Thursday, December 25, 2008

And to all, a good night.

Well, Merry Christmas. Rick worked last night so I stayed up till 1 all by myself, then slept till 5 and got up again to welcome him home at 6. Then back to bed till 10, and up to feed the pets and survey the apartment. I cleaned some of the kitchen yesterday; today will be the bathroom and maybe the bedroom while I finish the laundry. At least I can give us the gift of a clean house this year. He works again tonight, 10pm to 6am. At least we'll have time for dinner before he goes.

When I got up at 5, it was all quiet and dark like it used to be when we were little and would get up to check our stockings before mom and dad were awake. Out of some last upwelling of childhood hope I went to the living room as though there would somehow be a tree there all lit up and sparkling. Of course, the only lights were the LEDs from the speakers and computer. Christmas has entirely lost its magic for me this year.

It's almost New Years' again. Another calendar change, revisiting resolutions... I didn't complete mine this year. Aside from fumbling through some wedding plans, not a single goal on my list was realized. I blame some of that on the major upset in March that caused me to spend an extra summer in college, but the rest of the blame lies solely on my lap for not just doing it.

I fail at self motivation. Which is hard for me to say, because I have such big, glorious plans for my life - but they'll never be any closer to achievement if I can't even keep a resolution to keep the kitchen clean. I've been trying to develop better habits, but obviously not hard enough. And so I'm tossing out specific resolutions for the coming year, and focusing on just doing what needs to be done without making excuses or avoiding it. I figure if I can do that, my life might be a lot better... and I'll probably develop some good habits along the way.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry xmas!

This is a photo of a christmas card I got from one of my online friends. What does it say that I can't see my family for xmas and haven't gotten anything in the mail from any of them, whether or not they expected to see me this year, but I've gotten cards from 4 people who I've never met in person? To be fair, my family has never been big on cards and it's been years since I even talked to my aunt and uncle in CA, let alone gotten a gift from them (or given them one), but still, it kinda stings. Especially when every aunt Rick has is sending him a card at the very least.

A sense of community is a great thing and I'm glad that I have that with someone, even if I can't hug them for the holiday wishes.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I WON!

....and that is all. NaNo's word counter shorted me by 22 words after I tried to validate with 50,001 the first time, but it was all good. I crossed the finish line at just after 10pm and am now basking in the glory of having written 20k words in two days to finish my novel in the sloppiest and least coherent manner I have ever written. But it's ok, because I'll be editing it in January, I swear...

Along the way:
I made some new friends, drank more tea than I had all year previous to November, used Write or Die several times to meet with great wordcounts each time (something about the screen turning red on kamikaze mode before it deletes your words with as much gusto as a machine can muster really kept me typing!), ate lots of muffins, canned spagetti-o ripoffs and assorted other microwaveable foods, worked 20+ hours a week the first 3 weeks, managed to get all of my paperwork done, kept the dishes washed and the laundry done, nearly stabbed my laptop screen, punched my laptop, dropped it, carried it around with me like a baby, stayed up late to write, thought I would quit 3 times, and finally had my laptop die on me.

Yes, it died. Or rather, the LCD died. Not sure quite how but I think it started with the screen warping when I left the poor thing on overnight a few times several months ago, and it only got worse from there. I never did diagnose the problem, but it had been getting worse (displaying lines down the screen, fuzzing out, going shades of white or purple and freezing up, etc) and could generally only be fixed by a chip clip in the top corner of the screen. Of course it had to completely die on the last day, or more accurately just a few hours before validation was set to close. Talk about frustrating... I might have hit it a few times, but it was already entirely dead so it's not like that hurt it much. Guess it's time for a new laptop. :/

But at least I won National Novel Writing Month for the first time since I started participating six years ago. Whew, what a month.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Kitten

Aw. Naturally as soon as I took this he rolled over!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Stressssssssss.

Today was one of those days that I can only describe as "AAAAARGH."

In short, my client screamed a lot, was uncooperative except for a half hour in Kindergarten, and then fell asleep at 1:30, leaving me with another 1.5 hours of unbillable time on my hands and a gregarious temp aide who decided that since I wasn't with a student I must not have anything to do. I didn't get any paperwork done. Nor did I get any writing done for the third night in a row, and it's now 10pm, although to be fair I did sleep from 5:30 to 7:30. I've had a confusing sleep pattern the last few days, too. I've been going to bed early, sleeping in as much as possible in the morning, and dozing off for hours during the afternoon. It doesn't help that I'm -always- cold, and the bed is the warmest place in the house except in front of the mini heater, and this morning I woke up with the left side of my sinus cavities completely congested.

Oh, and the landlady is now showing the apartment all week long, and we've had to spend time cleaning it up properly for showcasing the lovely large kitchen with its sloping floor and the door that we stuffed foam around and masking-taped shut because otherwise there's a draft coming in around it that feels like someone turned on an industrial fan and pointed it at the house.

I hate winter. I think I should be allowed to hibernate.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Just another NaNo update...

Write or Die is my NaNo salvation:
3008
68
lab.drwicked.com


I'm now at 28,088 words and am going to write a bit more before bed to give myself a comfy little cushion on which to lean back during this week, as I expect I'll be starting 4 more hours of work this week with a new client so I'll have far less time to write. But more money is a good thing, too... this novel probably won't make any, after all.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Winning!

2002
41
lab.drwicked.com


50wpm for 40 minutes straight isn't too bad after a full day of work and being sleepy besides. I think I might actually make it to 50k this year... and I'm having an awful lot of fun with my characters' internal monologues.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

...did I mention it's NOVEMBER? :D

...and that means NaNoWriMo!

My total word count so far is 8,815 - slightly ahead of the Nov. 5 goal of 8334. I got a good start over the weekend of the 1st, went to a write-in, enjoyed myself and have settled into a pace of about 1500-2k words per day now, which if I keep it up should ensure a win. Of course, I'm depending on having weekends free for catching up (and doing paperwork) as needed.

I'm excited; this is the 10th anniversary of National Novel Writing Month, and there are hundreds of thousands of participants. Even my lackadaisical town has popped a few budding authors out of the woodwork (mostly college students - gotta love english majors!). So this year I have more of a support net as well as more of an idea. Here's hoping for few plot holes and lots of tea... speaking of which, the water's boiling! :D

Oh, and while we're on the topic...

(This will make more sense if you read the previous post first.)

Oh, and on the topic of change being bullshit - it's bullshit because Obama can't do very much from the white house. Our president is a figurehead. He can veto bills from Congress, he can suggest things, but he can not singlehandedly change anything (probably including the White House light bulbs). This being the case, I don't know why we always fall into the trap of campaign promises only to look back at 4 years of a presidency with disappointment (or we simply forget the promises because we're busy fighting over the "issues"). If Obama gets enough support from the Congress and Supreme Court, then we may be in trouble... but even then, Obama can create change only if we allow it.

People seem to forget that we are in a democracy except once every 4 years. The supposed definition of democracy is: "a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly... or by their elected agents" (dictionary.reference.com). Democracy is Rule By the People, For the People, and Of the People. This being the case, why do most of us have a bad case of "It's someone else's problem!"? Trash in the street? Someone else's problem, even if it's two steps from the can. Notice that your neighborhood civic center could use a fresh coat of paint? Someone else's problem. Schools in your city understaffed with overworked teachers? Someone else's problem! Other people's problems bother you all the time, but it's never -your- problem to fix, because the minute it becomes your problem, it also becomes your responsibility. Remember that quote: "With great power comes great responsibility." Yeah, that one. Well, if we're supposedly the ones in power in this great country, why aren't we taking responsibility for it?

I know I complain A LOT about the educational system, about food prices, about just about anything there is to complain about - I'm convinced it's human nature to complain, and if there's nothing to complain about we'll complain that things are too good to be true. But at the same time, a blog post by an acquaintance of mine made me remember that complaints won't get things done. Actions speak louder than the best campaign promises. So even though I didn't vote, I feel like I make more of a difference every day than some people have made in their entire lives.

I garden (as much as I can fit on a tiny, crowded balcony) for some of my own food. I help people when I can afford to (time to listen, money for good charities, volunteering to help out with projects, or just a smile on the street to someone who looks sad). I try to live a decent life and encourage those around me to do the same. I'm not perfect and I certainly could do better, but the point is that at least I try, for 365 days a year, every year, to be a good person, the kind of person I'd like to see running my country. And the way I see it, the best way to become proud of America is to live as an example for other Americans. So while a lot of people voted this fall, and wanted to see our new president (whoever he might be) bring Change to the White House, why don't we get busy now, and invest all that positive energy from the election into volunteering at our local schools, growing some veggies, making cookies for the neighbors, tutoring our children, fixing up our bicycles and doing our best to live good lives. Obama might make a good president (I have my doubts, but four years will tell), but he can not live our own lives for us, nor can he ever bring change to those who are unwilling to accept it.

Think on that for a while next time you get all excited about what someone else is doing for the world, and remember: to a lot of people out there, you could be that someone else.

Well, that's over...

Congratulations to our (almost) President-elect. My mother apparently called me last night at 10pm, wanting to know why I was still in the voter register in our county back home and wondering if I had indeed voted. She said, and I quote: "because if you haven't, I'll kick your ass." I'm sure she wants to, and I'm sure a lot of other people want to do so as well.

