Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I just bought my Amtrak ticket to Washington. It ended up being just over $200. This is a little more than I would have liked, but I really need to see my family. A plane ticket would have cost nearly twice that, and a bus ticket was only $40 less.

Given that I will leave in the middle of the night, I feel more comfortable going by Amtrak than by bus. The bus station in my departure city is in a pretty bad part of town. I once got followed there by three twenty year olds in a car while I was walking from a Vietnamese market to the bank. I got into my car just seconds before they were at my door. I definitely do not want to repeat that experience.

I can't leave my car there, so I'm going to have my uncle drop me off. I don't want my grandma driving me over there that late at night. I'll be carrying mace, just to be doubly safe.

I've never ridden on Amtrak before. This should be fun!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Teaching Opportunities in China and Mongolia

I just got a reply from an English as a Second Language employment agency. They found a few opening in China and inner Mongolia that I can interview for. I have to say, I am a little nervous.

I haven't really participated in a formal interview before. My job interview at the academy in Guatemala was very easy. I just had a short meeting with the manager, and discussed my prior ESL experience. I then got to participate in a staff meeting, and I began formal training the next day. Since the academy had a very specific method of instruction, I didn't need any experience putting lessons together. Some academies have you demonstrate a sample lesson. Here, obedience to the system was better.

I'm not sure what to expect from the interview process with this agency. I already sent in my resume, so they know about my prior experience teaching English.

I'm really excited about possibly teaching in China, but I'm also terrified. I know only ten works in Chinese (hello, how are you, thank you, bathroom, an insult, and goodbye.) I think I have a little studying to do.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Volunteering pays!

I have just picked my first volunteer organization under the Walmart volunteer service benefit! I was perusing the Project Gutenberg's Distributed Proofreaders website, and found out that they are a non-profit organization! This $250 will really make a difference for them, in making sure more ebooks become available for free on the internet.

I'm still trying to figure out whether the library, or any part of it, is considered a non-profit. If so, it's an ideal place to work. It's just five blocks from my house, with really variable hours. This money would allow them to add to their book collection, and replace some of the worn out DVDs and books.

I'm so excited!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Walmart Orientation

I had my first day of orientation today. It lasted eight hours. I now know how to clean up hazardous waste, where each and every fire escape is, and what to do when I see someone shoplifting. I was also advised that "associates must wear underwear, but it may not show." All in all, a very informative day.

So I have two fifteen minute paid breaks, and one hour of unpaid lunch. Not bad at all. I almost got a really cool box cutter, too, but in the end the trainer decided that cashiers didn't need them. Sad!

One of the great things about Walmart is their VAP program. In exchange for 25 hours of community service at a nonprofit, that organization receives a $250 check in my name. You can volunteer with up to two nonprofits per six month term. I wonder if libraries count?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Teaching English in an Inner-city School

I want a job that makes a difference. One of the hardest things I experienced in Guatemala was walking by children begging for food on my way to my academy. Little boys, hardly more than eight years old, daily approached me pleading for some bread or water. To see this, and then enter into the ridiculous affluence of the academy was such a jolt. I saw horrifying levels of poverty each day, and then entered into this little land apart, where everyone had plenty of food, cars, fancy houses, and security. I saw small children with torn, dirty clothes begging for a ten cent piece of bread, and then taught an hour long class to an affluent businessman who could pay the school $20 an hour (the equivalent of $100 an hour here). I couldn't reconcile it.

I came from an inner-city public school, where I had to scrounge crayons up off the dirty floor and break them in half, so that every kindergartener had something to write with. I saw children with distended stomachs from the parasites in the impure water they were drinking. I held a little boy whose legs were bowed with rickets. To see that, and struggle to teach just a little English through the violence and the hunger, I couldn't feel right just teaching the rich.

Anyone reliable enough to keep to the system and show up to class on time could teach the students at my academy. When you have a comfortable classroom and a set method of instruction, it's not so hard. You earn a comfortable wage. You don't worry about your students stabbing each other or hitting others with chains. You don't get kicked by angry, abused children. It's just a whole lot easier emotionally.

