Saturday, December 18, 2010

Stay Alert!

This seems to be the mantra in my apartment. You can't turn your back without your blankets being spirited off and hidden in some dark closet, or having your dirty socks "hung up by the chimney with care." I was on the phone once, talking to my family in Minnesota, and suddenly found the entire contents of my purse adorning our Christmas tree. It's a good thing I didn't drive to the store that night---my wallet was strung up!

You also have to beware of flying objects. Rubber bands, footballs, soccer balls---they are all fair game. My best advice is to duck and cover. If you do get involved, expect a few bruises.

At least life is never dull at my house.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Snake Cat!

Beware of the snake cat!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Twelve Days of Daycare

(To be sung to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas)
Twelve hyper three year olds,
eleven missing gloves,
ten tossed off shoes,
nine bouts of crying,
eight changes of clothes,
seven major fights,
six "I want my mommy"s,
five spilled milks,
four hours outside,
three exploding diapers,
two crazy tantrums,
and one lice outbreak.

This was my week. Sorry I didn't post more last week---as you can see, it was a little intense!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ten Things I'm Thankful For

1) Pizza for Thanksgiving. Not your traditional meal, but very tasty! Basil pesto pizza topped with peppers and tomatoes from my local farmer's market made this a delicious feast indeed!

2) Warm blankets. I'll be able to turn on the heat soon (I hope). In the mean time, I'm enjoying bundling up nice and warm under my grandmother's handmade quilt!

3) Make Your Own Burrito Night with my roommate. Even though neither of us were able to go home for Thanksgiving, we've been having a blast and a culinary extravaganza.

4) The library! I now have multiple books on tape for my drive to and from work; plenty of books I've been waiting months to read, and a huge selection of DVDs to choose from.

5) My laptop. I can take classes online, write parent brochures for work, keep in touch with my friends and family, and watch movies.

6) Trains. Less crazy than a Greyhound, they are a money saving way to get home. I love seeing all the great scenery, and not having to worry about driving through traffic heavy cities.

7) Family. I have a very supportive and loving family, and I can't wait to see them at Christmas!

8) Steady work. Sure, AmeriCorps doesn't pay a lot, but the experience is priceless, and the comfort of knowing that I have a stable income is a huge relief.

9) Working with little kids. I love every child I work with, and they make life so much more interesting. In what other field do you go from cuddling three one year olds on your lap as you read them a story to teaching a kid how to cut with scissors? Where else can you hear such memorable quotes as, "I had to concentrate when my mom got the bugs out of my hair?"

10) Life. The possibilities that each day bring, and the opportunity to direct my life's path in any direction I choose.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Kids Say the Funniest Things

One of the advantages of working in an early childhood education center is all of the funny quotes that I get to hear throughout the day. Amid the children who communicate mainly in Baby Signs or growls, I also get to hear these fun quotes:

1) "I like playing Michael Jackson with my friends." Not creepy at all.

2) "Where do babies come from?" Given that I'm your teacher and not your parent, I don't think I'll be answering this one.

3) "We don't bury our friends!" A three year old parroting a rule given earlier that day---who knew that it would have to be used twice in one day?

4) "Boogers!" The observation that every teacher dreads, knowing that they will be the ones to remove said boogers. Where's the hand sanitizer when you need it?

5) "Am I your pet?" A three year old's question after his mom puts him on a leash. I loved her response: "You're my pet iguana Iggy!"

Aren't children fun?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I've Maxed Out My Card

My library card, that is. I officially have forty books out---three audiobooks (Don Quixote, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, Italian the Fast and Easy Way), and 37 other books.

I'm the type of person who reads a dozen books at a time, enjoying bits and pieces. I might read a portion of a romantic comedy, then switch to the autobiography of a man who decided to read every word of the encyclopedia. I read book for work: "Nutrition Nibbles" on healthy meals and snacks, and books on early childhood education. I also read British romances ("The Little Lady Agency", "Confessions of a Shopaholic", and others). I read a classic a month (often as a book on tape on my way to and from work.

What are your favorite books?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pink Eye

The little kid germs have got to me once again. It seems that when you work with seventy children under three years of age, the occasional case of pinkeye is inevitable.

I have it all: the sensitivity to light, the blurry vision, the yellow discharge, and the watery eyes.
After a quick stop at a walk-in clinic for prescription eye drops, I will have to eschew my contact lenses for a week. Not fun. Not fun at all.

At least I avoided the head lice going around our center, and the staph infection that one little nine month old has. All in all, I think I prefer pink eye.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ways You Know You Work with Children

You may work with children if...
1) You've ever told a child "Don't pee on the sink!"
2) You find yourself singing the clean up song at home while washing the dishes.
3) You can push a swing one handedly.
4) You can put five kids to sleep in ten minutes or less.
5) You spend your mornings scraping congealed cereal and milk off the floor.
6) You have calluses from pushing swings.
7) You've perfected your "teacher's voice": loud and no nonsense
8) You break up three fights a day, wipe ten noises an hour, and diaper eight children
9) You've ever picked up a spider to save it from being squashed by anxious children.
10) You get twelve hugs and sloppy kisses at the end of the day.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Would You Eat This?

Food in Guatemala was always an adventure. Not only are you dealing with new kinds of tropical fruits and vegetables, but often you may be unable to identify the food on your plate. That was the case with this dish.

Think green potatoes with little cords in them, mixed with a gooey reddish paste. Not your typical dinner.

What was your most adventurous meal?

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Today I:
1) Made a big pot of vegetarian chili---this will be lunch for the next week.
2) Finally e-mailed off a photo I took for a friend so long ago in Guatemala.
3) Cleaned out my fridge and located some tempeh I need to use up before it expires.
4) Found books to take to the local thrift shop.
5) Bought salsa and whole wheat flour in bulk (before I run out of food stamps at the end of the month).

All in all, it was a pretty successful day.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Blood, Spit, and Tears

My little three year old at the Head Start center was busy today.

One of the other three year olds taught him how to use spit as a weapon, prompting much disgust among the other children and two "think times" after he tried to spit on teachers.

Ew. That's all I can say. Ew.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Things to Do

Things I need to do this week, to finish off October:

  1. Contact the head of the magazine turnover division at my local library, to get all of the magazines slated to be recycled. We can use these at the Head Start to make collages and find interesting pictures to post on the wall (Hello, Diversity Project!)

  2. Type up a summary of the apple tasting to send to my AmeriCorps supervisor to officially finish with one of three nutrition projects.

  3. Fasten my new, $2 corkboard message board onto the wall.

What's on your To Do List?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Laundry Room

My roommate lives in my laundry room.

There. I've said it. She came to us out of a really bad situation (her landlady gave her less than 24 hours notice that she'd need to leave due to a messy divorce), so she originally was just going to crash on our floor for a few days. A few days turned into a couple of weeks, and no housing leads were panning out. Money was tight (AmeriCorps offers a living stipend just at the poverty line), and we all really enjoyed each others' company. My other two roommates and I were open to having her stay, but knew that she couldn't live in our living room forever. Even though she repeatedly reassured us that she was fine with the situation, and could easily make up a partition out of curtains, we knew that it wouldn't be a comfortable long term arrangement.

Our one empty space was the laundry room. It's six feet by four feet, and uncarpeted. However, for someone who's just looking for a place to sleep, it's perfect. We knew it was likely that eventually she's crave her own space and find an apartment, but were fine if it turned out to be a permanent arrangement.

It's been two months. Even though it was really awkward when her mom visited and saw our huge apartment, and then her little room, she repeatedly reassures us that she loves the space.

What secrets do you have lurking in your closets?

Monday, November 1, 2010


Today I saw a two child pile up. When all that could be heard was wailing, I rushed to the scene and picked up a little two year old. Carrying her over to the bench, I asked her what was hurting. In reply, she threw her bloody hand onto mine.

Today a child bled on me. The dangers of blood born pathogens are pounded into you since you were in preschool: you could get AIDS. Or Hepatitis B. Or any number of other horrible diseases.

After brushing off the excess blood from my palm, I led the girl inside to clean her up. Ten minutes and a new bandaid later, and she was happy as could be. Yet all I could do was worry. What had I been exposed to? Given that she's only two years old, it couldn't be anything much, could it? The blood didn't get into any open wounds, which is a definite plus, and I washed it off within minutes.

Sometimes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a curse.

Margarita Monday

You have to love Margarita Mondays. 99 cent margaritas, with special flavors (such as Desert Pear or Blackberry) just 50 cents more. There were also plenty of sides for just $2. I enjoyed the seasoned fries. What's not to love?

We had a nine person group of fellow AmeriCorps childcare workers, which let us discuss all the craziness at our centers, our success stories, and our struggles. We commiserated with the member who had a screamer at her center (a three year old who literally loved to get right up in your face and scream endlessly). We traded behavior modification tips for two year olds who loved to hit (buy a punching bag if at all possible, or find a loud drum or squishy ball they can take their agression out on).