Well mom, you better get driving, and Rick will put you in my appointment book when you get here, because I'm a little bit busy figuring out how to survive through the next few shitty paychecks to get my ass kicked at the moment and you're not helping my stress levels. I'm glad you've come over to the American Way of taking out your annoyance on people through violence. Take a ticket, have a seat, wait in line. I DID NOT VOTE. I ABSTAINED.

And guess what? I DON'T CARE.

I was sick of this election four months ago and stressed then, too, and trying to figure out how I was going to be eating in another month, so you'll excuse me if I didn't get around to trying to re-register until October when I was told it was too late. And it wasn't too late for an absentee ballot, but New York wouldn't have given me one, because I'm technically a permanent PA resident now and have no plausible excuse to write on the application. So I couldn't register down here and I sure as hell wasn't driving back to New York after 6 hours of work, even if the polls had been open late enough to allow that kind of nonsense. Sorry, voter registration wasn't exactly the first thing on my mind this year.

But the reason I really don't care is because this election was not really that important, despite all the bullshit about Americans electing our first black president (you'll notice he's still half white, and you'll also notice if you check the exit polls that Americans didn't elect him - BLACK Americans did), about "Change" (Same shit, different color), and about how much was going to happen when we finally got Bush out of office. I'll say it again; that was BULLSHIT. Half the country knew who was going to win two months ago, because Americans follow very distinct voting patterns just like all other "democratic" nations, and it was pretty obvious the pendulum would be swinging Democrat this year. So in that respect, even if I had voted, my vote would not have counted against the near-guarantee of a Democratic win. I'm almost sure that even if Hillary, Miss Divisive herself, had run for office against McCain, we'd have taken her rather than let the Republicans have the presidency for another 4 years.

Now, I wasn't even planning on voting for either candidate. Let's say that one again. I was not going to vote Democrat and I was not going to vote Republican. I still was not sure, as of last night, WHO I would have voted for because even the third party candidates I looked up online, some of whom weren't even eligible to be put on the official PA ballot, didn't support what I think this country needs. If anything, I would have written in some kind of joke like Charles Darwin, it would have been the only vote for that person in the entirety of the nation, and my vote would have been lost in the other hundreds of thousands of stupid write-ins and mistakes - essentially I would have thrown my vote away in an effort to tell people how much I hated my choices this year. But at least I would've voted and that's what counts, right? (/sarcasm)

It's not that I think my vote doesn't "count" in the most abstract sense of the word. I think that even if I vote for the least likely candidate for office, if I am voting true to my own beliefs I have made myself heard, so my vote counts. Of course I'll never see my chosen candidates get elected, but I think there is a great deal of weight sitting on the shoulders of a minority who actually do vote third-party - they are the ones who tell the people running this great shithole of a country that there are people out there who are still unsatisfied and don't buy into the war hype and the tax cuts (or in this case, increases, unless you're living below the poverty level with me), and who want to see more change than a hopeful slogan and a new skin color in office. BUT I do think that while my vote counts on some great abstract level, in this year's election, no one lost by a single vote, so in terms of statistics and logic my vote counted about as much as a pea in a mountain of soybeans.

I think that I could probably feel horribly guilty about not voting, too. But I don't. I'm not going to let everyone else tell me that I should feel guilty for not voting, because my vote was one of millions to be silent this election and silence is just as good an option sometimes. I'm abstaining from "running the nation" because NO ONE this year stood for sustainable development, overhauling the education system, paring down unnecessary government, reducing our goddamn budget deficit instead of cutting chunks out of school funding so we can keep spending on the war, and improving the chances of single young adults in getting health care. They were all worried about poor Joe the Plumber, Mr. Everyman. I'll vote when a candidate steps up who is more scholar than warrior and who knows the value of a real-life education instead of standardized testing, of letting kids be kids (I swear if I hear any more paranoia about poisoned Halloween candy or pedophiles lurking in suburban bushes I'm going to start throwing bricks at mothers' heads), and of giving this nation some flexibility and forethought instead of knee-jerk reactions and predictability. THEN my vote would really count toward what I want. In the meantime, the line for my ass-kicking starts over there. Enjoy your wait.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

So I've been thinking...

(and of course we know this leads to long, rambly blog posts!)...

I really don't feel grown-up yet. Which is funny, in a way, because it seems like most people spend the first 18 or so years of their life trying to be as "grown-up" as possible, and I know I certainly did want to be more "grown-up" when I was in high school, and looked forward to the awesome adult that I most certainly would become. Yet now that I've finally been pushed out into the world (a fact which was waved in my face this evening when I found a notice that the college is disconnecting my network account now that I've graduated), I'm really not sure what to do with myself.

I have a degree, I have a job, I'm engaged, I have a decent apartment with two cats and some nice stuff (and as George Carlin knew well, life is all about the stuff)... but I feel like somewhere I missed some really important rite of passage that would have otherwise told me "ok, you're an adult!", and with it, some major change in attitude, behavior, or appearance (when, oh when, will my skin clear up?). Instead it's all been rather gradual and confusing, and I'm left wondering - if I'm not sure I'm an adult at 22 years old with an adult job and a car and an apartment, what will I feel like at 40? On one hand, I almost hope the sense of childhood never goes away, because it's most certainly more fun to be able to race kids down the block (letting them win, of course) than to believe that paperwork and dishes are all there is to life, but on the other hand, I'm not sure I want to be 40 and still wondering when I'll think of myself as an adult!

Either way, I'm happy with my job so far and I guess I'm doing ok at playing grown-up, and sometimes I think everyone's just pretending anyway.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Year-Round, or something else entirely?

So I got bored today and decided to be "useful" to the teeming masses by making my presence known on Yahoo! Answers, a fine service dedicated to the highest reaches of human achievement, answering such questions as: What is the song that goes like this:? and I think i want to be jewish?.

The Answers Blog at the top of the page caught my eye today as I was skimming for more places to leave snarky, 5-paragraph answers. It asks: What are your thoughts on year-round education? A lot of the answers came in the form of anecdotes from teens on both sides of the fence, but a few things kept coming up and I wanted to drop a few thoughts of my own.

1. Kids "need" or "deserve" a summer break, it's "tradition", and it's time well spent on things school can't/won't cover. This one was obviously refuted several times over and it was mentioned that summer used to be farming time, and obviously isn't any more. I do appreciate that some kids can spend all summer in pursuit of knowledge and useful skills, and I know that in our world, a high school summer job is an integral part of growing up, not to mention a potential savings fund for that highly expensive college education. However, most kids I know sit on their bottoms all day long in front of a TV or computer monitor, so making good use of the summer is obviously something that either needs more parental involvement *coughhack* or we ought to be letting "those who know better" do something more useful with our kids, like schooling them! And summer jobs are a bit tougher but I think a year-long after-school internship might teach students more about money management and work ethic than a summer job that they know they'll be able to leave in September. Plus, wouldn't school-company relations be improved by that kind of thing? You send your kids in for grunt work as interns or volunteers, which gains them that precious socialization and leadership training, and since they're there on a steady basis and they're learning more about the company in all seasons, they might be offered a job or a bit of tuition help if they come back... but I guess that makes too much sense.

2. Year-long schools don't get as much vacation time, or get more. According to most of the responses, while there are varied templates for year long schooling, the number of days spent in school is, at least in the US, the same number as that spent in a 9 month cycle. The key is taking shorter breaks more often, which has apparently been shown to increase both student and teacher productivity and would definitely have improved my morale in high school. Getting up on those dark winter mornings when you knew the next break wouldn't be till Easter... well, let's just say I "accidentally" missed the bus a lot. Frequent breaks at off-times also mean that a family can go on a week-long vacation to, say, the Florida Keys and not have to pay as much or deal with crowding.

And crowding is one of the big reasons cited for having several tracks running in a year-long school with staggered breaks for each one, so that the effective attending population of the school can be cut by a quarter or more depending on who's got break at any given time. It keeps class sizes smaller, which I always think of as a good thing, and thins out the stress on school facilities and staff in overcrowded areas.

3. Kids in year-round school won't have the time to attend summer camps, visit relatives, hang out with friends, and experience the "real world, and teachers need their breaks too!" Sorry to say this, kiddos, but the "real world" is pretty well formed by month after month of all work and no play, unless you happen to get lucky with paid leave and sabbaticals, or you're unlucky enough to be unemployed. I think a year-round school could easily give kids a slightly longer summer break to accommodate summer camps and similar educational activities, while still maintaining a fairly even schedule. If you want to visit relatives for more than a week you're probably overstaying your welcome, and I wouldn't count that as a valid excuse anyway - visits happen regardless of schedules, if you really want them to. Hanging out with friends is what school -is-, these days, so no points there. This argument is entirely based on the assumption that those 3 months are going to be spent in a productive fashion anyway, which is entirely dependent upon personal attitudes and SES of the family (can they afford space camp, or do they buy Johnny a $20 video game instead?).

And teachers? I've been told this so many times I'll never forget it: A REAL, GOOD teacher doesn't get summer break. Of course this could possibly be because teaching doesn't pay enough to support yourself without a second job. (*ba-dum-ching!*) It could also be that teachers are *gasp* improving skills via summer classes and training! I was told it was because prep work for the next year, including reflecting on what you learned from the last class, should take all summer. I'm sure veteran teachers have it easier but knowing how much I put into a student teaching assignment and how little work it actually was in comparison to running my own classroom, I can see how teachers wouldn't get a break. So why do people insist that teachers will and should get one, aside from knowing what little horrors their precious children are? It's perpetuating a stereotype of a lazy, incompetent teacher, and I don't think the teaching profession needs any more bad press.