It may be selfish, but I wanted to be somewhere where I was needed. I crave job satisfaction, and fulfillment. The public school was tough, but I was making a difference. It was worth struggling to make rent every month and working crazy hours. I felt fulfilled.

I also discovered that I can put up with a whole lot of craziness as long as I was content with my work. I can cope with students who never seem to do their work when I know that there is a real reason behind this behavior. Many of my students didn't have school supplies at home. Rather than students who just came to English classes as a way to ward off boredom, these students were struggling just to stay in school when economically it made more sense for them to be working.

I couldn't justify staying in Guatemala after I was shot at when all I was doing was teaching the affluent. They had many ways of learning English. Maybe it's a horrible thing to say, but since they didn't need me, it wasn't worth the risk. I may have stayed if I felt my work was making a difference. Whether that is foolhardy or not, I don't pretend to understand.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

TMI Warning: The Diva Cup

Every woman has experienced it: the dreaded feeling that your menstrual products has let you down. Maybe you're out on the town, or in a meeting, and suddenly you realize that your pad has leaked. You casually delay standing up for as long as possible, waiting for everyone else to file out of the room before you do. Now is when idle chit-chat becomes very annoying! You desperately search for anything to cover up, and even contemplate using your shirt, even though it means stripping down to your undershirt. That wouldn't be at all obvious though, would it?

I am happy to tell you that yes, there is another option. It is the Diva Cup. This reusable silicone menstrual cup can be left in for up to twelve hours without leaking. It can be worn during yoga, sports, or at night. It can even be worn before your period, for maximum protection. There is nothing worse than not expecting your period for another day, and then getting it during class or an important meeting.

The Diva Cup has a little bit of a learning curve, but after you get the hang of it, it is incredibly easy to use, and very convenient. I loved having it when I went down to Guatemala. I lived with a host family, and at times there were six male boarders in the house. A wasteboard basket at the side of the toilet held all used toilet paper, and if you were unfortunate, poorly disguised used menstrual products. My Diva Cup saved me from this awkward situation, because I could simply empty the contents into the toilet and rinse the cup in the sink. Much less embarrassing!

It was also very handy. I can empty it at night in the shower, and then just once more when I get up in the morning. On heavy days, I might empty it once more during the day, but this is nowhere near the number of times I would have to change a tampon. There were days when I would have to change my tampon every two hours, and wear a pad as well! Not with the Diva Cup!

Some people are put off by the $30 price tag, but this is a one time cost. Before, I could easily go through thirty pads a period, and seven tampons during my heaviest times. At best, I was getting these for $10 a month. In just three months, I had recovered the money spent.

The Diva Cup is also a lot more environmentally friendly than disposable menstrual products. It is produced without the use of pesticides. The environmental costs of producing, shipping, and disposing of disposable menstrual products is astronomical. The average woman will use 15,000 pads or tampons during her lifetime. That's a lot of waste! In comparison, even if you were to replace your Diva Cup every year (instead of every ten) as they have begun recommending after gaining FDA approval for Diva Cup use during the menstrual cycle, the waste is still far less.

The Diva Cup has a lower risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, as it does not absorb the blood, but merely contains it. It is made of medical grade silicone, and is latex-free. It has FDA and Health Canada approval.

If you are still worried about leaking, the Diva Cup can be paired with washable menstrual pads from etsy, online retailers, or natural food stores. These pads are very soft, and extremely comfortable. I'll be publishing a post later on washable menstrual pads.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience with the Diva Cup. It has been a lifesaver while I was traveling in Central America---I never had to worry about running out of supplies or where I was going to throw my menstrual products away. I could put it in the day before my period was supposed to start, and not worry about my period's sudden arrival. I really enjoy not having to change tampons constantly during heavy flow days. It has also been a huge money saver. So check it out! You just might like it!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Saving on College Textbooks

Textbooks from the college bookstore can be expensive. Even the used ones can easily cost $50. One great source I found online to comparison shop is ISBNDB. When you enter your textbook's ISBN number into the search engine, this site pulls up the lowest prices from dozens of online bookstores (such as Biblio and Amazon). It also collects the best price from eBay and Half.com.