It's a fun tradition, and fairly reasonably priced (as long as you ate beforehand and didn't catch a meal at the restaurant).

Where do you go for a cheap night out?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Planned Donations

With all of the craziness of the past few months (moving twice, setting up a new household in a state I had never even visited before, and starting a new job), I neglected to make my donations for June and September. Hopefully, I can remedy this over the next two months. So I've been planning out three months' worth of donations. So far, I want to donate to Safe Passages for October to provide food, clothing, and education to children whose parents work in Guatemala City's garbage dumps. I also plan to donate through the Hunger Site for June and September's donations. Right now, I'm debating between funding several different projects. The options?

$35 Clean Water for Children
$20 Send Two Girls to School in Afghanistan
$18 A Year of School Lunches for an AIDS Orphan
$17 Send a Child to School in Guatemala
$100 Train a Backpack Medic in Burma

I love the feeling that I've made a difference. I can tally it up---I've sent two girls to school in Afghanistan, sent a child to school in Guatemala, funded two high efficiency stoves in Darfur, and vaccinated two children in India. I've also provided a prosthesis for a person in the developing world.

I may not earn a lot, but I can still make a difference.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cat Fight!

Tanea and Janessa are best enemies. They can go from being absolute angels, playing drums together peacefully and laughing merrily one minute, to scratching each other's eyes out the next. It makes the last two hours of my nine and a half hour shift interesting, to say the least.

It's the time when kids have been in preschool all day. They're tired, and cranky, and ready to just go home. Instead, they have to play nice with the other kids for two more long hours.

Janessa and Tanea had just discovered the joy of the small hiding place beneath the stairs of the indoor loft. Three sides are boxed in, with a fourth side semi-open. Yesterday, Tanea climbed into the farthest reaches, with Janessa sitting right next to her. I was cleaning up the last of the toys, listening to them giggle and chat away merrily, when all of a sudden I heard a horrible screeching sound. Howls followed, and pained screams.

I rushed over, crouching down and risking life and limb by sticking my head in. The scene that met my eyes could only be described as a cat fight. Sharp talons were digging into tender flesh, and I could only reach one hand of the culprit. I ordered her out, but she would have none of it. Knowing that if I pulled her out by her arm I would lose my job, I was forced to flail around for the other hand to at least stop the horrible clawing.

When I finally maneuvered Janessa out and persuaded Tanea that it was safe to emerge, little Tanea had scratches all up and down her face. The top of her head was scratched, and her arm was covered in welts from Janessa's pinches.

I cleaned her up and bandaged her as best as I could, and tried to sooth her. Needless to say, getting so cut up with no way out doesn't feel good at all. I just sat with her in my lap, talking with her quietly.

When the two had a few minutes to cool off, I talked with them both together. Each was eager to blame the other, citing what each did wrong (She pinched me first! She said she hated me! She wouldn't scoot over!) Both pinched and scratched, but given the difference in size and strength, Tanea came out on the rougher side. Strangely enough, the other girl didn't have one scratch on her.

I wrote out an incident report and informed the site director of what happened. We are blocking off the cubby hole, and talked to both set of parents. Let me tell you, that was one fun conversation to have.

As it was, I was already blaming myself. Even though I was only assisting in the classroom (and not actually a lead teacher), I wondered if I could have handled things differently. Could I have somehow gotten them out of there faster? Should I have just pulled Janessa out, at the risk of losing my job?

Who knows what Monday will bring.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Samson, the Lion Cat

Samson (a fitting name for a lion like cat) looked exactly like this at the animal shelter I worked at. He had the cutest meow (almost a purr). When they shaved him, they left just a tuft of hair at his tail, and a ring of fur around his face. He was such a cute lion!

I'm still searching for a close by animal shelter to volunteer at. Unfortunately, my AmeriCorps program won't let me count it for hours, since it doesn't directly affect children birth to five. However, it still is totally worth it!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cat on the Computer

funny pictures of cats with captions
Why is it that cats want to be in the most inconvenient places? Sit down with a textbook on your lap, and inevitably, a cat will crawl on top of it, purring away. Sit down at the piano to play, and suddenly your kitten is a concert pianist, banging away on the keys left and right. You can check out more hilarious pictures at Lolcats.

What's your funniest cat story?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Frugal Hints and Tips

Money can be tight, especially for college students and recent graduates. Here are few simple money saving tips that have saved me more times than I can count.

1) Explore the bulk section of your grocery store or health food store. They are often much cheaper than buying prepackaged foods, and you are able to buy just the amount you need for a recipe. If you don't use much cumin or dill, bulk bin spices are the way to go. You can measure out just a half teaspoon of spices, and pay just for that, rather than have a whole bottle languish in your pantry for years and lose potency. This is also the way to go if you're trying out a new grain. You can buy just the amount you need for your recipe, and not be stuck with an entire bag if you don't like it.
2) Check out grocery store ads online before you shop. I used this tip a lot in college. I could save gas and driving time by figuring out which of three grocery stores nearest to me had the best deals. Simply Google grocery stores you frequent, and check out their store circulars.

3) Visit your local library! They have DVDs, books on tape, book clubs, Internet access, and language tapes all for free!

4) Frequent thrift stores and garage sales! I got a dresser for $8, a terrific bookcase for $2.50, and a large TV for $10. My roommate got her futon/bed for $35. Not only are thrift stores and garage sales cheaper than Walmart, Target, and furniture stores, but they are also more ecologically friendly. They keep objects out of the landfills, and give a second life to pre-owned objects!

5) Visit your local farmers' market! The produce is fresh, local, and many times cheaper than that which you find in the supermarkets. Especially check out damaged produce, which may be sold at a substantial discount. I recently found a three for $1 deal on slightly bruised peppers. The damage was mainly cosmetic, and I just opted to use these peppers first. Cheap and healthy!

How do you save money?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Coping with ADD

I have a few little tricks I plan to implement this year to make living with my Attention Deficit Disorder a little easier. Here are just a few:

1) Scan and save important documents to a flash drive, resulting in less paperwork to be lost. Also, fewer boxes to move each year!

2) Utilize online bill pay. I often leave bills until the last minute, and this makes paying them easy and saves money on postage and late fees.

3) Schedule follow-up psychiatrist appointments a few months in advance. When I finish with one appointment, schedule the next two, and write them in my day planner. Also, request a phone call reminder so that even if I don't check my appointment book, I still won't miss my appointment.

4) Schedule automatic refills with Walmart. They'll call me when my prescription is ready, and I won't have to remember to fill my prescription before it runs out.

5) Write key phone numbers (doctor's office, work, psychiatrist scheduling office, apartment office) in my day planner, and input them in my phone as contacts. That way I'll have no excuse not to call in advance of needing a doctor's appointment.

What hints have you found helpful in your day-to-day life?

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I love Spanish music---Reik, Camila, Juanes, Aleks Syntek---it's an addiction. However, I'm in AmeriCorps, and don't have endless founts of money to buy expensive CDs.

Batanga online radio, however, has solved this dilemma. I can listen to a personalized radio station while writing papers, surfing the web, or blogging, all for free. I can personalize my radio stations to only have one artist, or a mix. Best of all, it's free---there is only the occasional ad (about every three or four songs). If I'm listening to the Spanish version of Batanga, that ad is in Spanish, and I get to test out my understanding of spoken Spanish. If it's the English version of Batanga, it's a little more annoying, but nothing major.

Check it out today!

Friday, October 15, 2010


Recently, my roommates came across a free trial offer for eHarmony. Given that it was nearly eleven on a Saturday night, what could be more entertaining than filling out the application form?

eHarmony asks some very strange questions. Take, for instance, their inquiry as to whether you feel: Safe? Plotted against? or Out of control? Who would honestly answer that they felt plotted against?

They also asked you to rate how you viewed yourself on a scale of not at all to very much so. Some possible characteristics? Quarrelsome, honest, and impulsive. I suppose the honest bit proved just how honest you were: if you listed very much so, obviously you were lying; if you listed not at all, who would want to date you?

They also asked how important your partner's various traits were to you: your sexual compatibility, the romantic attractiveness you felt for your partner, and you partner's attractiveness.

Wow. All I can say is that I'm so happy I don't qualify for eHarmony. Have any of you tried online dating sites?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Kid Is Special!

So my three year old at the Head Start is a little special. The fact that two of his rules are: "Don't lick the window!" and "Don't pee on the sink!" says it all.

It was your typical nap time: a few tears, twelve stories, four backrubs, and all thirteen children were out for the count. I had just finished taping together a few books that our "angry child" had ripped and had moved to the sink to wash my hands (kids get the weirdest things on books). Suddenly a little face popped up by the edge of the sink. It was Noah, my little trouble making machine.

I waited for him to slip by me into the kids' bathroom, or say that he had a nightmare. Instead, he kept looking straight ahead with a glazed look in his eyes. A few seconds passed, and I began to grow concerned.

"Noah? Noah, stop!"

I could hardly believe my eyes. He was peeing against the sink.

