Tag Archives: University of Illinois

Spring Has Sprung!

Love seeing all this orange!

Love seeing all this orange!

According to the official calendar, spring arrived yesterday. It was ushered in by our neighboring master-planned community with a gorgeous Indian paintbrush show.

There are three distinct kinds of paintbrush growing.

There are three distinct kinds of paintbrush growing.

I first noticed the splash of orange earlier this week as I drove past an area where a small crop of paintbrush bloomed last year. Now it’s definitely large and in charge!

These look reddish.

These look almost reddish.

As much as I enjoy seeing them, I wish they were sprinkled among the bluebonnets that are in another area of the community. Having orange and blue together reminds of my beloved alma mater, the University of Illinois.

Hail to the orange (Indian paintbrush), hail to the blue(bonnets)! And, especially, hail to spring!!

The State of the Summer

Parking permits are ready to be used.

Parking permits are ready to be used.

Now that we’re into August, it’s time to sum up how our summer is going in one word:

Yikes!

In exactly 20 days, we will move my younger son into his dorm at Sam Houston State. The next day, his older brother will drive to UTSA to start his senior year.

Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat.

A few school supplies for the kid

A few school supplies for the kid

I’ve slowly but surely been gathering things the kid will need in his dorm. Every time I add an item to his list, I have to smile when I remember how my freshman roommate Jan brought a popcorn popper, and I toted my beloved suitcase record player to our tiny dorm room at the University of Illinois. Methinks my son will get by with his dig’s microwave (and small fridge) and iTunes on his iPhone 4S. Easy peasy!

Notice a couple great test grades?

Notice a couple great test grades?

My #2 son is almost finished with his summer school Finite Math class at our local junior college. He’ll have his fourth test Thursday, go to class next Monday to review, and then take the final the following day. Here’s hoping he starts college with an A average!

His older brother continues to use his spreadsheet skills at our box-distribution company. He’s definitely helping the hand that feeds while earning money for college. Love those win-win situations!

Thanks for noticing!

Thanks for noticing!

Before the boys leave the nest, we’ll celebrate my (gulp!) 60th birthday on the 15th. We have special family time planned for the big day. My three guys are my favorite party animals!

We only have three weeks left before our summer ends. I’m sure that the time spent in class, at work, and in doctors’ offices and dentists’ chairs will be forgotten amid the swirl of TopGolf, disc golf, and playing videogames with friends. The boys will go on to new adventures, learning, fun, and, ultimately, graduation.

Meanwhile, the Mister and I will look at each other on August 27 in our quiet house and wonder where life will take us. It might be time to finally grow up!

Painting a Prettier Wildflower Picture

Note the treasures among the bluebonnets: Indian blankets plus a bee!

Note the treasures among the bluebonnets: Indian blankets plus a bee!

As much as I’ve truly enjoyed chasing after our beautiful Texas wildflowers, I can’t help but think how nice it would be if my favorites bloomed within my comfy 10-mile radius.

While I love looking at the throngs of bluebonnets and occasional (for now) Indian blankets a mere mile from my door, I yearn for more variety like I’ve seen along our state’s highways and in small towns. In particular? Indian paintbrush.

As a matter of fact, I was contemplating how happy I would be if I saw a patch or two of orange during my eight-mile walk last Sunday in my neighboring master-planned community. I was coming around a newer section of its walking path when . . . .

Holy cow!

Holy cow!

This popped into view!

Not a lot but a good start

Not a lot but a good start

There standing tall before me was a small section of Indian paintbrush, the first time I’d seen this wildflower so close to home. I was thrilled!

But then I got greedy.

I started thinking of how much I love seeing that awesome orange melding with the bluebonnets. Wouldn’t it be great to see that during my journey?

Be still, my beating heart!

Be still, my beating heart!

And it was! As I continued walking along the path, I saw a small stretch of the very mix I desired. I just about shouted with joy . . . so, of course, a runner suddenly came towards me looking quizzical. I pretended I was just singing along with a song on my iPod Shuffle until he disappeared.

Whew! Temporarily dodged a “she’s crazy” bullet!!

I’m going to eagerly watch this area to see how it fills in.

Another bluebonnet fan

Another bluebonnet fan

I’ll bet the bees feel the same!

March Madness or Gladness?

It’s that time of year!

It’s that time of year!

What a wonderful, long weekend of NCAA basketball upsets we just had! March Madness once again lives up to its name.

With the Mister and our younger son out of town at a disc golf tournament, I didn’t have to share the big-screen Samsung with anyone. Which meant I could work the remote (switching among all four TV stations the games were on) and, especially, the mute button (hate those AT&T commercials with suit guy and the little kids!) as much as I pleased.

It was sheer bliss!

