Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Song, Sort Of, But Not Really

(I stole the chorus from Tenacious D.  You probably wouldn't even know if I didn't tell you, but I don't roll like that.  I give props.)

I recently came to the conclusion that in Japan, you can just add heels and a scrunchie to any outfit and you are automatically ready for a dinner date. 

I hate to admit this, but... I, um... iboughtascrunchie.

Alright, alright.  I bought a scrunchie.  I spent 300 little yennies on elastic and cloth and ribbon.  I'm not proud, it was pressure from society. 

My scrunchie is black.  I haven't worn it in public yet, but I will soon.  And only I will feel the burn of the late 80s/early 90s.  Japanese people will look at me and think I look fancy, with my concealed hair tie.  Maybe they will even ask me where I got my scrunchie.  But I will know that something is very wrong.  And now for the chorus...

I'm gonna kick your a**, from here, to right over there
Oh, yeah mutha f#$%a, I'm gonna kick your f#$%ing derriere, yeah-ee-yeah
You broke the rules, now I'll pull out all your pubic hairs
You mutha f#$%a

So, when I study for the GRE, I use certain pens.  When I study for math, I get down to business with my black/blue/red multicolored pen, so that I can code what I know, what I don't, and what I'm totally leotarded at.  When I study for verbal, I have to have a Jetstream 0.7.  I will tolerate writing with a 0.5, but anything else and I resent my pen while I'm studying, and I throw insults at it, like, "God, pen, you are so fat and incompetent."  ...all of which led me to a question:  If my pen has a finer point, will the ink last longer?  Think about that one.  I don't know for sure, but maybe it's one of those unanswerable questions of the Universe.

I'm gonna kick your a**, from here, to right over there
Oh, yeah mutha f#$%a, I'm gonna kick your f#$%ing derriere, yeah-ee-yeah
You broke the rules, now I'll pull out all your pubic hairs
You mutha f#$%a

I always have to wash my hands after I use chalk.  I like writing with chalk - orange is my favorite chalk color - but as soon as I'm in class writing with chalk, I rub my fingers together like an autistic kid until I get to a sink.  That's not really that interesting, but I needed a third verse.  Listen to Train's lyrics.  They aren't that good either. 

From Japan,

Friday, July 15, 2011

GRE Math Update

So, I admit that I've been having a mild, months-long temper tantrum about having to take this math test.  I also admit that I had done little more than an all-math overview before yesterday, which definitely wasn't the place to begin.  Looking at everything at once just overwhelmed and deflated me.

I got the excellent advice not to study the material on the test, but to do lots of practice questions.  I didn't realize how right that advice was until yesterday when I finally took the diagnostic quantitative ability test.  I know I'm being silly, but I've worked myself up so much that it literally gives me the heebie-jeebies to open the book to that section.  After taking the test and beginning to look at the explanations to find out what I did wrong, I have realized that it's all pretty simple.  If you know the rules, you can do most questions in under a minute, probably.

So, I feel a lot less of a hopeless case and now I'm gonna fudging "Will Hunting" that sugar.   

From Japan,

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beautiful Oita

Oita is such a beautiful place.  I'm fortunate to live on a high hill and have vacation-worthy views from my apartment.  As I drive to and from my apartment, I get glimpses of fantastic views of mountains and the ocean.  The scene changes as the sun and the moon move on a wheel round and round, intensifying the illusion that this day is separate from the last.  As with our perception of the days, I think people see what they choose to see, to a degree.  Sure, Oita is industrial.   There is rust, and towers puffing smoke and fumes.  But it's picturesque, too.

I am in love with the roving clouds.  Of all the aspects of the weather in Oita, I think the clouds affect my state the most.  I love most when they are thick and white and sitting in the mountains on a clear day.  Without them, the mountains blend into each other.  With them, I can see more contrast and get a better sense of how high the mountains stretch into the sky.  I don't know why, but when the clouds get dark, I feel so calm.  When I look out at a slate gray sky, it's like the color pulls me into it and out of myself, and I can relax.  I love the views and weather of Oita.  I loved Los Angeles, California, but I always did miss weather of any kind aside from "sunny."

When I look out from Oita toward Beppu City I get a sense of a prehistoric time.  I think it's something in the shape of the mountains and the species of trees that seems anachronistic.  It's fascinating:  I see and feel the differences as I travel from the east of the USA to the west.  I noticed more differences when I traveled to Hawaii, and now that I am in Japan, I can see this transition happen over a vast expanse in my memory.  As I move, the greenery changes a little and the animals change a little, but everything is connected.  I think the oceans create an illusion of separation in the land like light creates an illusion of separation in the days, but really, it's all one.