I jumped back, not eager to get my flip flops, or my toes, wet. Why, or why, hadn't I worn my sneakers that day? Baby pee I can handle. Three year old drenching pee? Not so much.

I got him to stop long enough to direct him to the toilet. After he washed his hands, still expressionless, he went back to bed.

When I brought the incident up with the lead teacher, she was incredulous. This had never happened before. Yet the puddle next to the sink was vivid proof that something crazy was going on.

When Noah woke up from his nap fifteen minutes later, we led him over to the puddle to help with clean-up. He kept asking why he was cleaning up, and what the big puddle was.

It turns out we have a sleepwalker on our hands. And not just your garden variety sleepwalker, but a walking, peeing sleepwalker.

This year is going to be fun.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Kitty Gets Tickled

funny pictures of cats with captions
Just a little something to brighten up your day! Check out more at Lolcats and funny pictures. After a rough day at work (how many times can one kid bite you in day? Just how many dirty diapers can one teacher change?), this is a definite stress reliever.

How do you relieve stress?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bone Marrow Donation

I recently signed on with Be the Match (the National Marrow Donor Program) to donate bone marrow to a patient in need if a match is found. The process was surprisingly easy: a short application process online, and then a simple cheek swab tissue matching. I was able to complete both from the comfort of my own home.

Being an AmeriCorps member, I have very little disposable income to donate to charity or contribute to medical research. This is one way that I can help others without cost to me---the medical procedure is covered by the other patient's insurance, and the tissue testing was done at no cost for me. Travel costs are reimbursed when a donation is made. With the exception of the possibility of a few hours taken off of work here and there for additional testing if a match is found, and a day or two surrounding the procedure, there is no significant cost to the donor.

Check out Be the Match today!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Habitat for Humanity Fridays

I have learned how to shoot nails through concrete, fasten plywood onto the roof with just six strikes of the hammer, and install interior walls, all in two weeks. How did I do this? I signed on to Habitat for Humanity's Women Build.

A team of nearly all women work to construct a home from crawlspace to roof in just sixteen weeks. These homes are then sold to individuals living at or below the poverty line. In lieu of a down payment, they must contribute 250 hours of service building their home, or the homes of others. The homes are sold at cost, with a zero percent interest rate, making these homes decent, safe, and affordable.

Volunteers make this project possible, so search Habitat's website today for an opportunity near you. You don't even need to know which end of the hammer is used to pound a nail to volunteer---you just need the willingness to learn. I went there knowing nothing about nail guns, but by the end of the afternoon, I was a pro.

Volunteer today, either at a Women Build or with Habitat for Humanity's regular building!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

To Do List

I just got back from a leisurely three hour babysitting stint. Half the time, the kids were asleep. The only strenuous part of the night was reading two long fairy tales in Spanish. I got to practice my rusty Spanish, and got $40---enough to replace my dying phone!

So my To Do List is fairly simple:
  1. Visit Verizon and check in on getting a replacement phone. Even though my phone is fully charged, it will randomly shut itself off. It also refuses to alert me when I have messages, so I find out weeks later that my friend called, needing a place to stay, or tWQhat my sister sent me a picture of her engagement ring.
  2. Order more checks. I finally ran out, after seven years with my bank. I always use online bill pay, as it's fast, easy, and free for my account. However, occasionally I will need a physical check, and they're always good to have.
  3. Buy groceries for the week. I need tempeh, whole wheat tortillas, fruit, bread, and garlic.
  4. Wash my laundry! I participated in two Habitat for Humanity builds this week, so I have a lot of really muddy, grubby clothes. My shoes probably could do with a wash, too.
  5. Call my family. I haven't talked to them in a while.
  6. Head over to the library to research Washington, D.C. and pick up some books on tape for my drive to work.

Tomorrow will be busy, but productive. What's on your to do list?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Do You Want to Smell My Man Breath?"

You have to love three year olds. I woke little Jeremiah up from his nap, and needless to say, he wasn't pleased. However, when he finally got over the tragedy, he was cheery enough to offer the chance to smell his "man breath." When I asked him whether it smelled good, he looked at me like I was crazy, before replying very exasperatedly, "No, it's smelly!

It definitely beat the day that I went to put Tony to sleep, and he tried to punch me. And put boogers in another teacher's hair. And bit the co-teacher. Three year olds are a strange, crazy bunch.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

You Can't See Me!

You have to love little kids. Their idea of hide and seek is to cover their eyes, or turn around. Apparently, if they can't see you, you can't see them. So we have little kids hiding from their parents at pick up time with their legs sticking out from behind a corner, or curled up in a little ball with their head hidden. They also love to call out that they left half an hour ago.

Kids are silly.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Yard Sale Madness!

Yesterday was a busy day. I have a cold, so I didn't actually get up and moving until 11. However, I made the next four hours really count: I hit the pharmacy to pick up two prescriptions and submit another one to be filled, got a library card (and 17 books), found a lovely, cheap bookcase at a local garage sale, and hit the grocery store.

I love the local Baptist garage sale. I got a small, two shelf bookcase for $2.50, a dozen children's books for a lending library at my Head Start for $2, and two purses for imaginative play at my center, as well. The grand total? $6.25.

I then headed over to the library for some frugal book perusal. Unfortunately, I live just over the county line, so my nearest in county library is a half hour away from anywhere I could possible find myself. Therefore I splurged and got a $60, out-of-county library card. Given that I visit the library at least once a week, I figure this will work out better economically (and environmentally) than driving 30 minutes out of my way every week.

What did you do with your Saturday?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I am now the proud owner of a Toshiba laptop! It has a high Energy Star rating, 3 GBs of memory, a 320 GB hard drive, and a webcam. It can stay charged for four and a half hours, and I can type on it without hitting four keys at once (don't you hate the small keyboards that some laptops have?). I'm thrilled!

I can now take my online class without having to reserve a computer at any one of four random libraries and hope that I can work my schedule around their open hours. This is a huge relief!Especially since my hours are so crazy---very few libraries are open before 8:30, or open much past 6 p.m. Trying to fit my online class in in fits and starts was not an appealing option, so this is a much needed relief!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Missing Socks?

So this is where all of my socks went! I had been wondering!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wear Flipflops, Avoid Electrocution!

This is how you get hot water in Guatemala. Never mind the circuitry just inches from the rushing water. This baby gets you a good eight minutes of scalding hot water, then showers you with icy cold refreshment.

Personal safety tip? Wear flipflops, and avoid electrocution.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Will the Baby Get Out?

Four year olds are cute. They are also incredibly curious, which can sometimes lead to awkward situations. Take, for instance, what happened to a fellow AmeriCorps volunteer at her More at Four program.

A mother came to pick up her son at preschool. She was seven months pregnant, and obviously showing. A four year old came up to her, and asked what she had in her stomach. When she answered, "A baby!", of course the girl felt compelled to ask how it got there.

Another child chimed in cheerfully, "She ate it!" Before anyone could correct him (although, who would want to actually delve into the explanation?), another child asked how the baby was going to come out.

"Oh, the doctor will take the baby out of my stomach," the mother covered gracefully.

"That's not true!" A young boy with a midwife mother announced defiantly. "The baby is going to come out of her vagina!" he declared loudly.

Personally, I am really glad that I was nowhere near this exchange. How in the world do you deal with these awkward conversations? Sex education is important, but four years old is a little young to begin sex education. Anything you say will make at least one parent angry. Distraction is the only way to go.

"Hey, look, a spider!"

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nap Time

Oh, how true this is. I am in charge of putting both the two year olds and the three year olds at my center to sleep. Inevitably, there will be one child who is overcome by the sorrow of not having her mother with her at that very instant, and I will spent an hour consoling her and speaking to her soothingly. Eventually she'll drift off to sleep, a mere thirty minutes before her mother shows up to get her and wakes her up again. Nap time, understandably, is not my favorite time of day.

However, once all of the children have listened to a few stories and drifted off to the sweet sounds of gentle music, I can just wander around and gaze at their small, sleeping faces, so sweet and innocent. There is nothing comparable. Forgotten is the biting incident of yore, and the fist fight that I had to break up at risk of life and limb. They are all calm and sweet in sleep.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Strange Places to Sleep

My cat always chose the strangest places to sleep---upside down on the top of the couch, in the bathroom sink, under the couch cover---you never knew quite where you'd find her.

I had a friend in college who had the enviable ability to sleep just about anywhere---on the grass next to the busy commons, in the corner of a dining hall, on the roof of the residence hall---he was able to crash just about anywhere and catch up on a few hours of sleep he missed while studying for exams. It's a useful skill to have. Personally, I could crash in the music rooms (little individual rooms with a piano inside). I would just push a bench up against the door and catch a few hours of sleep between classes. Since I was shuffling between multiple campuses, this was a useful way to pass a few hours.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Finca Paraiso, or Heaven on Earth

This may not look like much, but it is a hot spring waterfall. Imagine the gentle caress of hot water pouring down off the rocks, as you bask in a cool pool of water. After a sweaty week of camping, with only one opportunity for a proper shower, this was truly Paradise.