4. Kids are losing knowledge over summer breaks. Yeah, they are. End of story. Even I who read all summer long had trouble going back to school in the fall and readjusting to the schedule. Summer for me always provided a canvas for establishing bad habits as well as for exploring my interests. I ended up having a lot of fun at camp, for example, but I also ended up doing a lot of "nothing" and developing bad habits (like staying at the computer all day) to deal with boredom.

I think boredom, loneliness, loss of learning and establishment of bad habits happens to most kids over the summer, and I think since everyone is always going on about how children need structure and stability in their lives, the natural extension is toward longer schooling with more regular breaks. I would hate for summer break to be taken out completely, since it does offer benefits like summer jobs and a chance to travel, but it would be nice to extend the school year a little farther. Three months is too much, and even the kids on the Yahoo! Answers blog agreed on that. I can't speak for costs of keeping the school open vs closing it, but I imagine that "issue" could be smoothed out if people were willing to work on it. I think a lot of areas have dismissed longer school sessions out-of-hand because they don't understand or don't like the changes that it would bring... but I am pushing for any change that might help our schools. Considering the state it's in, even tiny steps toward improving our educational system are welcome to me.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Garden



This lovely blurry cell phone picture represents my very first "real" harvest from my garden. I pulled up a lot of lettuce last week for use on burritos, too. The blueberry tomatoes, true to their name, are tiny! They make up for it in flavor and juiciness, though. I could eat them like snack food... mmmm! And the peas are amazingly sweet; I don't think I'd want to cook them because I'm afraid to ruin the fresh-from-garden taste. I did leave the beans on the stalk a little too long but they're still ok in soup (I dropped them into my ramen today with some leftover beef).

I'm proud of the garden this year. It doesn't look like much, but it's giving me some pretty good returns for a few days' worth of planting and watering.

Still jobless, though. Sigh.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

DEAR

It's been quite uneventful around here recently. I'm taking a social psychology class which has me analyzing half the thoughts that pop into my head, an alarming increase from the 30% or so I usually think twice about. It has however shown me a few things about myself, I think. Being a usually introspective person, it's probably easier for me to step back and apply theories to my own thinking, but it might just drive me crazy (crazier?).

No hope on the job front. Tonight/tomorrow I'll try looking in Johnstown, because we found a real fixer-upper type house there and we want to try to get it, which will obviously be easier with a job. It's a big, old brick home with front and back porch tacked on at some later date, and it looks cheaply patched up inside and out but it's still structurally in decent shape, and has a full attic, a full (slightly damp) basement, and a newer-looking pair of furnaces and water heaters (yes, two of each - it was apparently split into upstairs-downstairs apartments). If my guess is correct most of the work it needs is cosmetic, which we can do ourselves (and boy am I excited about it). The lot also has a 3-bay garage, which is in far worse condition than the house (but that's ok, I don't mind rebuilding roofs!), and a tiny lawn where I could presumably put a garden. And it's priced to throw out at $16,900... gotta love foreclosures! I'm not letting myself get too excited about it, because there -was- another offer put in, and we can't offer what we don't have, but I do hope that we have a chance. I really would like a home.

In the meantime I sit here and check my email and my comics and blogs and wonder if I'll ever get a job interview when even Subway didn't seem to want me (although presumably their excuse is that they had hundreds of applicants). It's frustrating but there are little gems in everything. Today's was, of all things, spam mail.

From: "DEAR CONTACT MY SECRETAY FOR YOUR BANK DRAFT"
Subject: DEAR CONTACT MY SECRETAY FOR YOUR BANK DRAFT
Date: Thu, 17 Jul 2008 12:12:30 +0300

DEAR

I'M HAPPY TO INFORM YOU ABOUT MY SUCCESS IN GETTING THOSE FUNDS TRANSFERRED UNDER THE COOPERATION OF A NEW PARTNER FROM PARAGUAY. PRESENTLY I'M IN PARAGUAY BUT BY NEXT WEEK I WILL BE IN CHINA FOR INVESTMENT PROJECTS WITH MY OWN SHARE OF THE TOTAL SUM.

MEANWHILE,I DIDN'T FORGET YOUR PAST EFFORTS AND ATTEMPTS TO ASSIST ME IN TRANSFERRING THOSE FUNDS DESPITE THAT IT FAILED US SOME HOW. NOW CONTACT MY SECRETARY, HIS NAME IS MR PRINCE UGO E-MAILADDRESSS: princeugo201@gmail.com ASK HIM TO SEND YOU THE TOTAL US$800,000.00 WHICH I KEPT FOR YOUR COMPENSATION FOR ALL THE PAST EFFORTS AND ATTEMPTS TO ASSIST ME IN THIS MATTER.

I APPRECIATED YOUR EFFORTS AT THAT TIME VERY MUCH. SO FEEL FREE AND GET IN TOUCH WITH MY SECRETARY AND INSTRUCT HIM WHERE TO SEND THE AMOUNT TO YOU PLEASE DO LET ME KNOW IMMEDIATELY YOU RECEIVE IT SO THAT WE CAN SHARE THE JOY AFTER ALL THE SUFFERNESS AT THAT TIME. IN THE MOMENT, I AM VERY BUSY HERE BECAUSE OF THE INVESTMENT PROJECTS WHICH ME AND THE NEW PARTNER ARE HAVING AT HAND.

FINALLY, REMEMBER THAT I HAD FORWARDED INSTRUCTION TO MY SECRETARY ON YOUR BEHALF TO SEND YOU THE MONEY AS SOON AS YOU REQUEST FOR IT. SO FEEL FREE TO GET IN TOUCH WITH MR PRINCE UGO HE WILL SEND THE AMOUNT TO YOU WITHOUT ANY DELAY,BEAR IN MIND THAT THE US$800,000.00 IN CONFIRMABLE BANK DRAFT

REGARDS,

MR WILLIAMS OKAFOR
DEAR CONTACT MY SECRETAY FOR YOUR BANK DRAFT


Contact the secretay I shall! If only $800k really was a few clicks away I would be a happy woman. Last week I inherited 5 million or so, but I forgot to send the nice old lady my bank information before I deleted the message. What would I do with that much money, anyway? It's better going to someone gullible enough to need it!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Something caught my eye today...

While I was reading a forum thread titled "Are we on the verge of serious economic collapse?" I came across a post that stated that Congress had just passed into law a little provision that allows taxation of property when you renounce US citizenship. My first reaction was Wait a minute, wouldn't we have heard about this one?, and then I went hunting.

Look what I found!
The so-called "Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act of 2008", which is supposedly all about "[amending] the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide benefits for military personnel, and for other purposes.", hides a little gem in Sections 301-303.

I didn't read the whole thing, because it's a lot of legalese and politikspeak and references other bills that I haven't had the time and energy to muddle through, and I can't understand half of it without sitting down and writing it all out on paper 3 or 4 times paraphrased in normal human speech and then asking someone else if I got it right. I'm pretty sure they do that on purpose. >.> Anyway, the basic idea, if I understand correctly, is that if you leave the country or otherwise declare yourself no longer a US resident, you're to be taxed on all assets (home, car, 401k) that you have in this country as though they had been sold on the day before your expatriation, and at "market value" (which to me sounds a heck of a lot like "as high as we can appraise it"). Now, I -think- there's a $600k 'gain' limit before they start taxing you, which gives you a pretty good base if you actually had that $600k in cash and not invested in your in-ground pool and your car(s)... and they obviously won't tax you if you're taking a loss. They also make exceptions if you have lived here less than 10 years or are under 18 1/2 years old at the time of expatriation (oh how kind!). However, it's still awfully shady, and it seems to me that the articles pointing this out were right - there's really no reason to start taxing expatriation unless they expect a lot of it to happen. What are they preparing for?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Haircut

2 weeks ago I finally chopped my long hair off.


In case you can't see the numbers, that's over 20"

It's been sent off in a tidy little ponytail for Locks of Love. Then, I had the nice hair place down the road trim it and layer it slightly, and I did a quick home dye job (temporary, of course!).


It's so nice to have a fresh new haircut!

So if you haven't seen or heard already (sorry, Mom!), now you know what to expect next time you see me!

And in other news I've sent off applications to the state government for a civil service position as a clerk typist... plus I handed in an application for Taco Bell on Thursday. I'm hoping that since they're not actively hiring they won't call back. If they do, though, at least it's a job.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Word Play (and procrastination)

I should be doing my homework but I've been doing a lot of reading lately (me? read?!) and I wanted to share a few of the thoughts it provoked. As a reader and writer I really enjoy language - puns, playing on the meanings of words, homophones and homonyms and everything else. I'm no English major but I know enough to get by in polite society, or so I like to think.

As a natural offshoot of reading, writing, and playing with words, sometimes I come up with questions - What is the connection (or separation) between condemn and condone? I know their definitions, but 'con' as a prefix didn't quite make sense to me in those words. So what do 'demn' and 'done' mean and how does that change 'con'? (demn is from damnare, Latin: to sentence; done is from donare, also Latin, to donate.) Stuff like this runs through my head in the shower and if I remember later I go look it up with Mirriam-Webster and friends at Dictionary.com.