It's easy, in the city, to get distracted by the hubbub of life and to never look past the buildings.  I try to remember to look around and go to places where I can see beyond man-made things, and enjoy the beauty of Oita, while I can.

Monday, July 11, 2011

GRE Math

I want to stab math in the face with a pitch fork, and then watch Least Common Multiples ooze out all over the grass and watch them die. 

How is your day?  I would fit right in with these guys today.


Why?  Because I am studying a subject that encompasses many topics that I haven't needed in 12 years.  Because my knowledge pertaining to this subject bears weight on my GRE score, and therefore my admission into many grad schools.  Because I suck horrendously at math. 

It crossed my mind to "Christmas Tree" the math portion of the exam.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Christmas Tree method of test taking, you either just mark C for every answer on a multiple choice test, or you fill in the bubbles so that when you are done, they look like a Christmas tree.  The beauty lies in the assurance that you will get at least a few right answers without having to study at all.  I conjecture that the writing programs themselves that I want to apply to don't give much of a rat's booty about my quantitative score, but alas, the Universities do.

It next crossed my mind to only apply to schools that don't require the GRE.  So far, I only know of one, but I'm keeping my peepers peeled.  I'm not really serious about this, but I feel like boycotting universities that require the GRE because it's such a waste of time.  A subject test, perhaps; a 45 minute test on a subject that pertains not at all to my desired field of study?  Grrr.  For undergrad, ok; for adults trying to specialize - Boo, I say, boo.  They don't do this in England.  Oxford and Cambridge are some of the most respected universities in the world and they don't require a cross subject test like this.   

Here's the thing... I like knowledge.  I like to learn for the sake of learning.  I even like informational pamphlets and read them where'er I go.  But I've come to a point in my life where I have to prioritize my time expenditures.  I have a lot of responsibilities as a teacher and a parent, and I have my bodily health to look after and peace of mind to maintain.  Plus, in this life there is much fun to be had.  And, this is no one's fault, but I tend to need a lot of sleep.  So where should I cut back?  Should I exercise less so I can re-learn factorization of an integer?  Should I forego my daily walk at lunch time (which affords me fresh air, time to decompress, sunshine, a wee bit of exercise, and a healthier lunch) so that I can remember how to divide a polynomial by a monomial?  Should I spend less time with my little bubby boo boo so I can work with a math tutor? 

I say "No!"

To be honest though (as I hang my head in shame), I could spend a little less time on Facebook and a little less time checking my e-mail.  I spend a good chunk of time writing this blog, but I see that as valuable writing practice, and always justified.

I also know, even if it is not so obvious to me, that the mental exercise I would get from familiarizing myself with these topics again would be good for me... but I honestly don't think it would outweigh the stress I would/will experience as a result of my extreme distaste for math.  All in all, I conclude that it is not worth it, except if it is the only thing standing between me and grad school.

On the other hand, I'm really enjoying expanding my vocabulary as I study for the verbal ability section.  Words are nice.  Numbers blow.

From Japan,

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Promising Pages: Caroline Blizzard

My friend started a charity called promising Pages to get books to poor kids.  Here's an aritcle I wrote for her...

I'd like to be more like Caroline Blizzard. 

When the 13 year old book lover was charged with choosing a community service project for her Language Arts class, she decided to look for something different from what her classmates were doing.  I think that's the American way - doing something new and different, not following the crowd.  Caroline's divergence from the norm brought her to Promising Pages, a successful new not for profit organization.  Promising Pages concentrates on getting books to children who might not otherwise hold a book until kindergarten, so it was a perfect match for Caroline, a Marvin Ridge Middle School student.  "Since I love to read, I wanted to give children who may not have access to books the chance to develop a love of reading as well," says Caroline, who likes to work with children.

Many of us have good intentions and want to help people have better lives, but fewer of us find the time and motivation to do something about it.  Caroline Blizzard and Kristina Cruise, the founder of Promising Pages, are two individuals who have made service to the community a priority.  They are bringing smiles to people's faces and it may not be immediately evident, but they are changing lives, one page at a time, by improving early education for thousands of children.

Caroline partnered up with Promising Pages and faced the challenge of getting the word out about her book drive; she passed out 300 fliers in her neighborhood and made announcements at three local schools where she set up drop-boxes.  I admire the generosity of Caroline and her family, who devoted cherished time to the endeavor of spreading the news to the community that kids need books and there are ways to help.  Miss Blizzard collected many more books than she expected.  "I felt excited when the books first started to come in because I got so many at a time.  I am very pleased with how many I have collected," responded Caroline.  I'm very pleased, too, and I applaud Caroline for her efforts and the inspiration she is to her peers.

