Sunday, May 31, 2009

Classics Reading Challenge

Well, I'm still on track for the Classics Reading Challenge, having read The Hound of the Baskervilles (a Sherlock Holmes mystery) this month. However, I am making virtually no progress on the Love Bites Reading Challenge. I just know that as soon as I begin reading Stephanie Meyer's books, I won't be able to stop. I should probably wait until I finish my American Literature course and my job search before I finish this challenge.

I have a nice stack of TBR books. I have Frankenstein for the Classics Challenge, and Reading Lolita in Tehran for a modern day classics book. I also want to read A Study in Scarlet before I need to return this Sherlock Holmes' volume to the library. I need to finish Life of a Slave by Frederick Douglass for both my American Literature course and the Classics Challenge.

I read nineteen books this month, which is about average for the end of May. I have a sudden wealth of free time, and what better way to use it than to read?

I tend to read to excess this time of year anyway due to stress. Whenever I start to get anxious, I read. Between my college graduation and the beginnings of a job search, things have been a little stressful. This is my refuge.

Attention Deficit Disorder

ADD can be a great thing sometimes. It made me daring enough to travel to the other side of the world alone at the age of nineteen, and later to spend eight months in Guatemala. My quickly flitting attention span has led me to read widely and often.

It can also be horrible. I have missed countless deadlines and job opportunities due to procrastination. For the longest time I beat myself up over my inability to just pull it together and focus! There was always a barrier there, though. I threw myself up against it, and fought until my fingers were bloody, but I just couldn't seem to surpass it. This disturbed me. I always thought that if I just worked hard, I could do anything.

Finally, there was a breakthrough. My therapist, who I had been seeing for years for depression, diagnosed me with ADD. I went on Vyvanse, and the changes were just phenomenal. I could focus again. I could sit down and read just one book at a time, instead of two or three. I was no longer carrying around a backpack full of different books and homework assignments in case my attention slipped from one subject to another. I actually finished three lesson assignments for my American Literature class that I had been putting off for weeks.

Though I eventually had to switch medications due to mood issues with Vyvanse, it enabled me to see that there was an alternative to way I was living my life. It made the wall of procrastination surmountable. Life still isn't easy, but it is a lot better than it was before.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Gilmore Girls and The Office

I recently received the third season of The Office for my birthday. This is definitely a crazy series. It's a little like Dilbert for the TV. There is the same unqualified, tactless boss, identically zany coworkers, and individuals just trying to stay sane in a crazy work environment. It's a fun series.

Gilmore Girls is the story of Lorelei and Rory Gilmore, a mother and her daughter who live in the very odd small town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. Lorelei had Rory when she was 16. Her conservative, wealthy parents were shocked, and insisted that she get married to Christopher, the father. Lorelei refused, and moved out. She supported Rory and herself by working in an inn, which she eventually grew to manage. This is a very funny, witty series with a lot of pop culture references.

I usually prefer reading and working on the computer to watching television. The constant commercials annoy me. This makes entire seasons on DVDs a great option. I rent them from the local public library, or ask for copies from eBay for my birthday or Christmas. I can watch as much or as little as I want, without the annoyance of commercial interruption. I can put them on while I'm working in the living room, or watch them during study breaks. The option to pause the show when my interest shifts is great. With my ADD, the ability to shift between bursts of studying and periods of DVD watching is nice.

What do you watch?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The semi experience

I found this draft of a post a few days ago. I wrote it while I was still in Nicaragua, debating whether or not I should take a flight home from the capital.