We indulged in tamales that small children were selling on the lengthy trail to the waterfall. Hot food, and a hot shower all in one day? It was a magical place.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Much Delayed Ikea Post

After two weeks of sleeping on an air mattress (a roomy twin), I am now the proud owner of a real (vacuum-packed) Ikea mattress!

We discovered the joys of Ikea one rainy Sunday afternoon. My two roommates and I browsed the store for a good four hours, debating the merits of various mattresses and tables. Having very little money, and even less space in the car, we could only get the essentials. So now we have a table, but no chairs, two mattresses, a bed frame, and a coffee table. Amazingly, this all fit into my trunk! I love Toyotas.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Great Doctor Search

I need to find a doctor. I've had this horrible earache for a few days now, but no time to hit a clinic. I work from 8:30 to 5:30 Monday through Thursday, and commute 45 minutes each way. Friday, I volunteer at two different sites, with little time in between to actually wait in a clinic and be seen.

I really need to find a walk-in clinic with Friday hours, preferably close to my apartment. As it is, my apartment is kind of in the middle of nowhere, ten minutes from the a major road. It makes a quick jaunt over to a clinic nearly impossible, but it won't be that bad if I couple it with hitting the post office and bank.

In other news, my food stamps should be arriving any day now! It's my roommates' first time receiving them, so they are really excited. They have peppered me with questions about what they can buy (pretty much anything that is edible or drinkable, with the exception of alcohol and tobacco products). They also want to know where they can use them, and were thrilled when I told them that they could buy items at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, the local co-op, the farmer's market, and even Walgreens. This will be incredible!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Guess who lives in my laundry room?

We now have a fourth roommate, who is living in our laundry room. She received word last Friday that she needed to move out of the room she was renting, as her landlady was undergoing a nasty divorce. We moved her out that night, and set up an airbed in our living room as a temporary stopgap measure until she could find an apartment. However, apartment pickings are slim, especially when you only earn $1,000 a month. So, for the time being at least, she'll be crashing in our laundry room.

It's only six feet by four, but it has a door and some degree of privacy. She also has a shelf in our fridge, a closet in the living room, and free access to the common living area. I do feel a little odd having a person in a glorified laundry room, but it beats the alternative.

What's the oddest living situation you've come across?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Today's To Do List

  1. Make a spare key for our new houseguest.

  2. Find a surge protector for my laptop.

  3. Add cash to my laundry card---two loads of laundry in three weeks is a little low.

  4. Wash all of my freshly picked blueberries!

  5. Find (or make) a bookshelf.

  6. Make curried tempeh shish kebobs and avoid setting the wooden skewers on fire (update: failed at the attempt. Must remember to soak the skewers in water first).
  7. Clean my room!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Don't Look at the Mess. Look at the Cute.

This is totally my cat. Such a sweet, innocent face, masking a whole other personality: a little crazy, but so cute.

Check out more cute cats at I Can Has Cheezburger?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

When You're Too Poor for a Map...

Take a picture! This was our guide to Tikal, to be consulted when hopelessly lost.

You'll also be happy to know that the flash on a camera acts as a rudimentary flashlight for when you're stranded in the dark on an overgrown trail, or exploring deep into the tunnels of pyramids. The video function can be used to record the howl of jaguars as you venture in the dark to the pyramids to see the sunrise, and to videotape your terror at drawing closer to the jaguars, rather than further away.

Don't you love technology?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Joys of Camping

This, my friends, is a tarantula being devoured by an even bigger bug. Not what you want to see on your way back to your campsite, especially when it is almost dark. Yes, I know that most tarantulas are totally harmless for humans, but that does not reduce the horror of encountering one after a glorious bath in a hot spring waterfall. It's totally incongruous and jarring, and definitely not conducive to good sleep. I think this was the one night that all three of us crammed into the two person tent. No one was sleeping outside with tarantulas.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Camping in Tikal

This would have been the smart way to go. Hammocks and mosquito nets. Our way? A two-person tent (carried on our backs for a week), a sleeping bag, one sheet, and a liter of water. Since we were three people with a two-person tent, one of us always slept outside---on the beach, in the rainforest, in a hammock on a nature preserve, or in the dirt. You just curled up real tight and tried to forget about the tarantulas. One night we had an armed guard watching the beach house behind us, and he apparently watched me sleep all night. I was out like a light, so I'm not sure if that was a reassuring thought or not. By the end of the week, one of us had mono, the other had a raging sinus infection, and the last one suffered debilitating blisters. However, the views at Tikal, the hot spring waterfall at Finca Paraiso, and the countless chicken buses made it all worth it. I wouldn't trade that trip for anything.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Something Has Crashed On My Computer

This is totally like my cat. If you are reading a book (0r worse, a newspaper), yours is the one lap that Tiger wants to sit on. Forget the coaxing of the other two people in the room; he only has eyes for you.

This makes studying for a test or brushing up on the daily news challenging. The solution? Resign yourself to a few minutes of stress relief, and pet the rascally cat.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

North Carolina!

Well, it's the day before I officially start in North Carolina. I'm still apartmentless, but a lovely AmeriCorps worker has offered to host two of us incoming members for a week or two, until we find a place. This is a huge relief, since I can now actually view my potential apartment in person, and not be surprised by its condition once I arrive.

I have an air mattress in my trunk, in case I rent an unfurnished apartment. I still have $150 in food stamps for this month, which should get me off to a good start. Now I just need to hit a thrift store for some dishes, sheets, and a spare towel, and I should be all set!

Friday, August 13, 2010

I Hereby Abandon my Pepper Spray to the Crown

Evidently pepper spray is a prohibited weapon in Canada. Never mind the fact that it successfully journeyed on numerous chicken buses throughout Guatemala and Nicaragua, and all the way down to Panama, crossing countless borders with barely a blip. Canadian customs officials simply cannot abide the presence of pepper spray in Canada.

As a result of carrying a tiny can of pepper spray, I was questioned three times, and had to fill out two forms to "abandon" my pepper spray to the Crown. What, exactly, is the Crown going to do with it, I'd like to know?

I can procur another can easily enough. It's just $7 down at the local outdoor outfitter. I'll just miss this last can---the countless hours I spent with it clutched in my sweaty palm, walking to work through catcalls past "bars" (AKA fronts for prostitution). It's the can I gripped as I escaped from a overly zealous suitor through the streets of Xela. It's the spray I contemplated using when I was trapped in an taxi cab with two vaguely threatening men, and that offered me a bit of confidence as I walked down the heavily guarded Panamanian streets. That pepper spray saw me through some interesting times.

Goodbye, pepper spray. Goodbye, old friend.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


You know you need to get organized when you need a pith helmet and a flashlight to navigate the morass that is your room.

Even though I just boxed up three large boxes full of donations to Goodwill, plus a huge garbage bag full of clothing (also donated), I still have mountains of books and clothes to sort through. Somehow I thought I would naturally cut down on possessions with my yearly moves. However, I usually just end up with one unpacked box from each move, that remains in a corner for years afterward.

So now I'm sorting through years of accumulated paperwork and "maybe I'll wear it someday" clothes. Maybe if I just scanned each document and put it on a flash drive, I could get this clutter monster under control. The work entailed in scanning each individual sheet of paper would certainly cut down on the paperwork fast.

How do you deal with clutter?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Things I'm Thankful for Today

1) The Baker's Dozen blog. Raising fourteen children, running a photography business, and keeping everything light and humorous is way harder than anything I could possibly be going through today.

2) Batanga. I'm able to make a personalized radio station with all of my favorite music (9/10 of which is Spanish---Reik, Camila, and Juanes, with a scattering of Maroon Five and others).

3) Wild blueberries. Somehow they taste so much better than the store bought ones.

4) Road trips to Canada. What am I going to do in North Carolina, half a country away from Canada?

5) My goofy black lab, who loves Pocky sticks. Who knew?

What are you thankful for today?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Happy Cat and Surprise Inspections

I miss my cat. There's something about coming home to a loving little furry creature that makes life so much better! I want to do animal foster care this year through the local Humane Society. I wonder if the apartment leasing office would notice if I suddenly had a few extra kittens in my room?

Strangely enough, the community does random inspections (for "licensing" purposes). I've only rented an on-campus apartment before, when security could knock on your door and search the apartment if there was an excessive noise violation or suspicions that you were selling drugs (or providing alcohol to minors). This, in the grown-up world, seems excessive. I'm fine with the police being able to search my apartment (provided they had a search warrant), but not the leasing agent.

Is this normal? Have you ever had surprise inspections?

Wizards of Ooze

Catchy name, no?

Aside from the (frightening) connotations of the name of this portapotty company, I have to say, they are quite inventive. Take, for instance, their white wedding portapotties, which "match the formal setting of your special event." Somehow, a white wedding and portapotties never quite fit into the same mental picture for me, but whatever floats your boat.

