A Lesson from EZ Pass

I spend too much of my life stressing over details in my life that really don’t require that much thought. Thanks to EZ Pass and my American Express this might be changing. 
I started grad school as a whim. Not something normal people do, but I’ve never done anything in the ordinary fashion. The tuition went on my American Express (no interest until August 2016), along with my prepay heating oil bill for the winter.

When I first started driving to West Chester every week, I gathered a stack of singles and fives to keep in my console in the car. Toll money. There are two fairly equally ways to travel the turnpike to West Chester. One involves Route 22 and straight down, the other uses Route 78 and the back roads to hook up with the turnpike in Quakertown.

The back road method eliminates a dollar or so in tolls.

And I’m cheap.

I ordered an EZ Pass and I noticed something when it came. I didn’t care so much about that extra buck. I usually drive to West Chester on the cheaper way, but on the way home I never feel like weaving around in the dark. So I don’t.

And I refuse to stress over saving or spending a dollar. 

I’ve noticed on my EZ Pass bill that it really doesn’t force my account to recharge any sooner than if I stick to my stingy back way.

Maybe I’m mellowing in my old age.

I freaked out the first time I used the EZ Pass. What if it didn’t work? I made my husband use the ticket and EZ Pass lane just to be sure.

And that stack of $30 in small bills in my car? It’s down to $5. Most of it reallocated to the child’s lunch money. 

But it took a month before I was willing to touch it.

New Beginnings: Grad School & Life in a ‘Boot’

I’ve always believed that life has a way of keeping people in balance. Some people lament that life can never be easy, or that whenever things are going well it means something must go wrong.

I believe that if you act too smug or confident, the universe will smack you.

My part-time job is in retail, working in the café for a certain retailer associated with the colors red and khaki. I have worked for them for five years. It’s the perfect job when you’re working your way through school and/or trying to raise a family and be an active part of your child’s life. And the discount and other perks rock.

That’s detail one in my current tale. Detail two relates to fitness and health. I have cerebral palsy. I’m not getting any younger. When I broke my hand last winter, I lost all strength on my right side. This scared me. I gained something ridiculous like 15 pounds. This didn’t upset me until I could no longer fit my thighs in my pants.

And finally three: I start grad school today, at West Chester University, a 90-minute drive from my home.

These items set the stage for Monday. On Monday, I was preparing for a crazy week. Work 3-8:30 Wednesday, cash office and café at work Thursday 7-3:30, then rush to a class that starts at 5:50, get home about ten, and work noon to 8:30 in the café Friday. Husband works overtime all weekend. I have a picnic and 10k hike through the woods Saturday and a potential road trip to walk on Sunday.

Then this happened:

  
This is what happened Monday.

I moved all the furniture out of the living room, scrubbed the floors and put everything back. I went to the gym for a fitness orientation. They had to keep “upping” my weights because they underestimated me– good feeling! I have a body fat percentage of 21.8 which puts me in the excellent category for the 35-39 age range. 

I came home, and in an effort to get my daughter to move more, suggested the family walk to dinner. I was hungry for a salad and didn’t have fresh greens here.

3/4 of a mile from home, I tripped and twisted my ankle. My husband went home for the car. My daughter kept me company. We took photos of my wounds.

  
We drove to the restaurant. It was closed on Mondays. So we went to the Chinese buffet. After heading to the restroom to wash the blood off my hands and arms, I gathered my food and headed to the table.

When we went to leave, my foot hurt worse but only when I moved my foot a certain way. We went to Patient First.

Turns out I had a closed lateral fracture of the malleolous. Or a broken angle. Imagine a horizontal crack across the bottom of my fibula in the front of my leg. 

  
The next day, I visited my primary care physician for painkillers after the pain kept me up most of the night. Then I went to the Ortho yesterday.

He said with my reputation for clumsiness, a boot would be better than a cast because if I fall in a cast, my ankle would be fine but I’d break a knee or screw up my whole leg. So, boot it is.

  
But I can’t drive.

I had emailed my West Chester professor, and she said I could come late to class tonight. My husband has said that he’ll drive me but there’s no way he can leave work early. 

I returned to work today, in cash office, but can’t do my café duties with a broken foot. They may find me another work center if the store is busy enough… But it’s alarming to go from about 55 hours in the current pay period to ten. I am so grateful for my cash office shifts. 

So wish me luck. At school and with the ankle. 

Oops! I think I start grad school next week

  
As a former journalist, I have a passion for research, current events and packaging information. 

When I earned my second bachelors degree, I did it to show my daughter the value of education. I wanted to start grad school, but I didn’t know how feasible that would be with a job, a child, a household and several volunteer commitments. So I committed to a new undergraduate career instead. Cheaper & faster than grad school. A way to test the water. A way to increase my academic credentials to better match my professional experience.

But I do really want my Ph.D. I applied to a prestigious program last year and did not get in. The whole process taught me a lot and when I reviewed it this winter I talked more in depth with my former advisers.

Here’s the thing about advisers: you have to consider their advice within a framework of who they think you will be. I’ve discovered that my former professors have visions for me that don’t necessarily match my goals. Frankly, some of their plans are quite flattering and sometimes overwhelming.

One adviser had suggested the MA program in history at West Chester University. At first I didn’t take him seriously because they don’t have a Ph.D. program.

They sent me an email, coincidentally, advertising a grad school open house. Here’s the kicker… If you attended, they waived your application fee. 

 And then I reviewed their faculty. I noted at least five professors whose interests intersect with mine. The program was flexible, part-time or full-time, affordable and has some scholarship/graduate assistantship available.

At the same time, I was trying to contact another prestigious school about taking a class in their African studies department this fall. They had a professor who might have an interest in East Africa that might suit me.

It took two weeks to get an email that told me to call them or come to one of their “walk-in” events. The email merely asked if the class I wanted to take could be enrolled in as a non-matriculated student. 

Frustrated by the prestigious school, I emailed West Chester. I received a delightful response the next day that encouraged me to contact anyone in the department. I also got an email from the person who would be hosting for the history department at the open house.

And then the open house happened. Wednesday August 12. The graduate coordinator was enthusiastic and portrayed the strengths and weaknesses of her department. She thought I might like a class they were offering this fall, suggesting the professor would be a good fit, and indeed it was one of the people who intrigued me originally.

I came home. Thought. Chatted with friends. Worked. On Monday I entered my name into the system as a potential non-degree student in the history graduate department.

Monday night I received a student number. I also received an invitation to the history meet-and-greet today. I declined. It’s a 90-minute drive one way.

Tuesday morning I initiated my account and went into the registration system to see what I needed to do to gain approval for the class.

Nothing. Just click. So I did.

Turns out classes start next week.

I have gone from floundering to enrolled in a graduate level class in less than a week. Provided this works out, and I suppose paying tuition is the main next step, I will go from undecided about my next step to sitting in class in less than two weeks.

What have I done? Grad school sneaked up and bit me! Gulp.