It´s about time to come home. Two weeks ago I hitched a ride in a semi truck after being stranded on the border to Nicaragua. The semi had to stop for the night due to a very bad stretch of road. Highway robbers were known to leave bodies on the road to force drivers to stop, and they would then be robbed and killed. I slept on part of the bed with the guy in back, and woke up to him brushing the hair off of my forehead. He asked me later, very nervously, if he could kiss me, and I said no. He was so worried that I´d be mad that he had even asked. Needless to say, I took a bus at the next town with bus services. In my defense, the guy was 25 years old, with a three year old son. I had three people (plus countless border guards) who could vouch for him. One was an old lady with a seven year old son who also hitched for about an hour with us from the border (she knew his dad), and the other was a money changer who sees him regularly passing through from Honduras to Costa Rica. I felt completely comfortable with him. On the other hand, I´m not doing that again.

My feelings have been pretty accurate so far this trip, but sometimes surprising. I had a bad feeling about two police officers who started to take the report after my bag was stolen. It was confirmed when they later said that in order to file the report, I would need to go with them down to the police station, in the dark, in their car, and I couldn´t bring any of the family from the States that I had met with me. Needless to say, I didn´t file that report. I just got a bad feeling about it all.

Which makes my feeling that going back to Guatemala would be a mistake a scary one. I just don´t have a good feeling about going back. It doesn´t feel safe, somehow. Do you think I´m being paranoid?

Ultimately, I decided I had to come back. I couldn't risk going back to Guatemala. Things were getting a little too scary for me. All the harassment, close calls, and violence that I tried to push out of my mind were suddenly at the forefront. I had to get out while I still could.

I knew I had been lucky. I was shot at, but they missed. I broke a few minor bones, but they healed (sans X-rays or any "high tech" equipment). I got horribly sick from food poisoning on an island in Nicaragua, but they happened to have the necessary medicine to get me better. I was sexually harassed by cab drivers, passengers on the bus, and people walking down the road, but I was still whole and healthy. I just couldn't risk it anymore.

I bused to the capital two days later, getting one of the last taxis to the airport before the roads were shut down with protestors. National elections had been held the week before, and both sides claimed they had won. Protestors took to the streets. There were police out in riot gear everywhere.

I got out. I just wish I had been able to say a proper goodbye to my host family, who was so great to me. I wish I could have been there for my uncle's wedding, and Sophie's first steps. I miss them every day.

I know I made the right choice.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Things to Do

1) Pile firewood (all the stacks mysteriously tipped over---again)
2) Bake some good vegan food (especially desserts) to have during my sister's graduation party
3) Clean out my room (I still have two huge boxes of papers to sort through from school)
4) Finish up my American Literature online course---I have two exams and three lessons yet to go.
5) Send out two transcript requests so I can graduate on time
6) Complete my Americorps application essays
7) Transfer all my old e-mail to my new address

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reading Challenges Update

I am currently working on the Love Bites Reading Challenge. So far, I have read Twilight and New Moon. I still need to read Eclipse and Breaking Dawn.

I finished Nothing but the Truth by Avi for the Juvenile Literature Reading Challenge. I have read the Artemis Fowl series, and most of the Princess Diary books, but I still need to read the rest of The Cricket in Times Square. I also need to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and at least one Captain Underpants book. I work with middle school and elementary school age children, so it helps to read the books they read. It's hard to give a good recommendation for a book to read when I don't know the genre. I can give better recommendations once I know the style of books the kids like.

I'm trying to read 150 books this year. I'm sure that there is an official 150 book reading challenge on the Internet somewhere, but I haven't found it yet. I'm about halfway there.

As far as the Classics Challenge---my choices so far haven't been so traditional (Like Water for Chocolate, anybody?), but they've worked. This month I'm reading Frederick Douglass' "Life of a Slave."

What are you reading?