They are also pleased to offer handicapped accessible portapotties. Since they are the biggest portapotties offered, they "are often used for weddings, parties and businesses when you need that extra room for donning formal and upscale garments." Personally, I always love to change into my prom gowns in a spacious Wizard of Ooze portapotty!

Head over to their website, where you can be amazed by the plentiful products they have on offer!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Funny Cats

Go check out I Can Has Cheezburger? (AKA: LOL Cats) now!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pajama Vacation

This last few weeks have been crazy. I spent half of July packing up my life in Washington and moving back to Minnesota. Now I am trying to catch up with all of my friends and relatives, finish up all of the loose ends that moving entails, and repack for my move to North Carolina.

It's time for a Pajama Vacation. Two days of lazing around the house, reading good books, watching bad television, and doing absolutely nothing productive. Massive amounts of Spider Solitaire may be played, and generous servings of chocolate are consumed. Bliss!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

North Carolina

In just two short weeks, I head off for North Carolina.

I am not a fan of the heat. Humidity is horrible. So why, exactly, am I headed off to a place known for its heat and humidity?

For the chance to earn my Early Childhood Education Credentials. For the opportunity to work with preschoolers for an entire year. For the chance to see somewhere completely different. For a lot of reasons.

Let's just say that I'm definitely looking for a place with great air conditioning, though!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Only Nine States to Go!

I have just nine states left to visit in the United States. I'll hit Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina on my way to my AmeriCorps position. Then I'm planning a road trip to Washington, D.C., so I'll hit Virginia. That just leaves South Carolina, Nevada, and Utah. I'll also need to hit Alaska and Hawaii, but those are a little harder to get to.

It was a real shame that I couldn't visit Nevada or Utah while I was working as a reading tutor in Washington, but between visits home to see a sick relative and my car accident in Portland, there just really wasn't time (0r money). Hopefully I'll be back sometime soon.

Where would you like to travel?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Things to Do Before I Move

Things I need to do before I head for North Carolina:

  1. Find temporary housing. Why, oh, why do they not tell us what city we'll work in until after our two week orientation?
  2. Get tuberculosis test and medical exam for the Early Childhood position.
  3. Visit the eye doctor, and find a low-cost provider of contact lenses. I no longer have vision insurance.
  4. Visit the dentist. At least I'm covered for the basic exam!
  5. Refill all of my medications, allergy meds in particular.
  6. Pack. And repack. Then pack again.
  7. Load up on cough, cold, and flu medications. Do not even think about waiting until I actually have a cold.
  8. Figure out route to North Carolina. Only twenty-six hours of driving!
  9. Find cell phone charger.
  10. Load up my Sony eReader with books.
  11. Burn audiobooks to a CD.

Not too intimidating of a list, right?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Was this really what they meant?

"Dry camping. Inquire at the bar."

Don't you just love vacation signs?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Despite my crazy, seven segment video interview, I have received provisional acceptance for an AmeriCorps Early Childhood Education position! This is contingent on passing a background check, a tuberculosis screening, and a medical exam to make sure that I am "physically and mentally whole."

Lucky them, they have to do a background check for three states and Guatemala. When did life get so complicated?

Now the tuberculosis screening makes sense. I never would have considered that it would even be an issue before I spent some time in Central America. It's actually a miracle more of my study abroad group didn't get sick---we only had one case of the German measles, and another case of mono. The bedbugs and fleas, however, were a whole other issue.

Now I just have to pass that great medical exam! I wonder what think about depression?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Back in Minnesota

After thirty-four straight hours of driving, I am currently blogging at home with a very happy black cat on my lap.

I spent two nights in the car, drove for ten, and read and slept in the very tiny space allotted after all of my earthly belongings, a tent, and three sleeping bags were stuffed into a tiny car. It was a tight fit, but somehow we managed.

Now I am enjoying the heat and humidity of Minnesota, a great preparation for North Carolina. Hopefully with less bugs.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Only in Central America

Only in Central America would a bus be stopped by hooded men on your way to renew your visas on the way to San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico. All motorists had to pay a bribe, or they would not be allowed to pass (a board with nails in it blocked the way). However, if you are an American you were lucky---they don't want the bad publicity, and they'll let you go.

Only in Guatemala could 20 policemen be held captive by one armed gunman. It sure is reassuring to realize that you're protectors are that defenseless.

Only in Central America are prisoners transported in the back of pick-up trucks. Just handcuff them and go!

Life is interesting in Central America.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dogs for Rent

I am a shameless Internet surfer. Recently I chanced upon an article from Yahoo called "Strange Things You Didn't Know You Could Rent". Of course, I had to read it. Who knew that you could actually rent a dog?

According to Yahoo, "Although the concept of renting a pet might seem shocking to some (rent a best friend?), there are circumstances where it might make sense, such as comforting the elderly, testing if a particular breed triggers your allergies, or gauging how your family reacts to an animal. Others would like a companion for hikes but can't keep a pet at home." They also mention that "participants can save hundreds of dollars a year on food, supplies, vet bills, and other expenses of animal ownership."

It's hard to argue that owning a pet isn't expensive---dog and cat food isn't cheap, and vet bills can be astronomical. Still, it's hard to imagine renting an animal.

They link to a company called Flexpetz, which "offers customers the chance to spend time with a trained dog for a few hours or at regular intervals." Having experienced first hand how beneficial the Read to a Dog program is at school, and what a difference a trained therapy dog made in the life of one of my middle school students, this is not a bad service. Fortunately, all the dogs are purported to "be rescued or "rehomed." When they are not working, "they live in the home of a caregiver."

Apparently, "participants can save hundreds of dollars a year on food, supplies, vet bills, and other expenses of animal ownership."

Personally, I prefer to volunteer at the local animal shelter. It's a mutually beneficial arrangement where I experience the joy of spending time with animals, without all of the trouble of remembering to buy more dog food or constantly having to brush the cats. Even better, I am providing much needed socialization for animals that are waiting to be adopted.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Disastrous Road Trip

Yesterday, I traveled down to Portland in my nice Toyota Camry (six years old with 200,000 miles on it!). I expected to have a leisurely drive down, spent the day perusing Powell's bookstore, and hopping from one vegeterian restaurant to the next. Oh, how plans change.

Portland's highway was ripe with construction. There were slow downs everywhere, and a lot of stop and go traffic. A guy pulled in front of me. For awhile, everything was good. Then, he slams on his brakes.

I knew there was no chance of me stopping in time. The shoulder was wide, so I tried to pull over onto it. My brakes, however, locked up, and I went into a skid that pulled me straight into the concrete barrier.

The airbag didn't deploy, but I was wearing my seatbelt and got out of the car unscratched. A nice semi driver stopped behind me and paused traffic so I could extricate my car from the barrier and pull all the way off the road. You have to love nice people!

Now I'm waiting for the verdict from the insurance company. Declare the car totaled, or spend $2,000 or more to fix it? It's an agonizing wait, made even worse by the fact that I have family coming in less than a week, and no vehicle to pick them up in. How will they get to their campsite and around town without a car? I guess a car rental is in our future.

On the plus side, a friend loaned me a nice bike, so I'm able to do my grocery shopping and school work without too much trouble. I've already logged seven miles on it in the past three days. Talk about your crazy plans to get in shape! All you need to do is have a disastrous road trip, culminating in a wreck, and suddenly there is no avoiding the dreaded bike.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Crazy Interview Tactics

"Who was your worst boss and why?" "What is one mistake that you made that you won't make again?" These are just two choice excerpts from a very interesting AmeriCorps telephone interview that I had last month.

Somehow I don't think they were expecting my Guatemala worst boss story.

How can you sum up in a few short, appropriate sentences a boss who refused to pay you and was unable to back you up when your student sexually harasses you? I know I should have just stuck to the whole, "Well, I once had a boss in Guatemala who refused to pay me my full wages" story, but that would have been just too simple. No, I had to elaborate.

At the very least, interviews with AmeriCorps are never dull. Whether it is a telephone interview with three supervisors on speakerphone, or strange horror story questions, there is never a dull moment.

What was your worst interview question?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Horseradish Cheese

Imagine sitting at a table, surrounded by your bosses and coworkers. They offer you some cheese, so of course you politely take a small chunk. Only afterward do you learn that it's Horseradish Cheese.

If you have never before tasted this (ugh) delicacy, let me tell you: you're missing out on one of the rare flavors of life.

And I don't blame you one bit.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Thrift Store Fun

I love thrift stores. I recently picked up a very cute navy green purse for $2 to supplement my (very worn out) purse that I've been using daily for the last two years. It's time to give that one a break (and a good wash!).

I also hit the Farmer's Market today. Amidst accordian playing and an exhibit by the animal shelter calling for the adoption of five new kittens, I was able to find organic garlic shallots for $2 a bunch, a pint of strawberries for $3, and a really good coconut scone for $2.25. Trust me, the scone was so worth that price.