Well, except when my alma mater Illinois failed to knock off Miami last night. Not that I had the Illini winning in my bracket, but I would’ve loved if they had busted it.

Hate all those green X’s.

Hate all those green X’s.

Speaking of brackets, here’s mine so far. Woeful prognostication! Despite that, though, I’m looking very good in the competition against the Mister, the kid, and eight others, mostly because I’m the only one with my Final Four still playing.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that they’ll live to see Atlanta. But I remain hopeful.

Meanwhile, the Mister is practically out of the competition, because he went with his heart instead of his head and picked Gonzaga to win the title. I didn’t think they’d even make the Final Four.

The real excitement for the three of us, though, is how well Florida Gulf Coast is playing. A relatively new school, this no-name has won two games and is the first 15th seed to make the Sweet 16! Why do we care?

We’ve dropped a few bucks in a random tournament squares pool. Three of our teams—Virginia Commonwealth, Creighton, and South Dakota State—have returned to their studies. But our fourth team is FGCU! I had never heard of them and figured that VCU might be our best shot. But so far FGCU is giving us points.

Maybe we’ll break even for a change!

Saying Hi to Good, Old Sam Houston

SHSU shows pride in its longevity.

After seeing that the University of Houston has a bowling alley on campus, I thought that C.J. had locked in his college decision. How easy-breezy his last year in high school would be, as he contemplates staying close to home (albeit living in a dorm) and attending the Mister’s alma mater.

But then C.J.’s long-time pal (since kindergarten), RJ, made a fateful decision: He wants to attend Sam Houston State University to study criminal justice (it’s one of the top programs in the nation).

Sam Houston watches over his campus.

Stop the presses on that college application (as if my son has even started it)! It was time to see if another hat (preferably Stetson) needed to be thrown into the matriculation ring.

Which meant that yesterday we were on the road to Huntsville, home of the university named after the former governor of and senator from Texas (and two-time president of the Republic of Texas, as well as the governor of Tennessee). It’s about an hour and 40-minute drive from our house, which is far enough away for my son and close enough for me.

Students always know what time it is.

We had never stepped foot on campus before and weren’t sure what to expect. We discovered during our hour-plus tour of the buildings and several dorms that SHSU is a gem of a college! We both were impressed by the beautiful, well-maintained grounds (it’s very green), mix of old and new buildings, and possible majors.

Sidebar: C.J. is having trouble deciding what to major in. Am I one of the few people who knew at a young age what I wanted to be (a writer)? Which, of course, led me to get a journalism degree at the venerable University of Illinois.

An advising center JUST for my son!

As we drove home, my son and I discussed the pros and cons of U of H and Sam Houston State. Right now he’s rating them as even contenders for our dwindling college bucks, so he’ll apply to both of them and see what happens.

This was the one, pitiful photo I snapped of my C.J. Sigh!

One thing seems certain: My beloved baby boy will be some kind of cat next fall. But will it be a (UH) cougar or a (SHSU) bearkat?

Time will tell!

Gonzales’ Wildflowers Wow Me, Too!

Indian paintbrush surround a disc golf basket.

I haven’t traveled all over the great state of Texas.

Indian blankets

In fact, I don’t like to leave my 10-mile radius in our town outside of Houston.

Winecups

Still, I can’t imagine any Texas towns that are prettier than Gonzales during the spring when the wildflowers are blooming.

More Indian paintbrush

It just so happens that driving the back way home from San Antonio takes you smack-dab through this historic, little village. I detoured a bit to see how the flora looked along the disc golf course.

Indian paintbrush amid the bluebonnets

And I was richly rewarded! I’ve never seen so many clusters of Indian paintbrush. They look so wonderful mixed in with the bluebonnets . . . probably because the University of Illinois’ colors just happen to be orange and blue. Hail, alma mater, ever so true (so true).

A butterfly enjoys a false garlic.

The skippers and butterflies, though, seemed partial to the maroon winecups and white false garlic.

I wonder if they’re Aggies!

Oskee-Wow-Wow, Illinois!

The American flag was in the shape of Texas.

Yesterday I enjoyed the best football game I’ve ever watched in person—my alma mater, the University of Illinois, defeated Baylor University in the Texas Bowl 38-14! It was an incredible game at Houston’s Reliant Stadium . . . for Fighting Illini fans.

Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase hands off to Jason Ford.

The Mister and I were fortunate that we watched the game from our company’s regular Houston Texans’ seats, which are 14 rows from the field on the 35-yard line. We had a great view of all the action, plus (bonus!) we were on the Illinois side, which meant we were pretty much surrounded by the Illini faithful.

Illinois has very strong cheerleaders!

Still, Baylor’s green and gold blanketed the stadium. There are a ton of proud Baylor alums in the Houston area, which is fairly close to Waco. Probably 90 percent of the crowd were fervent Bears supporters, and they were vocal . . . for awhile.