That train of thought - how easy it is to pull out the electronic dictionary on a whim - sparked some additional insight on teaching. Teachers today many times run into kids who either claim that school is useless for them or that they 'already know it all'. In many cases neither of these claims is true, but it is getting much easier to "know it all", with a little help from our friend Google. I would consider myself an active learner; I seek to engage myself in learning experiences on a daily basis and when I don't get them from a classroom I try to make other connections. A few years ago I probably would have had to find someone nearby to answer any questions I had about etymology, etc unless I had the full (and very expensive) version of Webster's Unabridged sitting around the house. Most people don't even HAVE a dictionary these days, or so it seems - This article tells a touching but probably all too common tale of third graders who were completely unfamiliar with dictionaries and who did not own them at home. And yet I can open a new tab and type the right combination of key words (which might take a few tries) into Google and get you that very article without so much as needing to know it existed, let alone having to look up where it was published, dates, or know how to scan a newspaper database. Information is literally a few keystrokes away.

This kind of open learning environment is one I love, but I think for many people, the knowledge that the information is there is not akin to being curious or able to access it. Someone can now claim to be a know-it-all, and as long as they're sitting at a computer connected to the internet they can try to prove it with virtually no physical, social, or mental work required. They don't even have to read what they're telling you - "key words" do the work for them (although it's always a good idea to pre-read or skim what you plan to present as proof, as many researchers will tell you). The skills to utilize that kind of open information setting are what we should be (and in some cases are) teaching in schools, but for a student who has seen what Google and Wikipedia do for his/her older sister's history report and his best friend's knowledge of how to "get chicks" (even though at 12 he's never practiced) it's probably already too late to start teaching good research skills, how to find reliable sources, and all the other practical parts of learning that no amount of reading Howstuffworks.com will ever give you.

I think in some respects the seemingly endless fountain of information available on the internet is liberating. It gets me out of the classrooms that I associate with powerpoint lectures and well-meaning teachers and into a realm of connections (links, key word searches, images, and video) which I can make or leave for later as I choose. I say "make" because for me reading the article on combustion engines will teach me something, but when I choose to read the connecting articles - on different fuels, maybe, or on rotary engines, how engines are built, or common engine problems, I am not just clicking links in the web, I am making more connections. I am adding more to that file folder in my brain that's now labeled "mechanics" so that later when I read something about fuel efficiency I can connect further. School sometimes fails to to this, but the tactics I learned in school to deal with forming and arranging connections have been invaluable to me as a denizen of the internets.

I love learning like this and I think many others do as well... but I worry about how this kind of learning experience is leaving some people behind (those without 24/7 connectivity or computer experience are foremost, along with those who are already lacking in the background cultural knowledge necessary to 'get' the jokes, arguments, and other things that show up in academia) and separating the classroom and the teacher from their preconceived purposes. This is not to say that the intended purpose of an educator and an education is today what it should be or has been. It is however a growing concern that students rarely see the use or legitimate claims of classroom knowledge in a world where the teacher often seems out of touch with rapidly growing technology and the administration even more so.

What is the solution to our information issues? Handing students the basic tools to explore their world and then letting go has been a wonderful teaching method in the past but there is such thing as information overload - and the internet in all its glory is certainly capable of causing it. It is also capable of sparking interest in "boring" subject matter, making things easily accessible for students of any age... and misleading us.

What is the role of the teacher in learning, if the student does not see a need for guidance in their search for information? Where and how do we set boundaries on what is to be taught, if boundaries are to be set? We can't enforce boundaries on learning if the student is determined enough to learn outside the classroom (which is actually something I would love to see happening!). And how do we excite the students who have decided that even with the knowledge of the world at their fingertips, they would rather not explore? What will bring them into the circle of lifelong learners? It's a very complicated issue... and Google doesn't have the answer! :(

Monday, May 12, 2008

Let's get Politically Incorrect!

Bored with the old layout, and I think it's time for an upgrade. Of course, my knowledge of CSS being what it is, and Blogger trying to make it all "easy" for me (without actually making anything easier at all, I'll probably not get any editing done on this that won't make it look awful. I noticed they've started commenting templates now (or at least the new one's commented where my old one wasn't) so that should help in figuring out what changes which aspect, but for as simple a thing as "I want to make the darn thing wider so my posts don't look so LONG!" I'll have to edit six or seven different pixel widths in various sections, and the method of 'change-preview-change-preview-change' seems like too much work for tonight.

My first summer class started today... "Health Aspects of Aging". It's a one-week seminar and we'll be doing very little actual work in the class if today was any indication. The entire body of the class except me (of course!) is there for an "easy A". I'm also the only female in the class and one of very few caucasians... It's strange to be a 'minority' for once after coming from classes which were predominantly white female students (Elementary education). I don't make this comment to be racist, but to show exactly how 'sheltered' I have been (still!) that it's a surprise to me when I walk into a classroom and don't see at least 1/2 the seats filled by preppy white kids. My expectations have obviously been crafted by years of repeated experience with walking into new classrooms, but that says something too. I know that IUP recruits a lot of students from the Pittsburgh area and I know that there is a pretty good-sized black population on campus... but I've rarely seen them in class! :/ Actually, it seems like many of them are sadly living up to the "ghetto" stereotypes that have been pushed at them by society and the media, and I wish a few more would - if you'll excuse my language - have the balls to actually follow any academic interest they might have, instead of caving to peer pressure and nearly failing classes just because being smart is "wrong" (and in some cases, it's "acting white" - a stereotype I strongly protest on behalf of all the supreme idiots who just happen to have white skin *coughcough*!).

I hear complaints at least once a month (which is as often as I bother looking for them via various media outlets) that "blacks" are still being segregated, looked down upon, not given the same opportunities as "white folk", etc. And all I have to say is that unless you're living in a very rural area, the opportunities are generally there for you and many people are willing to help you fight for your rights as a human being. In my experience, most people are so jaded to race that it's a non-issue until the ACLU starts another uproar about it. The main issue in my mind is that the black community in many areas has, just like other "minority" communities (never mind that there are almost equal numbers of blacks and whites), formed its own identity which it hates to let go of, which includes a lot of willful ignorance of the world and culture around them - and that identity is, unfortunately, partially the fault of the whites, yes. But it's also the fault of people who refuse to finish high school because they think it's useless or stupid, or worse, that it's for whites only. It's the fault of rappers who make living in the ghetto look glamorous and encourage violence in their songs, while a few struggle to tell kids that it's actually ok to get an education (and I am thrilled by the emerging black role models who can culture-switch... rapping to kids one minute and clearly articulating their thoughts to a reporter the next). It's the fault of teen girls who decide that they'd rather go get pregnant and live on welfare (because it's the easy way out) than struggle through perceived racism and sexism to get a better life for themselves and their kids. I'm sick of the "white guilt" BS. Some people might feel it and some people might deserve to, but it's time that throwing blame goes out the window and acceptance of history comes in. A lot of the things that have happened ARE history, and many of the "horrors" that blacks experienced haven't just been aimed at blacks. Many, many immigrants who came to America put up with the same kind of racist bigotry; even Mexican immigrants today in our 'enlightened' society have to put up with the KKK and their kin. Much of the "racism" I see and hear every day is created by the culture that the "victims" have accepted among themselves. I'm not blaming either side because it's a collaboration that goes beyond what either side would be capable of alone - if blame must be put, then I'm putting it on both sides.

I have not willingly oppressed any black person in my lifetime and I'm not going to feel guilty for a stereotype that, now that I am aware of it, I do my best not to perpetrate. I have an expectation that everyone around me should be working to better themselves and their community, or at least not to slide backwards... and that is indifferent of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, mental abilities (I expect you to work to the best of those, whether that means learning to tie your own shoes or solving world hunger), handicapped status, or any other "-ism" inducing mental or physical state. So when I say that the young black men in my class are living up to a stereotype and speak of them as though I were stereotyping them, it's not because I expect or require a stereotype. It's because I'm disappointed that a wonderful, intelligent girl I know who just happens to be southern, black, and Jewish can graduate WITH HONORS next to me, despite having had to deal with serious family issues and racism her entire life while these strong young men are often too scared to come out and admit that they are individuals and that something interests them in a classroom. She's not letting her racial identity get in the way of her personality, and I love her for it.

But back to actual class content analysis - Since I'm trying to get a job working with the elderly I'm glad to be taking this class. It will cover, in a week, conceptions and misconceptions about aging, terms used to talk about aging, ways to stay healthy and active as you age, and aging and sexuality. We're also scheduled to go out to an 'old folks' home' tomorrow to do some community service work, which seems mostly like landscaping but might also involve interacting with the patrons. I'm glad of the opportunity to go outside but I don't know if we'll get much done, or if the guys will decide to play it 'cool' and just stand around. It was also tossed up in class that since I am seemingly the only one with landscaping experience I would be a 'manager' of sorts... but I'd rather elect a committee to do the managing, or do things democratically than put myself in charge of a bunch of guys who I am admittedly uncomfortable talking to, if only because I feel I have nothing to say that might possibly interest them, or that I'll come off as a stereotypical "preppy white girl" myself. I'd say things would all be so much easier if people were the same shade of grey, but knowing that people enjoy pigeonholing, if we were all grey we'd probably start having issues with hairstyle-ism. >_<

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

In Other News...