I'm off to the library to pick up the rest of rest of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series. What are you reading?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Crazy Interviews

After a torturous sixteen question phone interview ("What was one supervisor that you did not get along with and why? What activities would you do with a two-year-old, a three year-old, and a four-year-old?"), I received word that I would be granted a coveted second round interview with the Early Childhood Education Corps.

The only caveat? I need to create a "short" 5-8 minute video to show "Why it's important to you to give a year of service in the Early Childhood Corps."

Did I mention that the job pays $1000 a month? And that I'd have to remain on food stamps?

On the bright side, they had a great typo: We have no expectations about the content of your video (ok, except that it’s kind of PG-13). They want a PG-13 video? I think they might have left out a very important word somewhere in there.

Oh, well. If I can find a computer that will actually allow me to access the example video, I might be able to pull one together. I also need to round up a videocamera and someone to actually film the video. Good thing our tech person at school is really nice.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Summer" School

Whoever thought of extending the school year into the middle of June was crazy. These kids are so antsy that work is becoming impossible. On a good day, it was hard to convince second graders that labeling words as R control is important. On a sunny June day? Forget it.

I now conduct half of my tutoring classes outside. We can bask in the sunlight while simultaneously learning the crazy, district required stuff (L control words, anyone?).

On the plus side, my students are caught up on their vitamin D. On the downside, every stray leaf and dog bark has them craning their necks for a better view of the commotion.

Summer can't get here soon enough.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pet Parades

For a minute, I could have sworn that I was back in my hometown. Someone had brought a large, black and white flecked chicken to the pet parade!

There were also countless dogs, a cat in a box (isn't it supposed to be a jack in the box?), and a toad. Unfortunately (!), one boy had to leave his garter snakes at home

I love pet parades. Schoolchildren just love to show off their wide assortment of pets. They're thrilled when their teachers want to know more about it each one. It's such a great break from the regular school day.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Very ADD Day

Today has been a very ADD day. This became abundantly clear when I realized that I was reading five books at once---five pages of The Great Gatsby, ten of Tenth Grade Bleeds, twelve of Free Range Kids, eighteen of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and two of House Rules. Perhaps this isn't the most effective way to read.

I kept getting sidetracked today---I'd walk over to the recycling bin with a few pieces of paper, only to see that someone forgot to mop up around the sink. I'd lay my papers down to remedy that, then see that a whole slew of papers needed to be filed. Eventually I'd remember my original task (taking the papers to the recycling bin) and complete it. Total time: twenty minutes.

Time to have my meds adjusted.

Friday, June 25, 2010

My Tooth ith Looth!

I hate loose teeth. The wiggling, the wobbling...every bit of it. The sight of the blood, and children constantly yanking at their twisting tooth. When a child wants me to watch them twist their tooth 180 degrees---it's all I can do not to run away.

Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever worked with a line pushing third grader knows, the last thing you want to do is let on that you don't like loose teeth. All of a sudden, your whole day centers around them. Wiggling teeth pop up (or out) left and right. So you have to soldier on, pretending that you're amazed by these recalcitrant teeth. You have to ooh and ah when a tooth nearly pops out, and field requests to pull teeth ("Well, I'd love to, but don't you think your mother should pull that tooth?").

Just one of the many job hazards intrinsic to education.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gifts that Give More: June Edition

I love Gifts that Give More from the Hunger Site. It offers inexpensive ways to make a real difference in an individual's life. This month, I funded half the donor cost of a High-Efficiency Stove for a Mayan Family in Guatemala, one tenth of the cost of a wheelchair for a Guatemalan, and a prothesis for an individual in a developing country. All for just $77.70.

Just $28 funds half of the donor cost of a High-Efficiency Stove for a Mayan Family. These stoves reduce the need for Mayan women in the highland of Guatemala to search for hours each day for firewood. These stoves necessitate 70% less wood, which helps the "denuded environment of the highlands recover from severe wood overharvesting." With their extra free time, women can spend more time growing food for their family and caring for their children.

Additionally, these stoves also reduce the "number and gravity of pulmonary illnesses, and also burns among women and children" caused by cooking over open fires. These high-efficiency stoves burn wood more efficiently, reducing the amount of smoke released into the houses and the atmosphere. Best of all, these stoves are built in Guatemala, by Guatemalans.

I also provided 1/10 of the cost of a wheelchair for a Guatemalan ($29.70). These wheelchairs are also built in Guatemala from bicycle parts, which are easily replaced. They are durable, low-cost, and rugged, making them perfect for Guatemala. They are customized to fit the recipient, and are made locally.

A mere twenty dollars funded a prosthesis for an individual in a Third World country. This can literally transform a life---allowing a mother to care for her children with greater ease, or a father to go back to work. So little money can do such great things.

Where do you donate?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Call Me Gulliver

Today I stabbed a kid (with a pencil). Luckily it didn't pierce the skin---jeans are really thick!

It was an accident, of course. You have us tall, gangly twenty-somethings, amidst a classroom of tiny people. It's hard not to feel like Gulliver in Gulliver's Travels. A single misstep on our part crushes their whole foot. A carelessly placed knee catches them right in the stomach. And they just sneak up on you.

Even though the boy was adamant that he was okay, I reported the incident to his teacher. It's always better to be on the safe side where injuries and liability is concerned. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery (and no new injuries)!

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Don't you just love the name of this lovely hairball reducing cream? As you've probably guessed, this is for cats.

I volunteer every week at a local animal shelter. My most recent duties? Feeding and weighing an elderly blind cat who loves to pace, and administering Catlax to a hairball prone, longhaired, white cat. Since he wouldn't just eat it, I had to spread it all over his front paw, staining it a lovely brown color. He'd then lick his paw clean, and ingest the Catlax. I quickly learned to really spread it in, as the first time he ended up flicking it everywhere: on the floor, on the other cats, and in my hair.

I'm a vegetarian. And Catlax's primary ingredient is cod liver oil. Talk about disgusting!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Police Blotter

You have to love small town newspapers. Whenever I get bored, I simply head on down to the library and read the police blotters in all of the old town newspapers.

A choice pick from last week: "Rifle found in dumpster. Call Police Dept. to claim." Frankly, if I found a rifle in a dumpster, I would be wondering what crime had been committed. Anyone crazy enough to try to claim that thing is liable to end up being questioned.

Another great quote: "Found: Three all black kittens. One mentally challenged. Three weeks old." How can you tell that a kitten is mentally challenged?

Oh, life is never dull in a small town.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mental Health and Visas

Apparently mental illness is one denying factor for work permits in South Korea. I applied with AskNow to teach English in South Korea for a year, but my application was denied due to government stipulations on the mental health of workers. Sigh.

Maybe it's for the best. I know my family wouldn't sleep too well at night with me so close to North Korea. Something about a crazy dictator...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

On eReaders and Toilets

Today I learned how to upload books from the library website onto my new Sony eReader, unclog a toilet (using a stick, strangely enough), and operate a Mac. It was a very productive day.

Maybe tomorrow I'll learn French.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Adventures in eReading

I just received my Sony eReader in the mail today, after it sat twenty-four hours just two hours from my home. For a "Pocket" eReader, it sure is big! Happily, it came preloaded with eight books, and two book excerpts. Now if I could only read German...

I am now trying to download free library ebooks, but curiously enough, the library won't let you do this on their computers. This is frustrating, to say the least. Does the library administration not consider that if I am coming to the library is to use the Internet, I might not have a reliable Internet connection at home? Why else trek miles to the library? Crazy!

Luckily, I was able to find a Mac to borrow (one time only, sadly!), and after two hours of technical jargon (at midnight, mind you), I finally had success! I can now read Committed, Racing in the Rain, Soulless, and This Book is Overdue! on my eReader!

Now if I can only figure out what I'm going to do after the books come due...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Today I broke up two fights and bandaged a bleeding finger. Where are the gloves when you need them?

At my Red Cross First Aid and CPR class, the instructor said that you should always carry gloves. Having taken an informal poll at my workplace, only the nurse had gloves on her. I suppose it's understandable when a first aid kit is just a hallway away, but when a little kid comes at you with a gushing finger, you don't exactly have time to run down to the office and find a pair of gloves. The best you can do is grab a handful of paper towels and show the child how to apply pressure to their own wound, while you find the nurse. If the nurse is off duty? Well, then you get to put your First Aid class to good use.

I'm off to buy a first aid kit (or assemble one for the classroom using all of the materials in the nurse's office)...

Monday, June 7, 2010


"But firemen can't do anything about vampires!"

This is one phrase you don't expect to hear when you walk into the classroom. Who would have thought when I applied for this job eight months ago that I would spend my mornings calming terrified kindergarteners? Who would have known that I would be dealt the task of verifying that while vampires are not real, I can't say anything about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny? Twilight has a lot to answer for.