I recently bought a collection of essays for my college writing class for $2.49 from eBay. It cost $34 used from the bookstore. I asked my professor if an earlier edition of the book would work, and was able to cut costs considerably when she said yes. Earlier textbooks usually aren't fundamentally different from later versions, and it pays to ask your professor if an earlier version will suffice. It can cut the cost down on used books by half or more.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Humane Society

Today I went to the Humane Society to walk the dogs. They just got in a batch of ten labrador puppies, and they are just precious! They are keeping them in a tall, round roofless pen inside, and there is one chocolate lab puppy that keeps trying to climb out. He's precocious, that one!

There are so many tiny dogs there now. It's too bad that the adoption fee for these tiny (rarer) dogs is so high; they know that they'll go fast, and the adoption fee helps keep the Humane Society running. Usually the adoption fee is well under a hundred dollars, and this includes all of their shots and neutering or spaying. This fee is less than the neutering or spaying would be alone, so it's a really good deal. They also discount the adoption fees on harder to adopt animals (such as black cats that have been there for more than two months), and occasionally on older animals, too.

The Humane Society lets potential owners take the dogs out into the fenced backyard to play, or for a walk before they decide. They have really nice trails, and lots of toys to play with. It's se up really well.

So check out your local humane society the next time you are looking to adopt a dog or cat. They have all ages of animals, and all sizes. They are also often open to volunteers who would be willing to socialize with the animals, and take the dogs for walks or brush the cats.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

American Literature Final Exam

Tomorrow I write my final exam! It lasts three hours, which is a little long, but not horrible. There will probably be questions on it about Thoreau and Uncle Tom's Cabin, so it should be a fairly good exam.

I hope to head over to the Humane Society again tomorrow. Hopefully it won't be raining, because some of the dogs are very enthusiastic, and like to jump on new people. I got soaked today!

I'm also dropping off a few unused pantry supplies at the local food shelf. The vanilla pears had to go, as did two bags of pinto beans. We have so many beans in the pantry, and I just cannot stand the smell of boiling pinto beans. I smelled it too often in the school cafeteria growing up in New Mexico.

I also need to find some khaki or brown pants for working at Walmart. I have to admit, khaki is not my favorite color. I think I'll have to find some darker brown cords, instead. I don't want to end up with clothing that I can only wear while working at Walmart. I like multifunctional clothes. At least the dark blue shirts can be reworn elsewhere. They shouldn't be too hard to find, either. I just need to make sure that they are plain and have absolutely no logos.

The Walmart Interview

I interviewed yesterday for a position at Walmart. I needed a summer job with fairly consistent hours, and I didn't want join a smaller company only to hurt their productivity when I left a few months later.

So I went in for an interview yesterday. One hour of question after question about my teamwork and job experience. I was asked to give examples proving that it is important to be polite even to rude customers, and obey policies even when I don't agree with them. This was on top of an insanely detailed online application (seven pages), two references, and a sixty-five question online "values" quiz. Sample questions: "Have you ever stolen work supplies? Do you get alone well with your boss?" Most of it was multiple choice.

I was then offered a job for $8.30 an hour, pending a background check and a drug test. I had twenty-four hours to head over to the hospital and give a urine sample.

When I went into their little bathroom, they turned off all of the water. Though they checked my ID, I'm surprised they never checked my purse. For all they knew, I could be packing a "clean" urine sample. I guess I just look trustworthy.

Do you have any crazy work-related stories? Please tell me I'm not the only one to be urine-tested.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pantry Foray

Today I did a massive overhaul of our pantry and fridge. It's amazing the crazy things you can find hidden away! Some especially strange finds were a can of crab soup (not mine) and vanilla pears. Who came up with the concept of vanilla flavored pears? So, this was my list of (happily!) completed tasks:

1) Cleaned out the produce drawer in the fridge. I cut up and froze three huge bags of celery from the graduation party.