Just thought I'd share a few thoughts.

Graduation is in 2 days. There's a lot to remember and I'm not sure where I'm going to be in line for the university graduation because I -just- put in the form for the major change. I might end up walking with the eled grads, although I'd rather not see them again and maintain my "quiet" exit from the department, or at least some appearance of a graceful and entirely by-my-own-choice removal from student teaching. I'm not looking forward to answering "Where were you the last month?", if they haven't already been told. But other than that things should go smoothly, and I'm quite happy to say that all the rest of my summer plans are slowly falling into place. Now, to get a job...

And on that note: I'm applying for jobs tonight/tomorrow with various state and local agencies, to see if I can land anything, since Lowes has not called me back. I wouldn't mind a job there but I'm not so dedicated to the prospect that I'll call them to beg/bug, and besides, does corporate business etiquette of calling to refresh the memory of the HR people/make yourself annoying apply at a hardware store? Either way, I've already sent in my resume to a health care job which involves mentally handicapped adults (pretty close to my current educational field, and $0.50 more per hour than dealing with mentally handicapped teens at Mickey D's!), and I'm filling out the non-civil-service application for PENNDOT and other assorted state jobs to see if I can land a clerk typist position near Indiana, or at the very least get stuck on flag duty on the highway for a few hours this summer. $20/hr to hold a flag and wear a stylish neon vest sounds pretty darn good.

In other news...
A volcano is burying a town. People are already comparing it to Pompeii, despite the lack of deaths (everyone but some livestock and wild animals got out just fine) and the fact that we'll probably uncover the town again in a few days. It's interesting news anyway if only because of the volcano's unexpected activity after years of dormancy.

Cereal is beating out Emeril in a new restaurant chain. Can we call it a restaurant? Anyway, they sell cereal. With any kind of milk you want, plus toppings. It's not as cheap as buying your own box but it beats a vending machine if you're hungry... and they've got franchise opportunities, apparently. If I could get a loan to open up a place in town, I think the college kids would flock to it... and I've always been tempted by owning and managing my own business. Eh, maybe next year...

New excesses in the realm of vacation fun! The world's largest swimming pool (so named by the Guinness Book of World Records, which we know to be a pretty solid reference for such things) is now open for business in Chile. According to a commenter they're using fresh sea water to pump in and out of the pool... I'd be interested to see how much fresh pee they're pumping out with the water (admit it, you know someone who urinates in the pool)! Either way, it seems to be a (relatively) environmentally sound tactic for pool-building, and it'll bring more business-building tourism to the area, which is good for the Chilean economy, so say the "experts". I'd be happy just to swim in an uncrowded pool, if I could afford the $540 to get in (mandatory 3-night minimum at $180 per night).

An interesting solar effect is coming soon in NYC; it's called "Manhattanhenge". Flikr has myriad pictures of the supposedly interesting sunset, all showing an orange-ish evening sun between tall dark buildings, but I didn't find any from a more striking viewpoint than a Manhattan street corner. If Google Earth's satellites could get a close-up of the whole area at that time it would probably show the effect far better than taking pictures into the sun. Heck, a helicopter could get a nice wide-angle shot from above. Still, the astrological interest factor is pretty high, since I don't think they planned the streets to do this.

An interesting mini-bio of Mr. Rogers. Having read it, I really miss him. I think I cried when I heard of his death, because I remember loving his show as a kid. What a guy...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Nowhere, really.

You're probably wondering (or not) where I've disappeared to since the last upheaval. Well, nowhere really.

Actually, that line sums up how I feel about the place my life is going right now. I have the paperwork to change my major to General Studies; I have 2 out of 3 classes registered for this summer off the "suggested" list pulled up by the Dean of the department (none of them my top choices, as those were either not listed or filled up before I could even contact the professors about erasing the damned SOC 151 pre-requisite that ALL the suggested classes had); I have a cleaner apartment (slightly) and my socks are sorted.

I even managed to really annoy the girl in charge of our senior class commencement preparations at the HC, by 1) missing a photo appointment back at the beginning of March, 2) not checking my e-mail last week and so missing the opportunity to take and send in a picture of myself when she asked the first time (on Monday) and threatened to take a picture off Facebook, and 3) not giving her any reason or excuse for my lack of e-mail checking or photo, but simply sending in a huge high-res photo of myself taken just today for the very purpose of going in the brochure, with a note: "I hope this is acceptable." Granted I didn't have internet access yesterday or the day before, due to a faulty (read: decades old and falling apart) cable line and/or dead modem which the very nice Comcast guy spent an hour or so fixing, replacing, and grumbling about this morning. Still, I know I'm not being exactly polite by not groveling and offering excuses and being terribly sorry for all the fuss. I just can't really bring myself to care about graduation, since after all, I am taking three more classes this summer, so it's not like the ceremony really signifies anything except the countdown to having to pay off my student loans. And yet, despite all my little accomplishments, I don't have much of a big goal any more.

I'm not feeling very sure about where I'm going with my life at this point. I mean, yes, I'm sure I'll go to a grad school somewhere, and get some kind of degree related to books. I'm sure at some point we'll actually find enough money or a kind enough loan officer to get ourselves a house. I'm almost sure we might have kids some day, which does give me a little something to look forward to, if only because I'll be able to train them to annoy the living daylights out of the idiots around them and run circles around their classmates in school. But job prospects for budding librarians are hardly widespread, which dampens any enthusiasm I had for house-hunting and wedding plans, and I've decided quite firmly against going into any kind of work that involves "customer service" from the point of "you serve the customer and don't you dare look for any respect for this position" (ie. retail, food service, anything related to office work, phonathon caller, babysitter, teaching... wait a minute, are there ANY jobs people respect any more?) so my available job market has slimmed down to almost nothing. I really shouldn't be picky you say, since I'm only 22 with no "real" job skills and everyone had to enter on the first floor of the job market, etc... but shouldn't I be able to say "look, I don't want to be put down and belittled and paid less than I feel my time is worth"? I've had quite enough of that already, thank you, and I'm ready to be treated like I'm actually of value to whatever employer I find myself with. Or at least I'd like to find a place where I can accomplish something, however little that something might be, for myself. I like setting my own goals, or at least feeling like working toward someone else's goal is helping me somewhat... and being able to ask "would you like fries with that?" is not my idea of a lifetime achievement.

I have a tentative part-time position lined up for this summer as a gardener for the Honors College residence hall and the current HC President's home, which sounds a lot better than sitting in an over-air-conditioned office building and will probably pay just as well. I can deal with plants and I know my work will be appreciated. The flowers aren't going anywhere, just like me. They just sit and sun themselves all day... which reminds me of a poem that I'm feeling rather partial to right now:

I wish I was a little rock,
A-sittin' on the hill,
A-doin' nothin' all day long
Except just sittin' still.


I wouldn't eat, I wouldn't sleep,
I wouldn't even wash.
I'd sit and sit a thousand years
And rest myself, by gosh.


(Thanks, Dad, for reciting that one to me as a kid). I'm not sure who wrote it, but I'd like to go nowhere and do nothin' all day long for a while. Some days, sorting the socks just isn't worth it.

Back to the idea of my future, summer jobs don't mean full-time employment, and I'm rather unhappy about the prospect of finding a more "permanent" position, since the only ones I can think of related to my major seem to be child care or... well, the local library. And while I do like taking care of, teaching, and otherwise interacting with children, I don't like doing it while being told I'm not allowed to punish, chide, look down upon, be annoyed with or otherwise do anything "negative" in the presence of My Darling Little Angel Who Would Never Do Anything Wrong. So I guess I'll go bug the librarians about a position... here's hoping there's something open, and that they'll hire me without the MLS degree.

At least my gardening is going well... I've "tilled" my little pots of soil and started the jalapeƱo peppers, beans and peas indoors. The peas after a week are already 2" tall in some of the pods and ready to be brought outdoors - a surprise, but a pleasant one. I guess I can take solace in the fact that at least my garden will bear fruit this year.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Solution?

Today my supervisor came in again after a few weeks of absence (he told me he would stay away so I wouldn't be stressed by his visits). I was in the middle of a chaotic, noisy, not-so-great math lesson (although I think the kids did learn something) and near the end he pulled me out of the room while my co-op took over the station I was working with.

He thinks we've hit a wall. I agree, and I know my co-op agreed too. Yesterday, she seemed very frustrated with my messy math lesson (they're always messy, but this one was really awful) and asked me what else she could possibly do to help me. She has done a lot. She is a wonderful person, and I really am grateful for all the help she's given me over and over again this semester. But she can't really get me any further, and I can't even get myself over this one little issue.

It's called motivation. See, last semester I decided I didn't really want to teach in a classroom; I'd rather play a support role like being an aide or a building/district specialist or... a librarian. Which, coincidentally, is how I applied to grad school. I'm hoping for a degree in Information Science, maybe with a School Library Media concentration. I think what my supervisor calls "nontraditional" teaching is what I like best. Of course, that does nothing for my enjoyment and daily improvement in a real classroom, no matter how much I have told myself to just get through it and get my degree. And so I've stopped improving, and my biggest issue now is "situational awareness" - seeing the whole big classroom picture. I'm too detail-oriented (another reason I'd rather hover and pick at one or two kids - I'm great with one-on-one!). And since I've stopped improving, they are taking me out of the classroom.