Nothing beats the day, however, when I was asked by a sixth grader, in all seriousness, what a virgin was. Rather than having him Google it on the web and find who knows what, I gave him my simplest (though not entirely accurate) answer: "A woman who has never had children." Life is never dull.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sony PRS-300 eReader

Well, I just bought a Sony Pocket Edition eReader from I had my eye on these for a while, and when I found that the price dropped from $200 to $139.99 (with free shipping and no taxes), I sprung. I won't have it for two weeks (I was too cheap to do anything but budget shipping), but I am definitely looking forward to playing with this device.

I am a book addict. Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time has probably noticed my "Books Read This Month" gadget on the side of my blog. I average fifteen books a month (more in the summer, less in the winter).

I also love to travel. I recently spent eight months in Central America, teaching English and learning about Guatemala's Internal Armed Conflict. Getting books is not quite as easy abroad, or as cheap. Hitting up book exchanges at hostels helped, as did finding a good used bookstore. One used bookstore even let you rent books! However, the selection was definitely limited, and you couldn't expect to find any recent best sellers or books in a particular series. For me, there is nothing like being able to buy the latest best seller and read it when you're missing all of the comforts and conveniences of home.

Since I'm planning on working in remote places (rural Alaska) and foreign countries, the Sony eReader made sense for me. An alternative would have been purchasing a laptop, and then using the free eReader software offered by Barnes and Noble, Sony, or Kindle. However, laptops are expensive! Also, I really like visiting Internet cafes in foreign countries, rather than toting around a laptop that can be broken or stolen. Besides, Internet cafes are fun!

How do you do your reading on the road?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I've Mastered the Fine Art of Bribery

This year, I've been mastering the fine art of bribery. I work with a very ADHD kindergartener, and pretzels motivate him like nothing else. For each letter that he spells right in a word, he gets one pretzel. He's up to twenty words per session now---he'll even spell pretzel and robot.

This is the little boy who was so quick to spell "shut up" when I taught him the "sh" blend. He's quick as lightning when he feels like working! Knowing his propensity for less socially accepted words, I waited with bated breath when I taught him about "ch." How many swear words would he come up with? Luckily, a plane flew by and he was up and at the window before the full impact of his newly expanded vocabulary was upon him.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Rent a Textbook

I have personally never rented a textbook, prefering instead to borrow mine from the college library or get them cheap through, but I recently came across a Yahoo article on strange things to rent.

Chegg is a textbook lender that charges just 10 to 30% of the purchase price of a textbook to borrow it for a quarter or semester. Though you have to pay to have the book shipped to you ($3.99 Standard is the cheapest option), you can return it for free through UPS after the borrowing period ends. To sweeten the deal, Chegg plants a tree for every book you rent.

They offer a 30-day "Any Reason" guarantee, which begins the day the book is shipped to you. This comes in particularly handy if you happen to drop a course, or discover that you don't really "need" the textbook. How many students have discovered that their professor only alludes to a particular book in passing, after having spent $50 on the book? Annoying, to say the least. This sidesteps the issue nicely.

They calculate that "A student, on average, will save over $500 a year by renting compared to buying textbooks." However, "the savings are calculated by subtracting each book's rental fee from the book's publisher suggested list price." Maybe I'm the exception rather than the rule, but I never pay the publisher's listed price. Talk about inflation! However, 10-30% of the list price is still a really good deal.

I'm definitely going to give this site a try for my next online class. Paired with isbndb, this could mean some real textbook savings!

Monday, May 31, 2010

No Kissing in Kindergarten

Am I the only one who finds it strange that I have to issue this directive? It seems to be common sense: No Kissing in Kindergarten. Little kids shouldn't be worrying about who kissed who or who has a boyfriend. A boyfriend? Really?

This is right up there with the "Keep your hands where I can see them" rule. A little too much nose picking has spiraled around the third grade like a nasty flu bug. There are only so many times you can sanitize a table in a day. Five is my limit.

At least life with children is never dull!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Just a Day in the Life...

My little ADHD kindergartener is now on meds, so the number of scissors fights per week has steadily decreased. He's a smart little guy---I taught him the sh blend, and he turned around, quick as lightning, and spelled "shut up." I'm so proud.

Time to go convince some first graders that we do not burp in class or pick our noses (and if I have some time, the ch blend). Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Laundry Thief

My landlady's granddaughter had surgery yesterday, so we got to take care of her parent's dog while they were in the city with her. Turns out the puppy is a rampant laundry thief. One minute I'm petting him, the next he's blazing through the house with a pair of my freshly washed (and still drying) underwear in his grinning teeth. Try explaining that to your landlady. I could only laugh as she casually handed the clothes back to me. Talk about a Marley and Me moment.

On a completely unrelated note, I am now sporting two lovely papercuts on my index fingers from folding countless leveled readers for my first graders. Were three copies of "Maddy Loves to March" worth it? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It Was a Three-eyed, One-Nosed, Green People Licker...

"My perfect dog would have three eyes." Um, okay. "They would spin in all different directions." Not too weird, right? "He would be green!" Okay, now I'm a little worried.

Such is a conversation with a second grader. You have to love kids!

Right now I am battling a very stubborn car. It's check engine light keeps coming on, and then going off a few days later. Once it comes on again, I'm going to head down to Auto Zone to get the trouble code checked. They will do this for free, and then I can check online to see what the potential problem is before committing to having it fixed. Since I've had some trouble with overcharging mechanics in the past, this is a vital step.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Today I Donated Blood

Donating blood can be fast and efficient. By giving just under two hours of your time, you can save three lives.

I love the Red Cross' Top Ten Reasons to Donate Blood:

10) You will get free juice and cookies.
This is quite the enticement for college students everywhere. Who can turn down cookies?
9) You will weigh less — one pint less when you leave than when you came in.
In our weight-obsessed culture, this is probably a powerful draw.
8) It's easy and convenient — it only takes about an hour and you can make the donation at a donor center, or at one of the many Red Cross mobile blood drives.
From start to finish, I find it takes closer to two hours. Only half of that time is really spent giving blood and enjoying the nice cookies and juice afterwards; the rest is spent waiting, filling out paperwork, or getting your iron levels and blood pressure tested.
7) It's something you can spare — most people have blood to spare... yet, there is still not enough to go around.
Very true! The body can replenish it's blood supply remarkably fast---in fact, within 24 hours.
6) Nobody can ask you to do any heavy lifting as long as you have the bandage on. You can wear it for as long as you like. It's your badge of honor.
A definite draw for teenagers whose parents would love for them to mow the lawn or clean the garage.
5) You will walk a little taller afterwards — you will feel good about yourself.
Knowing that you made a difference in a person's life is very uplifting.
4) You will be helping to ensure that blood is there when you or someone close to you may need it. Most people don't think they'll ever need blood, but many do.
In fact, 38,000 donations are needed daily.
3) It's something you can do on equal footing with the rich and famous — blood is something money can't buy. Only something one person can give to another.
There is no way to create blood in a lab---only people can give blood.
2) You will be someone's hero — you may give a newborn, a child, a mother or a father, a brother, or a sister another chance at life. In fact, you may help save up to three lives with just one donation.
How can you argue with that?
1) It's the right thing to do.

Click here to find the blood drive nearest you.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Six Alternatives to the Kindle

I'm an avid reader, and travel abroad regularly. During my time in Guatemala, one of the things I missed the most was my public library. Each week, I checked out an average of fourteen books. Not all of these were read in their entirety, but I loved having the option of doing so.

In Guatemala, there was a used bookstore, but books were costly (around $4 for a book I'd read within a day or two). This may not seem like a lot, but I was only earning $2.75 an hour. I did frequent book exchanges, which are often found in youth hostels and language schools. I spread the word that I was looking for English books, and sometimes had used copies passed on to me after their recipient had finished. I traded books with other foreigners, but it still was not enough.

Which is why I am seriously looking into ebook readers, such as the Amazon Kindle and the Sony PRS 505. I am also considering investing in a mini laptop to convert into an ebook reader (amid other things---a webcam optimized phone call server and a web surfer). This article teaches you how to convert a cheap Acer Aspire One.

The only downside of a converted laptop is eye strain and a low battery life. This might be ameliorated by purchasing a nine cell battery (to replace a six cell), which would increase the battery life greatly. The eye strain? I guess it would just be something I would have to put up with.

There are other options, if you have an iPhone or an iPod touch. An article at PC Magazine will tell you how to use these devices as free eReaders. Since I lack either device, I'm out of luck on this front. Besides, the print would have to be tiny (or involve a lot of page downs)!

I'm going to shop around. Maybe I can find a good deal on an eReader!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

43 Things

I love 43 Things. This website allows you to enter your life goals, and view how they stack up against other people's.

My current life goals are quite the grab bag. Some are very popular (141 people want to live in Barcelona), and others are a little more esoteric (only one person wants to travel to Palestine). Some other goals I have are:
  1. Get my truck driver's license
  2. Teach English in China (54 people want to do this)
  3. Get my Master's degree in Elementary Education
  4. Travel to Israel and the Palestinian Territories (1 person!)
  5. Nanny in Washington, D.C.

