I figured out the theme had a built-in search widget that I needed to use rather than the standard wordpress widget. Using that widget fixed my gripe with the search widget being ugly. I also did some more CSS tweaking (mostly just colors).
I also found fixed a bug where empty search results weren’t calling the footer so the whole page looked somewhat off-kilter. Ugly.
Today was also exciting in that I dove into the uncharted waters of PHP! I played around with the post header/footer and was able to finally get what I was after. I moved the post author to the footer and I got the full date in the footer as well.
All in all it was a very productive day!