"Oh no!" you say. "What about your grade? Will you fail? Will you graduate? Do you have plans?"

For once, I just might have plans. I'll be hearing back from my advisor soon (I took the afternoon off of teaching to meet with her and my supervisor on campus, after his observation) and she has two options in mind for me. One: I can undergo an "Intervention" working one-on-one with a faculty member to improve my classroom teaching and we'll try for another 6 credits (since I'm already over halfway through the 12-credit teaching I signed up for). This will mean staying an extra summer and fall to get things done, possibly even into next spring depending on when the intervention can be done. It also means I'd be a part-time student during that time, which supposedly won't hurt my financial aid since I'm so close to my degree, but I don't like the idea anyway. It would mean I would have to find another part-time job while I was in class. Ick.

The other idea is to call off student teaching and forget about an Elementary Education degree. I could still probably get my Spanish minor, but my major would be in "General Studies" (which is the term they use when you can't figure out what you want to do, but have enough credits for graduation anyway, or for when you do something like drop out of student teaching halfway - which is surprisingly common and I am not the first this semester to do so). I would have to take one or two more classes in the summer or fall for that, most likely, but I'd have a degree without facing a classroom again (which sounds heavenly right now, even as much as I love the kids), and I could still make it into grad school in the spring semester.

I am past caring about appearances at this point and since my supervisor and my advisor both know I'm not going to get motivated overnight (although they have praised my smarts and self-reflection skills up and down the block), I think the best option is to just get the weak-looking General Studies degree, and boost it with a good graduate school degree, which is the important one anyway. Hardly anyone actually follows up on their undergraduate degree with an exact matching one in grad school, and a Master's says a lot more than a bachelor's degree, or so I'm told. But I haven't heard back from my advisor yet. So for now, I guess I'll go clean my room. I've been so busy and stressed this semester it hasn't gotten done, and now I feel like a lot of weight has been lifted. Plus, even if they take my midterm grade and use that for this semester, a 6 credit C is a lot better than a 12-credit D and a re-take next semester. I am lucky to have smart people watching over me who spotted my problems and know where to go to fix them.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Ow, ow, ow.

This week didn't go so well, either for me or the kids. They were noisy, disrespectful, mean to each other, they cried when they didn't get their way, they broke the soap dispenser and jammed the pencil sharpener (again, and they're lucky they also fixed it this time), smeared feces on the bathroom walls, threw toilet paper all over the bathroom floor a few days later, did it again the very next day, freaked out at a spider (which I had to kill, because it was one of the ickygrosshugeblack ones with a fat body that I refused to get close enough to catch and dispose of humanely outside), spilled milk and yogurt on the classroom floor, were lectured for over an hour in the course of the week, and were yelled at and cajoled and threatened with loss of recess time every 10-20 minutes.

I was told I couldn't go to McKeever to escape this den of chaos because I "need improvement" in my teaching* and apparently despite 3 years of experience with kids outdoors, it'll be "harder" there than here and I'll most certainly fail student teaching if I go. I got a C on my Midterm Evaluation, which means almost definitely that an A is not achievable by final grading time and even if it was my average would be a B. So much for graduating with honors, because Student Teaching is worth 12 credits (as much as a full semester of "regular" classes). I'm epically far behind with my work, which naturally only makes me want to start in on the pile less and less. And we're getting a new student on Monday. 22 children is too many. 23 will be 5 times worse.

So I ended Friday afternoon with a combined sinus/tension headache after my coop had just spent 4 days complaining about how badly HER neck hurt (of course the student teacher isn't supposed to complain), and my lower back had started hurting rather suddenly and oddly. I didn't think anything of it, knowing I carry my backpack with one strap and that sometimes causes dull back pain (and yes, I should quit doing it, but putting both straps on makes me feel like an overdressed 3rd grader, so I try not to wear it like that around grown adults). Friday night it got worse. I tossed and turned and couldn't sleep, woke up at the amazingly early hour of 8am Saturday morning, tossed and turned some more and finally cried because it HURT and I couldn't figure out how or why or even exactly where. Heat pads work except that we don't ahve any proper heating pads and towels wrapped around dry white rice are only acceptable for so long before you get sick of spilling rice everywhere when you move (plastic baggies with rice in them melt because it gets too warm in the microwave). Ibuprofen also helps, but I have to be careful not to take it too often. Simple movement like filling the washing machine and cleaning the litter box made it hurt again. And it still hurts as of tonight, Sunday night, and I've lost an hour on top of everything else because of the damn clock change, so I'm sitting here looking at my computer clock (which, being Win2k, isn't set to change its time for another few weeks) saying 8:15, knowing it's actually 9:15 and feeling like I've been hit by a bus.

I do not want to go to school tomorrow. I'm not really prepared because I've spent all weekend either wishing the pain would go away or celebrating that it had gone away for a few hours and not doing any work in an attempt to "relax" and make it go away for good. I will probably go anyway, and end up drugging myself in the hallway between classes so that the kids don't see me popping Ibuprofen every 3 hours. If I had insurance, I'd be in the hospital, but the pain hasn't totally incapacitated me yet, and I'd hate to go in only to be told it's from stress, handed a prescription for muscle relaxant and charged $6k for the privilege of meeting with a doctor. The way I see it, if it gets worse, then I'll know there's something else wrong without having to ask a doctor, and THEN I can go in. If it goes away, I saved money... even if it did mean dealing with the pain.

*(I'm not progressing at the rate they think I should, I'm not 'creative' enough in my lesson planning (15/16ths of which has been handed to me straight out of a curriculum that doesn't really allow creativity), and I apparently don't do enough to differentiate instruction to fit the needs of our 5 kids who still can't even read at a beginning 2nd grade level along with the 1 confirmed and 2 suspected gifted kids all while following what the book says I HAVE to teach *headdesk*)

Monday, February 25, 2008

News From 2nd Grade: Frustration and Failure

Well, today was bad. Just not good. As the start of my experience week it's really not looking positive, and all I can think is that if the rest of the week goes this badly I'll quit. For one thing, I didn't have my center activities done (something I intend to remedy as soon as I can tonight) and that made the kids less than agreeable during private reading time (which despite its name is really "get up and socialize" time, unless they're kept busy with work instead of being left to read -_-). For another thing, I was supervised today.

My supervisor never tells me when he's going to show up, which means that preparing for him being in the classroom never happens. I never have extra materials to give him and my desk (which he happily seats himself at, to my annoyance whenever I have to reach under his briefcase for papers) is always messier than I'd like it to be. Today was classically bad and since he's never seen me on a sparkling, shiny, happy, good day, he has come to the conclusion that I'm not doing so well as a teacher. My coop doesn't think I'm doing so great either. Currently, my grade is maybe a high C - pretty unacceptable for a student who is supposed to be leaving the classroom for an environmental science center in 10 days. And my supervisor told me today that he doesn't think I'll make it.

In other words, I'll probably be "asked" (read: forced under penalty of failing) to stay at the school all semester while I improve, because I'm not making improvements fast enough, however steady said improvements are, to keep up with, let alone surpass the other students in the building. And since they'll be here all semester and I won't, I'm supposed to be doing twice as well as they are.

I feel like a failure. I admit I think I'm over my head because I have had to move so fast through this but the science center was what was keeping me from losing it the last few weeks, because I don't think I can stand to spend another 8 weeks in a classroom. I'm not planning on being a teacher; I don't expect to get a teaching job fresh out of IUP especially not if my grade in student teaching is a B or worse. I won't be able to compete. I don't want to compete. I just want a decent sub position until I can get my masters' and move on to a quiet little library somewhere. They're treating this as if I was going to spend the next 30 years of my life in a classroom and need to do all my improving right now... and I want to tell them that no, actually, I'm only in this until I graduate, but thanks for the advice anyway and I'll try to do my best till I leave.

Except that at my best I'm still a disorganized, under confident, quiet little nothing who's too nice to the kids some days and too bitchy on others and I can't seem to keep them quiet (although the coop can't keep them quiet either, it's not always me). I'm frustrated and I'm worried that I'm going to be told that I can't go to McKeever, even if I try my hardest the next two weeks. My supervisor has already pretty much made up his mind, so I'm working against that as well - he's just not optimistic about my future. And right now, neither am I. I'm lost and I'm horrified that no matter how hard I try I will never be good enough to get to where I really need to be.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

News From 2nd Grade, Weeks 3-5.

Oh my goodness, I've survived FIVE weeks in a classroom! I'm slowly improving, although my co-op and I agree that at this point my grade would still be a C, because I really do need to work on my class management skills. This is a class that needs to be micromanaged because they've been babied for all 7 years of their short lives and they still don't know what "stay on task" means... but they're slowly starting to respond more to me as a teacher and I'm feeling much more comfortable teaching my lessons now that I have someone to back me up and make sure that I'm consistent with my teaching, instead of jumping all over the place. I've started taking little liberties with things but for the most part am still working right from the curriculum guides. My coop says: "The way I see it is this: Are you certified in Curriculum Design? No. So you shouldn't be making it up until you've had some practice. This stuff is proven to be an effective teaching guide, so I don't care if you copy it." She's gotten me to write a few of my own lesson plans and so far, so good, but she's perfectly happy to let me use the books, as long as I don't have to read them for directions during the lesson.