2) Cut up the remnants of two heads of garlic that were about to turn.

3) Made an extra large batch of black beans and froze half.

Tomorrow, I'll go through the cupboards. I know that I have vegetable boullion around here somewhere....

The Dangers of Summertime Boredom

I am trying to turn myself orange. (How else can I explain the three pound bag of baby carrots I just ate?) Ah, the summer doldrums are upon us.

I think I'm trying to procrastinate on sending all of my Teaching English in Asia applications in. I am way too nervous about this process than I should be.

At least I'm getting some good reading done. I have finished most of my Juvenile Literature Reading Challenge, except for some books (such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid) that are ridiculously hard to find. It's a good sign, really. It means that kids are reading!

What are you doing to keep summer boredom at bay?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Goodbye Midterms!

Today I finished the last midterm of my undergraduate career! Just three lovely hours of writing essays on Benjamin Franklin, American mythology, and Emerson. I was so tired by the end of it, that I had to pull over on the way home and take a nap. I love church parking lots!

I finished up the last of my split pea soup, seasoned with a little green chile for a hint of spiciness. I have the strangest taste buds---I added soy sauce (somehow so good to taste, but so gross visually when mixed together).

My mile hike in the woods turned into a veritable powerwalk when the mosquitoes started swarming. There were literally fifty all around me! Luckily, they didn't seem too hungry.

I just got wind of a new blog. Check out Here Be Hippogriffs. It will make you smile!

Sleepless in the States

Guatemala gave me so many wonderful things---a beautiful Mayan host sister to play with, increased fluency in Spanish, and self-confidence. I hate to always seem as though I'm meditating on the bad side.

That said, I think I've finally figured out my reluctance to sleep at night. It was always at night that the club next door would get crazy, and when I would hear gunshots from the park or in the street. Night was a dangerous time in Guatemala. Not having any males to escort me home late at night, I tended to stay inside after dark.

Night was also when I would feel tremors. It never failed: about six a.m. every month or so I would be suddenly awoken by the shaking of my room. I soon "earthquake-proofed" it by moving all of the heavy shelves to the other side of the room, away from my bed.

So I guess my inability to sleep at night may just be a residual effect of living in Guatemala. Daylight just feels so much safer.

So I'm sleeping with my kitten tonight. Everything seems so much better with a warm, cuddly little bundle of fur curled up next to me.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Late Nights

After two nights of staying up until 4 a.m., I am beat. I love hanging out with my cousins, but I just can't hack these late nights. My cousin has insomnia, so he just keeps going and going. It's like living with the Energizer Bunny!

It's been a great few nights, though. Even though we only see each other once a year, if that, it's like no time has passed at all. We're soon talking about work and life and love, and everything in between. Best of all, we laugh. My cousins can make me laugh like no one else can. Even hard subjects become funny. It is a rare person who can make a panic attack or getting shot at funny. When you meet one of those people, hold on and never let go. They are a rare breed.

Life is more manageable after a weekend with my cousins. Even though I haven't had a good eight hours of sleep in days, I'm ready to hit the job search running again, and finish off the rest of my American Lit course.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

MP3 Players and Bike Rides

Today I took a two mile bike ride out on a seldom used road. Everything is in bloom, so it was a gorgeous ride.

I'm still searching for my iTunes gift card (for $30!). I think it's a funny thing to have, considering that I don't even own an iPod. I am researching MP3 players online, trying to find an inexpensive, durable one. Once I get one, I'm downloading audio books from the library and lots of Spanish music by Reik and Juanes.

I'm thinking I'll use my MyPoints to either get an Amazon.com $25 gift certificate, or an Overstock.com gift card. With that, I can get a pretty decent MP3 player.

Anyone own an MP3 player and have any words of wisdom for me?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Human Guinea Pig

Apparently, I am a guinea pig. Or so my therapist tells me, when prescribing a new drug, that hasn't officially been approved for ADD (it has been FDA approved for the treatment of narcolepsy, however). Somehow, these are just not the words you want to hear out of your psychiatrist's mouth.