It feels good to help other people.  According to some studies, helping others may be a key component to personal happiness and fulfillment.  About 600 children will benefit from Caroline's motivation and hard work and she will surely achieve her hope to "make many children happy."  Caroline gained perspective from her focus on underprivileged children and reflected, "It really made me stop and think how fortunate I am to have access to any books that I want to read."  Undoubtedly, one benefit of helping our fellow citizens is gaining a sense of pride and accomplishment, and we all benefit when we support each other.

Caroline is thinking about making her book drive partnership with Promising Pages a yearly event that she shares with her family.  Next time she says that she would "start earlier to give people more time," and "send fliers to other local neighborhoods."  Good luck Caroline.  I'm grateful for the giving spirit of community volunteers like Caroline, and I'm so glad that there is an organization like Promising Pages out there to help people help each other.  Thank you Promising Pages!

Promising Pages: Star Shelter Event

My friend started a charity called promising Pages to get books to poor kids.  Here's an aritcle I wrote for her...

I don't generally think of myself as growing up advantaged, but I certainly did, especially when compared with the children living at the Star Shelter in Daytona Beach, Florida.  Many families totaling up to 100 people live in 25 rooms at the shelter.  They get 2 meals a day and can stay for up to 6 months.  On Monday, June 20th, Promising Pages partnered with the Christ Presbyterian Youth Group of Ormond Beach, FL, to bring books to the children living at the Star Center in Daytona Beach.

Isn't life random?  I grew up in a house surrounded by books and a mom who had a conviction to read to me.  These kids at the Star Shelter have been uprooted by financial constraints, subjected to stressors too advanced for them, and stripped of most of their possessions.  Children in shelters have very few, if any books.  Sometimes it's hard to see how things are connected, but research demonstrates that life success correlates directly to literacy which correlates directly to income level and access to books.  A team of researchers concluded in Jeff McQuillan's book The Literacy Crisis "that nearly two-thirds of the low income families they studied owned no books for their children. As a result, direct access to books is extremely limited for these children, a fact that significantly impacts their educational growth and development as well as their sense of creativity and imagination."  Kids who are read to thrive.  Kids who are not read to sometimes never catch up.

Luckily, life also delivers people like Kristina Cruise of Promising Pages, David James of the STAR Family Shelter, and Katy Cuthill of Christ Presbyterian Church in Ormond Beach, FL.  These three organizations recently partnered up to intervene in the cycle of low income and impaired reading skills.  The difference is books, so they delivered.  

Youth group volunteers from the church cleaned and gift-wrapped books so they could be handed out as presents, a practice Promising Pages initiated.  Kristina Cruise of Promising Pages believes "there is a big difference to a child between a hand-me-down and a present.  Presents foster self esteem."  Jason, a youth group member and local Ormond Beach teen, volunteered to play "Erm the Worm."  Erm plays the equivalent of a book party Santa Claus and encourages the children to read and succeed.   David James of the Star Center was impressed with Jason's willingness to don a worm costume in front of his friends, commenting that "Jason got in the costume, got in character, he did a super job, he had the self confidence and self esteem to do it."  Mr. James congratulated Jason for great strength of character.  Nothing that is awesome is easy, and it usually takes many citizens working together to make an impact.  I'm impressed and inspired by these three organizations that came together to make life better for the kids at the Star Center. 

Mr. James, the Star Center Director of Community Relations, described the experience as "a great joy, surprise, and blessing" to the 20 children ages two through teens who attended the book party and received gifts.  He also said that the positive interaction between the children and the Promising Pages character "Erm the Worm" made the children "feel like they matter, that people matter."  Mr. James would "positively" do it again and added that there are a "handful of parents still talking about the event." 

Privilege is such a subjective thing.  So many of us lounge at Starbucks with a five-dollar Frappuccino, contemplating the scarcity in our lives, or some equivalent of that.  Mr. James said something to me on the phone that stuck with me.  He said, "so many people are living every day as though it's Christmas" and "with these families, one thing lead to another and they ended up in a shelter."  Personally, I try to take stories like these to heart, and to let them change me into a more mindful person, a person who recognizes my own blessings and who is willing to make the effort to make other people's lives better.  If you are reading this, I hope you will join me.

To donate supplies, funds, or books to Promising Pages, please visit Promising Pages.
If you would like to donate to the Star Shelter, please visit Halifax Urban Ministries.