I've now taught two "Experience Days" (full days in the classroom) and they wear me out. I don't know how the heck the teacher does it all. I'm still working out proper order to do things in, what time exactly the kids should be settled and in their seats, making a smooth transition from morning work to the spelling lesson to the special, prep for math, etc... remembering all the times takes me a while still, but I've gotten the general order down now and that helps. And I'm getting slowly more consistent with my management techniques and my instructions. So now the kids will get more consistent with their responses, right?

The kids had fun on Valentine's day. Last week we had two 2-hour delays and one snow day, and absences all week, and yet on Thursday (Party day) they all came filing happily into the room with excuses about being ill and not being able to come to school due to the weather on Wednesday. *le sigh* I didn't have quite so much fun, since there was too much sugar and not enough concentration, but my science lesson went very well (I tried micromanaging, and explaining everything 3 times over, and 3/4 of the kids actually listened very well, which floored me). I did get a pile of candy plus several cute valentines, one of which was labeled "To Mrs. Fae and Mr. Fae"... I cracked up, of course... a few of them still call me "Mrs. Fae" all the time, despite the board (and me) saying "Ms. Fae". Ah well, they're only 7.

Next week, I'll teach a lot more (I think I may do the whole week, except for math and some reading centers!) and the week after that is my genuine, honest-to-goodness, teaching everything Experience Week before I leave. Oh, dear... 3 weeks till I'm done here! Then it's on to the Environmental Center and a lot of outdoor fun in the early spring slush.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Rainbows are expensive these days.

In case you haven't heard yet...

I got rear-ended as part of a 4-car accident driving home today just a little way up the road from the LAST time my sister and I were rear-ended, and it was the fault of one young driver not paying attention.

Here I am driving home, it starts raining, I slow down (of course, because I usually try to be as safe as I can) and am just minding my own business when I see a GORGEOUS OMG WOW LOOK AT THAT RAINBOW! stretching across town in front of me. I considered seeing if my camera would be able to start up in time (it's an old digital) but I couldn't get it out of my bag at the red light, so I left it alone - "I know better than to fiddle with things in the car while I'm driving," I told myself. Apparently a lot of other drivers were looking at the sky too, because traffic slowed down a lot ahead of me at one of the lights. Things came to a stop pretty quickly and so did I (as carefully as I could though, considering there was someone behind me and I really didn't want to stop so fast that she hit me or slid on the damp road), the nice lady behind me stopped ok, and I thought I was safe, but something didn't quite feel right for a half-second... and the guy behind her? THUDSQUEALCRUNCH. He hit her, she slammed into me and ruined the rear end of my car, I slid forward and tapped the guy ahead of me. If I hadn't been stomping the brakes, his car probably would've been nudged quite a bit harder.

Needless to say, a lot of very loud, unhappy words escaped my mouth at this point...

So when everyone has pulled over, the police are notified and everything's checked out, total damage: Car #1 (guy in front of me) has maybe some red paint on his rear bumper, if that. I (#2 in line) have no trunk left. The crumple zone on a Civic does its job, but when its job is done there's not really anything pretty left on the rear end. My tail lights are non-functional (one shattered and fell out completely) and my trunk is shorter by several inches. The lady in the SUV behind me (#3) had a bit of damage to her grille/radiator, and some crumpling in the back but nothing a body shop couldn't flatten out, and the last guy (#4 and the cause of our accident) had a bit of an accordion for a hood - his car got towed by the friendly AAA people who just happened to be driving by and thought they might offer a hand (I sure hope they don't charge him too much for the help!). I didn't see the full damage to his SUV but I know his airbags went off and he hit his head on something and was bleeding a bit at the temple - they took him away to the hospital.



Does this mean rainbows aren't good luck after all?

So our car and my only source of transportation currently is totaled (or probably totaled, we're waiting for the insurance company to decide on that) and I have to get to my student teaching placement still... for the next few weeks I can probably carpool with someone else who is there, but halfway through the semester I am switching placements to somewhere pretty far away and I don't think I'll be able to have someone drive me up and back every weekend. This pretty much ruins any plans I had of seeing my fiance during that 8-week placement unless we can find a replacement car and since neither of us is working right now I don't think we can even lease one (not that we could afford that anyway). This is really depressing to me and I'm really upset about not being able to finish my student teaching placement without relying on other people - and especially about not having any freedom to come and go at my second placement (an environmental science center in the middle of nowhere) without pre-arranging rides with other people. There isn't anyone else from my class going there this semester so getting there at all is going to be a challenge. :/

But at least I got to see a rainbow. *sigh*

Friday, January 25, 2008

News from 2nd Grade, Week 2. Tales of Art Class and Being Late.

So far, so good. I was ten minutes late once this week and got a strict warning (apparently, being late is a death knell for student teachers) so I'm never ever ever going to be late again (if I can help it). Hitting my snooze button at 6am was a bad choice, but according to the teacher, being even more late because I was picking up a classmate's lessons when she had the flu was also a bad choice. "Look out for yourself first" is the idea, I guess. But my coop doesn't hold grudges and is still working with me to improve things so I'm going to do my very best... and I started by staying up till 2am writing a lesson plan for Monday's science lesson. I have no idea how I ended up with writer's block for a unit plan that is already sketched out for me, but there you have it. My brain works in strange, strange ways.

On Monday I will start teaching my math unit, which means that I'll be writing lesson plans for both math and science for the next two weeks. I'm scared to death that I'll slip up during the lessons, never having taught two in one day before, and I'm not allowed to use the lesson plans to help me get through the lesson, although I can use a post-it to outline the sections if I need to... I'm awful at remembering things I write though, and I've decided that the best plan of action for teaching my lesson plans without re-reading them 8 times a day the day before is to talk myself through them in the car on the way to school. It's about a 40 minute drive, so I can probably get through two lessons every morning, and I talk to myself anyway, so I might as well say something important, right?

I'm going to exercise this weekend, I swear it! I think yoga and tai chi are my best bets right now since it's COLD outside. This morning, I left the house in 8* weather and my body heat caused the inside of the windshield to first fog up, and then freeze. There was still a tiny bit of ice at the top of the windshield when I got to school, even with the heat on full-blast the whole way. For someone who doesn't like the cold, January/February are miserable. I'm staying inside and drinking lots of tea, remembering my vitamin C and Echinacea supplements and trying to keep my hands clean - lots of germs going around now as well as it being too cold out, and in 2nd grade they still need to be reminded to wash their hands when they sneeze on them (the kids, that is). My coop ended up very sick with a long-lasting flu-like bug last weekend and this week, but so far all I've had is a headache.

A little anecdote from the classroom: One of our boys, who is actually moving soon, spent 30 minutes drawing an oval during our art lesson. What a perfectionist! He had to find the perfect animal, find the right size to draw it, find the perfect picture to work from and then draw just the right oval for the animal's body (we were working with using shapes to create an animal's body, as well as giving it texture by adding lines for fur). Nearly everyone else just scribbled away happily, but he was intent on being perfect or not doing it at all. I would have agreed with him wholeheartedly when I was younger, but now I'm playing teacher and had to poke him to keep going and just accept the inevitable imperfect circle. Eventually, he drew something to his satisfaction - on his practice paper. Naturally our art paper was too thick to be traced through, and he had to do it all over again. True to perfectionist style he worked very carefully on the rest of his picture and when he finishes I expect it will be a masterpiece.

The week was shortened due to an in-service day on Monday and a half-day of parent conferences this morning, so next week will likely feel interminable after the glory of only 3 days with students. Not that I don't like the students, but it's very different to be in school without them. I learned a few things during the inservice, too.

Coming next week: the fun of teaching two lessons per day, and "Smile, Your Headache is Showing"!

Friday, January 18, 2008

News from 2nd Grade, Week 1.

Well, it's started! I've been thoroughly welcomed with a solid and sudden (but not entirely unexpected) dunking into the great wide world of second grade. I had the chance to work with second graders before, during my pre-pre-student teaching in my sophomore year, but that experience was one morning a week and nowhere near as challenging. This is a challenge I can rise to meet!

My cooperating teacher is awe-inspiring. She has taught for longer than I've been alive, which means she's great at her job. I'm already learning so much from her that I've had to start taking notes to keep it all straight! She's blunt, but she's honest (something I really respect) and once I got over the initial "cold" feeling I got from her, I realized that not being babied or getting warm fuzzies all day is exactly what I need to really get through the next seven weeks. It's going to be very busy, and she is a very demanding person, but I feel like I will do much better in her classroom because of her expectations, and it's exciting to know that she appreciates me being in the room even when I mess up.

This week has tired me out and I feel like I should be in bed by now - the habit of getting up at 6am has started to settle in so I don't want to mess it up too much by sleeping in till 10 on Saturday... goal #1, "Get up on time" is slowly but surely becoming a reality. I still feel rushed most mornings because I'm groggy for the first half hour and don't move as fast as I should, but between getting up earlier to avoid feeling rushed and actually being a few minutes late on occasion, I'll take being late. I hope that as the semester goes on I'll get faster at writing lessons, so I can go to bed at an earlier time (I haven't hit the pillow before 10pm yet!) but I also know that as my lesson-writing gets better I'll have more lessons to write (we're supposed to be doing 25 per week by the end of the semester, and that means that I have to try to do so by midterms when I change placements (oh, dear!). Still, a whole week of 6am wake-ups is a good start for me - usually I slip up and stay in bed. Not a proud moment when it happens, and this semester is doubly important so I'm going to keep dragging myself out of bed. The coffee maker will be a great help. :D

Exercising is threatened by the sheer amount of work I have to/should/volunteer to take on and so I've been thinking about getting it in on weekend mornings... that will serve two purposes - to get me up at a set time so I can settle into a weekend routine (which will in turn keep me more on-track about getting work done on weekends!) and to make sure I fill that goal of twice-a-week exercise - once on Sunday and once on Saturday! It's not the most practical work-out schedule ever from a health perspective but until I get my actual academic work under control it'll probably be easiest for me, and if I feel that it's workable I can add a third day on Wednesday to balance things out a bit.

