.  William & Mary’s long history is firmly rooted in the types of studies that my daughter is considering, including government & politics and English.  The campus climate is positive, with a philosophy of offering opportunities for individuals to shape their own experience as much as possible.  For example, in dorms the students living on a particular hall meet to establish ground-rules for quiet hours, laundry, etc. at the beginning of the school year.  Safety & security, a top concern for any parent, includes a service students can call for a golf-cart ride across campus after dark, a comfortable–and more efficient–upgrade to the security escorts that became the norm on campuses 30 years ago.

Why I will be glad if my daughter joins The Tribe?  One of the most important discoveries…or maybe reinforcements…during our road trip was that while a student can get a world-class education at any of the schools we visited, the lifestyles they offer vary quite a bit.  The climate at William & Mary stood out:  the staff and students we met projected seriousness about learning, but without a fierce, competitive edge; the campus offers the polished resources of a top-tier school, as well as quiet places to read under shade-trees; and the location is far enough away for our daughter to establish her own college life, yet close enough for her to come home for a long weekend or for us to visit once or twice a semester.

Something to consider:  Housing.  Again, like Penn State, William & Mary only guarantees on-campus housing for 3 of a student’s 4 undergraduate years.  While 3/4 of W&M students do stay on campus all 4 years, and while some students choose to move off campus on their own, there is the possibility that we could have to find her a place to stay near campus at some point if she heads to Williamsburg.  That having been said, like Penn State, W&M provides support to ensure that the process of sorting out off-campus housing is nearly seamless.

Time Together

While my daughter is applying to Maryland, Penn State, Wake Forest, and William & Mary, and she discovered that Carolina is not a match for her; but the other great benefit of our road trip was spending so much time together.  Like many 17 year olds, she spends most of her time when she is at home in her room, working on homework, catching up with friends online, or–lately–fine-tuning her college applications.  And I am all too aware that her high school days are winding down.  So spending hours on the road gave us large chunks of time to talk.  That, in and of itself, was a tremendous bargain for just a few tanks of gas and a couple of hotel stays.

Comments wanted:  Thoughts about or experiences with finding a college?  Please post.


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