It's only the sixth day of summer, and already I am at a loss of what to do with myself. I am applying for a job at Walmart, if only to get out of the house for awhile. I'm not used to being back at home. For almost eight whole months, I was two countries away. There was no one observing my sleeping and eating habits. It was liberating. I'm just trying to enjoy the family time while I save up for my international plane ticket to get to an English as a Foreign Language job in Asia.

I'm getting a ton of reading done. I've read about a book a day so far this month. I'm also proofreading at Project Gutenberg. How are you staying busy this summer?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Where Are Career Services When You Need Them?

Is it horrible that I have no idea what I truly want to do with my life? I have the respectable list of goals to pull out for my relatives (get a Master's degree in education, teach English in Asia, do two years of Americorps service in public schools), but so far I haven't found that one thing that makes me just love getting up in the morning. Maybe because I'm not a morning person?

It's not that I don't enjoy what I'm doing (teaching English as a Foreign Language and tutoring in public schools), it's just that it's not my passion. I want more from a job than this.

If I could, I would work with children one on one, completely on my own (no list of what has to be done, no goals to meet, just some nice, child-led learning). Getting my Master's degree sounds great and all, but I don't really gel that well with public schools. I've seen too many kids who just can't fit into the classroom mold.

Take Ashton, for example. I started taking him out of the classroom for forty-five minutes three times a week, and was just amazed at his academic level. As long as I wasn't doing anything that screamed "schoolwork" with him, he would actually ask to write short stories (and illustrate them) and do math problems with cubes. The minute I pulled a worksheet out, though, you could see the enthusiasm visibly drain out of him.

I do want to travel. If the only way I can finance it is teaching English, I'll do it. I just need some flexibility. Conversation classes with adults are great, as is working with children. As long as there isn't too much structure, I'm great.

I think what got me in trouble in Guatemala was just working for the absolute upper class, and working in an extremely structured environment. I can't stand walking by hungry, begging street children on my way to teach absurdly demanding rich students, who can afford to pay the equivalent of $100 an hour and not show up to class on time. I didn't feel like I was making a difference. I'm all for paying the bills and all, but I also need some sort of job satisfaction.

Things to Do Before I Die

Things I want to do before I die.

  1. Go paragliding
  2. Live in Asia
  3. Do foster care
  4. Adopt a child
  5. Work in Barcelona
  6. Run a marathon
  7. Travel to the Palestinian Territories.
  8. Backpack across Europe
  9. Learn to knit
  10. Travel to New York City
  11. Work at Wild Oats or Whole Foods
  12. Eat at a vegan restaurant
  13. Visit Washington, D.C.
  14. Learn to juggle
  15. Get a deep-tissue and a hot stone massage
  16. Finish my novel
  17. Travel to Alaska
  18. Go to Hawaii
  19. Visit Ireland
  20. Go hang-gliding
  21. Bike to Canada
  22. Read one classic a month for a year

I have a lot of travel related goals, don't I? I should really get a start on my list!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Now What Do I Put On My Resume?

Wow. So it turns out the language school I worked for in Guatemala was just shut down for a month pending investigation. Apparently it had never been properly registered, and as such, it wasn't operating legally. Given that most of the teachers didn't have work permits, and were paid out through a third party, this shouldn't surprise me. Yet somehow it does.

This only came out when my supervisor had to sue the school for a lack of payment. He worked as director for six months, but he was never paid for his work. Needless to say, the owner of the branch was a little concerned about what else this lawsuit might turn up.

Let's just say that a lot of lies were uncovered. Our illustrious founder didn't actually have branches is half of the places he claimed, and he didn't even originate in the country he claimed he did.

Yet somehow this place was still a better option than my previous place of employment, where I had to convince my bosses (all three of them) each and every week to pay me. On top of it, I had to deal with their constant flirtation and invasive questioning.