Cleaning came to a standstill as of Monday - I need to set aside a day to do major tasks like laundry (probably tomorrow, ugh!) and make time to do minor ones like the litterbox (which usually doesn't get clean unless I do it :/) in the afternoon when I come home. I'm going to make a concerted effort to keep cleaning up the kitchen but I don't want to let cleaning take over the time I need to spend on lesson planning so the house may be messy for a while... we shall see. If this weekend goes well, next should be easier.

And internet usage, my other daily goal, has dropped to almost nothing. Because I spend so much time on lesson planning and other bits and pieces of student life as of Monday morning, I haven't had time to check my e-mail until tonight (Friday night). I guess I should be laughing that it takes a workload so heavy my head's still spinnning with things I've got to work on in order to make me stay away from the computer, but I'm on the computer a lot anyway, writing plans, and I'm technically online - just that I'm spending 90% of that time following links to online teaching resources, or looking up the PA Education standards for the nth time so I can write objectives to match them.

It's been a busy, busy week and I feel like I haven't had time to sit down although I know that last night I spent a few hours doing nothing of consequence, just to celebrate having lived through most of a week in a busy classroom. The class is great and I'm happy to be there even though my management techniques need some work because I'm running myself ragged trying to keep them all in line and focused and on task. I need to start differentiating my instruction (making the lessons easier/harder for some of the kids, for those who don't speak teacher-talk) so that's the goal for the next few lessons I write. My co-op has me reflecting on everything she can, mostly my lessons and improvements I could make for next time but also what she does in the classroom - how she teaches, how she gets the students' attention, various finer points of the curriculum and scheduling, and on occasion the prospects of getting a job, how to deal with gifts or snacks from the kids without offending if we can't have/don't want it (we had cupcakes for someone's birthday today, yum!), and where she keeps papers and more papers and more papers. I'm still getting my sea legs, so to speak, but so far I've handled myself well enough to merit a sigh of relief at not setting myself on fire (inside joke from my supervisor - he's had a student teacher so nervous to be observed that they actually lit themselves up during a science lesson). And speaking of science, I'm in full charge of the science unit we're doing next because it's a new STC kit and she knows I have "experience" (I looked at one, once) with them... plus the whole lesson requirements thing. I have to teach something, it might as well be something I like and know to start out with. XD Mostly I'm just slightly nervous (or maybe it's indigestion? ;p) about getting through the increasingly demanding second and third weeks... if I can live through those, and the weather is nice enough to not force me out of bed early to clean snow off the car, I think my life will be running smoothly. If not? Well, sometimes roller coasters can be fun...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Good news!

While it took an unfortunately very whiny e-mail to my advisor to get things done, I am going to McKeever this semester! Sunship Earth is the program I'll probably be working on there, with 5th and 6th grade students. I'm thrilled by the opportunity and want to hug my advisor for getting me in. This means I'll only spend half my semester in the classroom and the other 8 weeks in a dorm with a roommate, teaching kids stuff about the environment and their place in it. This is such a great opportunity for me to get out and get back to nature myself, as well as a really good excuse not to be locked up inside when spring comes. And even though I'm paying them (about $250, if I remember correctly) instead of them paying me like at girl scout camp, I'd much rather pay to get out of the classroom than not be able to go at all. Plus, I get to come home on weekends (my fiance is grumpy about not seeing me all week - I'll miss him too!), and I won't have to write so many lesson plans! I'm so happy I could dance, but I'll save it for after my college application essays are finished. :D

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Kristen reminded me that I should probably update on my goal progress, just so I remind myself to keep on track. So far I'm absurdly proud of my kitchen-cleaning progress. It's not perfect (I still need to clean the stove before bed, since my can of Chef Boyardee splattered a little) but the sink has stayed cleaner and I swept and scrubbed and vacuumed the floor yesterday. Sunday I even did ALL of the laundry in the hamper and got most of our bedding through the wash - it feels SO good to have clean blankets!

I haven't quite been getting up as early as I could but I'm going to make a real attempt come Friday because Monday is my first day of Student Teaching (and I'm really nervous already). I'm not terribly worried though, because once my body is on schedule it's harder to knock it off, and when I have more to do I'll hopefully be more tired at a decent hour!

Tomorrow is College Application Day. I'm pretty sure that at least one of my schools has a deadline of tomorrow anyway so here's hoping I can get everything postmarked or submitted online for 3 schools! Or at least, most of it submitted and the rest marked on a list for Friday since I'll be on campus (we have a meeting for student teaching) and I might be able to pick up transcripts and the like. I'm an awful procrastinator, I know... and I'm hoping that the habits I'm trying to develop now (like keeping things clean instead of waiting till the last minute to clean them) will help me in that area of my life.

I have to wait until summer to take the MSF so that probably won't be mentioned here again until then... but that goal will get done! :) I did actually exercise last week, too, so I'll be in shape for the course. :D Continuing it this week hasn't gone quite so well, so I'm going to try to get a walk/run in tomorrow or Friday, or maybe do some yoga inside if it's still rainy out. Been spending too much time in front of the computer or with a good book lately (although I -have- made some progress toward monitoring my internet time, I've also simply shuffled that leisure time I made for myself into reading and playing computer games. Oi! That will iron itself out though, once I'm at school 8 hours a day!).

Other things on the list have been pushed aside in favor of getting "ready" (yeah, right, I don't feel prepared at all!) for student teaching, but I'll get to working on them in a few weeks when I've settled in more. I'm not worried about the job fair goal at least - turns out there's a mandatory one at the end of the semester for all of the student teachers, so I'll have no excuse to miss it! I may try to find another one though, just to boost my chances.

On the non-goal side of life, my sister is currently headed for/in Colorado to start a new semester at a new school. I'm worried about her and hope she does ok there, because it's a huge change (and a huge distance!) from where we grew up... but she seems to be the kind of person who needed that kind of challenge so hopefully she will grow and mature a little bit and come back to us over summer break happy. I'll definitely miss her. My little sister is still in high school but only for a little while longer (time goes by so fast!) so soon mom will have an empty nest. I'm sure she will just keep on gardening and growing enough veggies for us all, though. Not much else to say. We get to keep the cat we took in for a friend - he can't take him back, and our landlady's not here enough to complain, so here he stays. We renamed him, though. His former name was Cadence (and the dog the guy owned was Maestro - can you tell he was a music major?) but we're calling him Tyr now, after the Norse God. It goes better with Loki (who is currently watching me type this. Cute kitty!).

Bedtime now, and lots to do in the morning. I never did wash that last blanket...

Friday, January 04, 2008

Especially the Serenity part.

God grant me the courage to change the things I can,
The serenity to accept the things I can not,
And the wisdom to know the difference.


I'm sure that's not the "proper" version of the prayer but oddly enough a Google search for the wording turned up a "Yahoo Answers" question with several variants, and not much else useful on the front page. Google, you have let me down and I'm too lazy to search page 2.

Seriously though, I'm upset again over my student teaching placement and I really could use the patience and serenity (or is that senility?) ;) to get through this coming semester. It's a 2nd grade class (never mind that I already had 2nd grade and wanted 3rd or 4th) in a school district that I asked specifically not to be in (the city is a 30 minute drive from us, doesn't take care of any of their roads and it's winter in Western PA - can you guess why I don't want to be there?) and asked in October, no less, for them to change it. There's also the issue of a missing application to a very nice environmental science center which I had hoped to spend the last few weeks of the semester teaching at, instead of doing it in a school the whole time. I wanted the outdoors again. Now I'm stuck in Blahsville for the whole semester because the person who was supposed to handle things like this hasn't even bothered to reply to the lengthy email I sent before Christmas. I'm terribly disappointed in the system yet again and I can't stand relying on these people for another semester in order to get my degree when I feel like I've just been pushed around and stepped on and asked to fill out forms in triplicate for the amusement of some invisible higher-up.

I'm seriously considering throwing in the towel and saying "Screw you, higher education", driving as far as I can get on what's left in my bank account and hitchhiking the rest of the way to Mexico to ask for asylum there. If I could do that, do you think they'd come after me for defaulting on my student loans? I'm so tired of bureaucracy in all its forms, and I feel so helpless. I HATE feeling helpless. I can't stand it. I need to be able to do something for myself even if that something is choosing to stay in bed all day. At least it's my choice... but no, I get no choices when it comes to IUP or any other company I've dealt with (because yes, the university is a company, and it's out to make money just like everyone else. I'm tired of it and I'm frustrated by it and I don't know what else I can do but try to pretend that the world is wonderful because all of my ranting and throwing myself ineffectually against the things I don't like isn't doing anyone any good, and I'm only one tiny (if opinionated) person.