25 Things You Didn't Know About Me

1) I have a miniature cat who sincerely believes that she is a dog. She sleeps with the dog, eats with the dog, and I will be truly surprised if she doesn't try to bark one day.
2) I once hitch-hiked in a semi in Nicaragua when I got stranded on the border alone late at night (Story to follow).
3) I like mashed potatoes with pickles and steak sauce.
4) I used to sell my plasma during college.
5) I can't whistle or do a cartwheel.
6) I once had a military escort through the streets of Panama City (a military officer took a liking to my friend, and he arranged for a soldier to escort us back to our hostel).
7) I love Juanes and Reik.
8) I desperately want to travel to Asia.
9) I only know ten words in Chinese.
10) I have an English Literature degree.
11) I eat powdered brownie mix plain, because it doesn't cook up right without eggs.
12) I can never shave my legs without getting at least three cuts. In the interest of self-preservation, I only shave my legs for special events and wear pants the rest of the time.
13) My playground of my school when I was in third grade in New Mexico was behind a jail.
14) I can play the handbells.
15) I love "Gilmore Girls" and "The Office."
16) I feel most at home while driving down the road.
17) I spent a month busing down from Guatemala to Panama.
18) I have slept under a mosquito net after finding a tarantula in my backpack at a hostel in Nicaragua.
19) I have lived in two countries, four states, and countless houses. It feels strange not to move every three or four years.
20) I was finally able to leave a crazily conservative Lutheran church that believed that raffles and yoga were sinful. The pastor asked me regularly if I converted any of the Catholics at the school I attended, and his wife wondered if I was becoming a radical feminist (I had a Gender Studies minor).
21) I lived with a Mayan priest and his family in Guatemala.
22) I find Gender and Women's Studies to be a fascinating subject.
23) I use the Diva Cup.
24) I'm trying to find a way to come out to my grandparents. My grandpa is a conservative Lutheran pastor.
25) I am addicted to books, and usually have 25 books checked out from the library.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


I feel heartbroken. What can you do when a little girl in obvious need of some love and attention asks you to take her home with you, but you can't? Her mother often has wild parties, and is too hungover to get her child up for school in the morning. The little girl hasn't had a bath in who knows how many days, and her clothes aren't washed. She's just eight years old.

My heart breaks for her, and there is nothing I would like more than to get her somewhere safe where she would have the chance to be a child. I can't give that to her. The most I can do is bring the issue up with her teacher, or file a mandated report. It doesn't stop me from worrying about her, and it hasn't made her any safer.

I worry about what happens when her mother can't watch her during her parties. When you gather a crowd of inebriated adults together, things that normally wouldn't occur can happen. The potential for abuse scares me. She's just a little kid, and I've heard more than enough stories at the school of children her age and younger being abused.

She is the sweetest little girl, only eight years old. There has to be something more I can do, but what?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Central American Medicine: The Case of the Broken Toe

Central American medicine is interesting, to say the least. I have had a broken finger mended at the Red Cross in Xela for $0.75, and gotten prescription painkillers for a mere $3 more. Eyedrops for pinkeye were a mere $4.

Why I decided to go to a private doctor, I'll never know. Maybe it was the confusing directions to the Red Cross in Granada, Nicaragua. Perhaps the signs that optimistically pointed to nowhere that turned my attention elsewhere.

The fact that the receptionist had to translate my Spanish into his and back again should have been a sign. The clear absence of an X-ray machine should have been another. However, I was firm that my hour's wait would yield results.

He asked to see the fractured toe, and then proceeded to yank it left and right, incessantly asking "Does this hurt? And what about this?" He pushed it every conceivable direction. After this painful interrogation, he looked at my crooked, formerly unswollen toe and pronounced it unbroken. Despite the fact that my toe was pointing in the wrong direction, the very fact that I was not screaming in pain was evidence that a break couldn't possibly have occurred.

For this painful, fruitless exam, I was charged $15. A small sum in the United States, but a veritable fortune in Nicaragua. You could buy a hammock for that price, or stay in a nice hostel for two nights (or a not so nice one for four).

At least I got some good blog fodder out of it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

My Guatemalan Family

I hate to make it seem like Guatemala was just a scary place. There were so many great parts about Guatemala. My sweet host grandmother, who literally sprinted to the language school the day I got lost, taught me how to make tamales and wash my clothes by hand to save money. My host mother was so loving, and she helped me find a job to sponsor my stay in Guatemala. She let me pay by the week or the month, depending on whether my workplace had enough money to pay me that week.