Illinois’ Block I flag moves along the sidelines after an Illini touchdown.

Fortunately, we had a spirited cheerleading corps to unite the Illini fans, as well as each other in the stands. Of course, it helped that we had a lot of great plays to cheer about! Illinois definitely brought its “A” game to the Texas Bowl, while turnover-prone Baylor had trouble getting its running game on track.

Part of the Marching Illini forms one of the “L’s” in the ILLINI formation.

My favorite part of the Texas Bowl—besides the final score, of course—was watching the Marching Illini at halftime. When they were in the stands, the band not only kept our spirits high with great songs, but they also led our trademark “I-L-L . . . I-N-I” cheer. On the field, they filled Reliant with rousing music that threatened to blow open the roof!

When the band formed the letters I L L I N I and played “Hail to the Orange,” I got goosebumps as I proudly sang along with my small orange-clad “family.” Yes, it was a great day to be a Fighting Illini alum in Houston! Oskee-wow-wow!

Photo Friday: Meeting the High ISO Challenge

Kaityln tries to spike past Ashley B.

Kaityln M. tries to spike past Ashley B.

When photographers talk about the toughest sport to shoot, one activity in particular gets our Nikons and Canons a-quaking: Volleyball.

Ah, I could wax rhapsodically about volleyball as a sport to play or watch until the Chick-Fil-A cows come home. Believe it or not, I actually played on the volleyball team my freshman year at the venerable University of Illinois (pre-NCAA days) until I realized that I was a much better writer than player. After that, I opted to be the varsity team’s manager, so I could travel with the squad and write about them for the school newspaper (“The Daily Illini” was award-winning back then, but probably not because of my contributions).

Kaitlyn B. jump sets Mary Ellen.

Kaitlyn B. jump sets Mary Ellen.

And watching volleyball? A good match, like the one pictured here featuring our high school versus a fierce rival this past Tuesday night, is like watching poetry in motion. Looks like its choreographed even though it isn’t.

Breezy gets her fingertips on one of the mighty Ashley B.'s spikes, as Kaitlyn M. tries to help.

Breezy gets her fingertips on one of the mighty Ashley B.'s spikes, as Kaitlyn M. tries to help.

But shooting volleyball? Ugh times 150! Hmmm . . . where to start with the reasons why volleyball is so tough to photograph well?

Savannah is ready to pound the ball past the defense.

Savannah is ready to pound the ball past the defense.

First of all, it’s a fast-moving, indoor sport where you often don’t know where the ball is going. PWCs (Parents With Cameras) using a point and shoot? Take a seat on the bench; you’re never going to stop the action. I use my Nikon D300 and the Nikon f/1.4 85mm lens (the f/1.8 model works well, too).

Second, the lighting usually is terrible plus it’s the bulb type that cycles through the color spectrum. It’s hard to get a consistent white balance—some photos look great, others have a little too much magenta, while still others are too yellow. That leads to some frustrating post-processing in Photoshop.

Our team celebrates a good block.

Is it a tribal dance or is our team summoning some voodoo magic?

You need to use high ISOs (almost all these photos are at IS0 1600 and cleaned up with, what else?, Noise Ninja) to help stop the action. Flash isn’t allowed.

Our coach takes a timeout to talk strategy.

Our coach takes a timeout to talk strategy.

Of course, I love a photographic challenge, plus I’ve been shooting volleyball for several years now . . . not that that makes it any easier. This particular match was played at a local fieldhouse with high bleachers and a walkway above the court, not in our dimly lit, small gym (thank goodness!). The view from up top and the side made it easier to get compelling photos.

Our cheerleaders try to motivate our team.

Our cheerleaders try to motivate our team.

My strategy was to shoot from above in basically the same spot for the first two games. That enabled me to get good photos of both teams. Then I roamed around for the final game.

Kelsey W. serves.

Kelsey W. serves.

Normally, I don’t like a lot of shots from behind; I prefer seeing faces. But some of the volleyball action is more interesting from that backside view.

Kaitlyn M. and Mary Ellen signal their teammates.

Kaitlyn M. and Mary Ellen signal their teammates.

Kelsey M. digs the opponent's serve.

Kelsey M. digs the opponent's serve.

Even though volleyball is a photographic challenge, it’s a great sport to watch with wonderful action to try to capture. It may be high-ISO, wacky-lighting action, but it’s still delightful to see!

Bubble Bear

He's forever blowing bubbles!

He's forever blowing bubbles!

Let’s file this under my It Doesn’t Take Much to Amuse Me category, shall we?

When we were in Kansas City last week, the Mister and I took time out to drive to the University of Kansas, home of the Jayhawks and four generations of my next-door neighbor JJ the organizational whiz’s family (daughter Lindsey is about to start her sophomore year there).