The crazy, twisted situations you find yourself in while working abroad.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Night the Earth Stood Still

We really need a cheerful post right about now. There have been way too many grim posts recently, and that really wasn't how I pictured my blog when I started.

So please head over to The Playpen and read The Night the Earth Stood Still. It's simply hilarious.

"Let's Talk"

I can't handle it anymore. Whenever I think I'm finally okay again, suddenly I'm ambushed with a "Alex, let's talk," and the whole abuse issue is brought up all over again. I understand that my mom feels like she needs to take action. I'm glad she is not taking the police's reluctance to prosecute this man lying down. I just need to move on. I can't keep wondering when suddenly all the effort I've put into moving on will be undone by my mom's need for justice. I just can't see it happening. I reported "Sam's" behavior years ago. The police did nothing. They didn't even put the fact that someone accused him of abuse on his record. I tried. Now I want to move on.

I'm not saying that what he did was right, or that it should go unpunished. It's just that it feels more like self-punishment to keep bringing the issue up. Maybe it's a sign that old wounds haven't healed. Who knows. I just want to get on with my life.

Summer Goals

These are my goals for this summer.

  1. Finish my American Literature course.

  2. Read three classics.

  3. Apply to Americorps.

  4. Move my sister down to Missouri.

  5. Travel independently to Washington, D.C.

  6. Secure a laptop.

  7. Apply to teach English in Asia.

  8. Get my ADD under control.

  9. Retrieve my suitcase from Guatemala (somehow!)

  10. Go canoeing and rowing once a month.

  11. Organize my room---clear out all the boxes and find my iTunes card!

  12. Learn French and Italian with Live Mocha.

  13. Continue proofreading for Project Gutenberg.

  14. Find an international bank for future jobs abroad.

  15. Get an inexpensive iPod online.
  16. Find a summer job!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Proofreading at Project Gutenberg

I have recently begun proofreading for Distributed Proofreaders, an affiliate of Project Gutenberg. By comparing the original text to the computer's adaptation, I eliminate errors. I also put the text into a standardized format to create a clean, polished look.

Project Gutenberg endeavors to make uncopyrighted works of literature available online for free. So far, they have posted 150,000 unique titles online, with works as varied as "The Tempest" and "The Iliad."

Proofreaders can proof as many or as few pages as they like. If you're only able to proof one page a day or even one page a week, you are still making a difference.

So log on to Distributed Proofreaders today, and start making a difference!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Paperback Swap

I recently joined Paperback Swap. By posting books on a virtual bookshelf for other members to request, I am granted credits that I can use to request books. The first person in your household to post ten books is given two extra credits that can be used immediately to request books. Otherwise, credits are granted when you send a requested book to another member and they receive it. One credit equals one book, with audio books costing two credits. You pay postage when you send books, but none to receive books.

The selection is diverse. I have personally requested Driven to Distraction (a very useful book on ADD), Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year, and The Nanny Diaries. All books came to me in perfect condition.

You can establish a wish list for books that aren't presently listed on the site, and receive e-mail notification when the book becomes available. You can also share your current To Be Read list, and join in book discussions.

If you don't have books to list, you can also buy credits for $3.65 apiece. Either way, it is a great deal, especially when used in conjunction with library visits and book sales.

May I call you uncle?

I have never handled transitions graciously.

I'm hitting that strange age when I'm no longer a child, but not quite a full-fledged adult, either. Dealing with aunts and uncles, I still struggle with what to call them. Is it Uncle Rich, or just Richard? Aunt Sue, or Susie? At twenty-two, it feels more natural to just use my aunts and uncles' first names, but there is that sticky transition.

Grandparents, of course, will always be Grandpa and Grandma. Great aunts and uncles are the same---Aunt Becky and Uncle Alan. It just shows respect.

How do you address your relatives?

Frugal, Environmentally Friendly Day

Today I have:
  1. Hung my clothes out to dry on the line.
  2. Walked to the bank and the post office instead of driving.
  3. Recycled one huge load of cans and paper products.
  4. Shut down the computer we weren't using.

What frugal, environmentally friendly things have you done today?