My host family included me in all of the family celebrations---I got to be the photographer at my little sister's first birthday and baptism. They let me help prepare the traditional dishes, and then taught me to dance Marimba. They were incredibly sweet and kind.

The grandfather made me tea when I was sick, and taught me traditional Mayan cures for illnesses.

My Guatemalan host family made me feel as though I belonged. They included me, and taught me so much about Guatemala. Regardless of what else happened, they were always there for me, and for that I am forever grateful.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Cheerful Post

We need an uplifting post. A post without armed guards or machetes. So, I am pleased to present you with LOL Cats.

Don't you just love the facial expression on this one?
And how about the sad, penitent expression that this tabby is wearing?
Check out the rest here.

Sleepless in Guatemala

I used to hear gunshots in the night. I lay awake, debating whether I should put my mattress against the wall, as a little extra barrier between the bullets and me. I knew it would have been futile; a mattress is little protection against flying lead. I just lay there and prayed that the cement block walls were impenetrable.

I lived across from a house of prostitution. There was an armed guard posted outside the heavy metal door. I hoped that this would function as some sort of protection. Needless to say, I really didn't go out at night. If I did, I had a whole contingent of people walk me home. My Guatemalan friend walked me home once, and decided to catch a cab from there. He said it wasn't safe to walk alone at night, even for a guy.

I couldn't think about it while I was there. I would have gone crazy. I couldn't think of a truly safe place; I'm sure there was one, but when there are armed guards barring the doors of the banks and police with guns in the grocery stores, it was hard to feel safe anywhere. Here, I at least knew the danger. It was identifiable, avoidable. The unknown danger was much scarier.

Juanes and Rayito blared out from the "bar" next door. It was the one perk of where I lived. Free music.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Traveling Honduras

"Denguex: eliminate the symptoms of Dengue!"

At first, seeing this billboard on the side of the bumpy highway near El Paraiso, Honduras, I thought I was dreaming. I mean, I knew my chloroquine had some funny side effects, but Dengue dreams? That's just a little too strange. However, our quick stop for a landslide covered road reassured me that I was, indeed, awake. Oh, how I love traveling!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

On Mace and Wedding Rings

Mace in hand, wedding ring firmly in place, I was ready to face another long walk to the academy.

On the way I passed three goats at the large, open air market, three guys who assumed I must be a prostitute (and offered me $70), and several street dogs.

I was lucky. I never had to use my mace. That's not to say I didn't have it firmly gripped and ready to fire before; one scary taxi experience brought me way too close to needing it. Never let a taxi driver take your bags to stow them before you have seen the vehicle and approve of it. This one was unmarked, even though the driver showed me the right official documentation inside the bus station. However, he let another man climb in the car at the last minute, so it was just me and two guys in an unmarked vehicle in the middle of a strange, large city in Costa Rica. Not a good place to be. My mace was in my hand (still concealed) and ready to use if necessary.

The moral of the story? Never travel to Central America without mace and a good (cheap), fake wedding band.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

"For Your Safety, We Have Paid Off the Gangs."

I had never been to a staff meeting before. I had just joined a large, private language school in Guatemala. It was my very first day, and my very first encounter with my boss. She kicks off the staff meeting with this lovely declaration: "Because your safety is our number one priority, we have paid off the maras." At first I thought I had heard wrong. Maras---as in gangs?

However, her next words dispelled all illusions of a simple misunderstanding. Apparently, any business that does not pay a protection fee to the local gangs risks having their staff kidnapped and held for ransom, or their buildings vandalized.

I guess I should have realized what I was in for when I had to show my ID to the armed guard at the door, and pass another guy wielding a machete. I guess it should have been some sort of clue. However, I am a perennial optimist. I assumed that this was just a routine security measure. Maybe not.