The Mister poses with a random Jayhawk.

The Mister poses with a random Jayhawk.

As we drove around the lovely campus (almost as lovely as my alma mater, the University of Illinois), we stopped to snap random photos.

Sidebar: I Googled to see what in the world a “jayhawk” was. Apparently, it’s a mythical bird found all over the KU campus!

Coach Phog Allen

Coach Phog Allen

JJ’s wonderful father, the temporary Texan, has been battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at MD Anderson’s cancer center here in Houston. I texted JJ and asked where his favorite spot was on campus. She told me it was Allen Fieldhouse, home of KU’s stellar basketball teams. So the Mister and I headed there.

In front of the statue of legendary basketball coach Phog Allen, frozen in time as he guards the fieldhouse and hexes opposing teams like my beloved Fighting Illini, I offered up a prayer that the temporary Texan be able to once again walk along the campus and watch his cherished Jayhawks. And I hope the timing for that isn’t as long as the preceding sentence!

We then moved to the campus town area to eat lunch. And that’s where I saw the bubble bear doing his thing outside of a toy store. Glad I had my Nikon D300 and Nikon 24-120mm lens ready for action!

Pretty bubbles in the air!

Pretty bubbles in the air!

Beary cute!

College Musings

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1178-1sculpture

My older son touches a rope sculpture on the UT campus.

In a mere 17 months or so, my #1 son will start his college career. That’s a very sobering statement for me. After all, I’m the kind of mom who used to watch him from across the street when he was on the preschool playground at age three. I was worried that he would be standing all alone, not interacting with anyone. As it turned out, he would play with one or two of the other kids, and my uncertainties were for naught.

But that was then. This is now. My worries about his future and how he will handle being away from home at college have increased 14-fold. My anxiety has nothing to do with his intellect; I feel certain he can handle college courses. On the other hand, #1 doesn’t deal well with change, bottles up his feelings, and is not socially adept. He doesn’t really care whether or not he attends college—he has his heart set on being a songwriter and record producer and owning his own recording studio. Good thing only about a million other kids have that same set of goals!

Once I told #1 that he would get a new MacBook for college, he really perked up about going. Now the Mister and I are trying to guide him in his choice of schools and majors. He doesn’t really want to be a music major (all require auditioning and performing; he barely can play the guitar, and I don’t think that excellent iPod listening will cut it), so what will help him possibly achieve his goals?

I’ve honed in on communications. I earned my bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois (Oskee wow wow!); #1 seems to have inherited my writing ability. But while my focus of studies was print media, #1’s will be electronic media. We also will look for electronic music courses to help with his music-writing talents.

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#1 son is a high school junior, which means it’s time for college visits. We took the first one Saturday and attended the University of Texas’ Explore UT Day, which gave us admission information and more. UT’s Austin campus is about three hours from home, and we drove there with my good friend, Deanna, and her junior son. Even though both boys have known each other for years, no words were exchanged until we got out of the car at home. Awkward! But very typical for #1.

As #1 and I walked around the large campus and attended a couple seminars, one thing was painfully obvious: Even though UT is a great school, it won’t be a great school for #1. It’s much too big and not nurturing enough. #1 wore a glazed-over look within an hour. I know he’s bound to mature before he leaves the nest, but he’s not going to change his basic personality. Smaller would be better for him.

My next-door neighbor JJ, the organizational wiz and wise mom of one college student so far, made a good point: Part of the college decision-making process is ruling out schools where your child doesn’t feel comfortable. I hadn’t thought about it in that way, but, like usual, she’s absolutely right. And now UT has been crossed off our short list (short . . . because it is!).

newutsalogo

There only are two schools right now on our short list: the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. UTSA has about 28,000 students, good degree possibilities, and seems more nurturing. SFA is even smaller. We plan to visit UTSA next Monday (the start of spring break) and SFA at its Saturday Showcase March 28. #1 son automatically qualifies for admittance at both schools based on his SAT score and class rank, and neither school requires an essay for automatic admits. That makes life easier!

Now I know the Aggies reading this will start lobbying for Texas A&M (as my good pal Kim already has). Once again, A&M is too big for the #1 son, plus it doesn’t strike me as being as good a liberal arts school as it is for engineering, math, and science. That’s why A&M didn’t make the short list. Another great school that won’t be great for my son.

If we just lived in Illinois, the decision would be soooo easy: Fighting Illini all the way!

Get ’er dones

Just a couple things on the list: I need to call our insurance agent to ask about roof damage (we have some shingles missing thanks to Hurricane Ike), and I need to put Photoshop Elements 6.0 on the boys’ iMac and my MacBook. Worrying about making the right college choice is NOT on the list!