These definitely aren't your run of the mill goals, but I love doing new things. Can you tell I'm a little ADD?

What are your goals?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Getting Rid of My Books

Since life with AmeriCorps means only an eleven month position, I am coming up on my next cross country move. As an avid reader, I have accumulated well over a hundred books, only about a quarter of which merit moving. This means I need to downscale my collection, and fast.

I recently stumbled across Bookscouter, a collection of 31 vendors who will view your collection and then offer a price for each book. This isn't a huge moneymaker, but considering that most of my collection came from the library's used book sale, for 50 cents or a dollar a pop, the prices are fair. I am also going to offer a 2 for 1 deal on Paperback Swap to rid myself of some of my piles of books. A few of the more child oriented titles (such as all of the Shel Silverstein poetry books) will be given to the reading room at school.

The remainder of the books that don't sell and aren't take back will be redonated to the Friends of the Library Used Book Store. This bookstore not only recycles old books, but also donates all of their profits to the library, to buy new books.

Any other ideas?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Favorite Meals

Admittedly, I enjoy some strange food combinations. But who doesn't like the salty goodness of Teriyaki Garbanzo Beans, even when it is mixed with Garlic Mashed Potatoes? Who doesn't occasionally crave Italian "Sausage" as a lovely complement to Guiltless Gourmet Spicy Black Bean Chips with Guacamole and Follow Your Heart Cheddar Cheese? And can I help it if a Tofu Guacamole Sandwich floats my boat?

I dare say that no one (meat eater or not) can resist my Spaghetti with Green Pepper, Green Olive, Garlic, Onion, and Soy Crumble Sauce. Trust me, it is much more appetizing than it sounds.

My more traditional combinations are also heavenly. Take the Follow Your Heart Cheddar Cheese Quesadillas with Southwestern Style Salsa: simply scrumptious! A good side of Teriyaki Tofu makes this a meal to devour.

If that doesn't suit your appetite, how about a Tofu Stirfry, with plenty of green chile and green peppers? Or a little Curried Tempeh on a Whole Wheat Bun?

For those in a rush, there's always the classic "Hamburger" Hotdish, or a nice Black Bean Burger.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


How does a dyslexic child learn?

Thew ord sare notsp aced cor rec tly.
We spell wrds xatle az tha snd to us.

This is the stymying question for March. One quarter of the children I see struggle with letter reversals, transposed words, and sequencing issues. They struggle to get through a sentence; a paragraph is a herculean task. How can I help them?

January was spent on tracking worksheets. Luckily, these all seem like a game to my third grader. Circle all the capital letters in ABC order. Circle the numbers from 1-100 in order from left to right. Connect all of the people facing right. They seemed to help; they certainly did no harm. The student raced through them.

I spent February securing an MP3 player and wrestling uncooperative audiobooks onto it. I had to borrow audiobooks on CDs from the library, rip the music to Windows Media Player, and then synchronize it to the MP3 player. Of course, there are restrictions on the student computers, so I had to enter all of the album information by hand, and painstakingly rename all of the tracks. This was easily an hour per book.

It was all worth it in the end as my third grader returned the player, beaming up at me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Am I the only one who hates the educationalese learning plans sport? Why write "Transposes letters and numbers," rather than, "Test this child for dyslexia, NOW!" After all, who is motivated to dig to the bottom of: "Struggles with age appropriate behavior choices." I think a simple: "This kid loves a good scissors fight and won't stop biting the other students," will get a much more appropriate reaction from the parents.

It's a lot of sidestepping and polite language in the schools. All I can say is that it is not helping our students or our children one bit.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Trials and Travails with Volunteers

"Oh, dear. How do you get rid of a volunteer?"

This is not the refrain that you want to hear as an AmeriCorps member. However, I recently had the tremendous luck of being assigned a volunteer (by my supervisor, no less) that left her last volunteer position rather inelegantly (i.e. she chewed an elementary school child out, and then left).

Now she is working with one of my impressionable, sensitive second graders. I can't help but dread every session, wondering if I'll need to leap over to the next cubicle to break up a verbal beating. My Wednesday afternoons are tense affairs.

I'm all for second chances. I just wish that they could occur with a little older child, who isn't quite so impressionable. Think of an eight year old. Ponder just how vulnerable they are to rejection and harsh words. Words can really stick with you, especially when they're delivered by someone older, who acts as a teacher or a tutor. One misstep, one crucial miscommunication or mean-spirited word can really injure a child.

Am I mean for not wanting to chance this volunteer?

Friday, May 7, 2010

"I Have to Let My Gartner Snakes Go!"

These are words you definitely do not want to hear out of your kindergarten student's mouth. Um, where exactly are these gartner snakes? How many of them did you say there are? And you put them where!?!

At least life with AmeriCorps is never dull. When we're not instructing budding herpetologists in the proper care and upkeep of snakes, we're teaching little third graders how to politely excuse themselves to do their noisier bodily functions (tip: Yelling "I have to fart!" is not appropriate.")

I cannot think of more rewarding work.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I found this tip on Trent Hamm's The Simple Dollar, where he was reviewing The Reader’s Digest Penny Pincher’s Almanac. I have yet to try this bit of advice, but if it works, think of how much time it will save! Not only that, but it requires one less gizmo to have lying around the house, waiting for a pilling sweater. Note: do not try this with cashmere, unless you have money to burn.

Use sandpaper to keep sweaters and sweatshirts pill-free. (p. 61) Trent says, "I had a bunch of old sweaters and sweatshirts that looked very nasty from the number of little balls of lint that had appeared all over them. A bit of rubbing with some medium-grain sandpaper and those pills came right off, making the clothes look like new."

Personally, I have never tried this, but I really wish I'd known about this trick before my parents had my two sisters and me pick thousands of tiny pink lint balls off of a fuzzy bathrobe. It would have saved so much time.

The Reader’s Digest Penny Pincher’s Almanac also recommends that you Look into medical school clinics for inexpensive but quality health care. (p. 310) Trent adds that "here in Iowa, we’re lucky – the University of Iowa Medical School runs a stellar clinic with reasonable prices, and it’s often considered the place for medical treatment in the state. If you need a medical checkup, see if there’s a clinic offered by a medical school near you." Personally, this is one tip that I'm definitely going to try, now that I no longer live out in the boondocks.

I've found that the same principle holds true for haircuts. Beautician training schools have many students that need to complete a certain number of supervised haircuts before they can be certified. Visit a beautician training school for low cost haircuts---this is perfect for children's haircuts, which occur so frequently that poor results are short lived.

Monday, May 3, 2010

On Lunch and Plumber's Cracks

I have been eating way too many Pepperjack "cheese" and tomato sandwiches recently. Put them in the toaster oven with a few diced green olives....Mmmm.

In other news, I'm currently working with my second graders on not interrupting. We've tried the talking shell ("You can only talk if you have the shell"), incentive charts, time outs... just about everything. I've tried to figure out the root of the problem---do they not feel heard? Do they have some unmet need? I've also tried stiff consequences---one warning, then a time-out in the room, then a time-out in the hall and missing out on the game that day. Things work for awhile, then worsen. I think this is going to be a constant struggle this year. Hopefully it's just their age.

On a lighter note, when I asked my first grade group "What kind of workers can you think of?" one of my first graders proudly told me that her uncle has a plumber's crack! You have to love kids!

Angry Alligators: A First Grader's Take

You've got to love little kids. Everything that comes out of their mouths is completely unplanned, unexpected, and occasionally...uncensored.

Take, for instance, the reply to my innocent question: "Why would the alligator in the story be angry?" The expected answer, as we learned in an earlier book, was that he had a bad back. Not so expected was this first grader's response: "Well, sometimes alligators poop eggs." Yes, I suppose that this would make the alligator a little angry.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Vegan's Grocery Budget

While there are many challenges associated with being a vegan (just what can you get at McDonald's besides an iceberg lettuce salad?), budget grocery shopping is not one of them. Sure, tofu can add up, and if you insist on buying dozens of Boca Burgers each week, your budget may suffer. Yet compared to the cost of eating meat and buying cheese, vegan shopping is cheap.

I distinctly remember a $15 a week grocery budget in college. If I had to buy even a pound of meat with that, it wouldn't have gone very far. Yet I was able to buy several pounds of tofu from the local Oriental food store (at a dollar a pound), a 5-pound bag of whole wheat flour ($2.79), a couple of pounds of fruits and vegetables (anything that was under a dollar a pound), and plenty of noodles, spaghetti sauce, TVP, dried beans, split peas, and lentils. It definitely wasn't very fancy, but it was healthy and inexpensive.

Boca Burgers and vegan cheeses were splurges; while they were definitely less time-consuming to prepare, I had a lot of time and not much money. A couple of times a year a relative would take pity on my poor grocery budget and give me $20 to spend on vegan chocolate and Follow Your Heart vegan cheese. Needless to say, after several months of TVP and nutritional yeast based "cheeses," I was very thankful.

I spend a little more each week now for food; I now eat a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables, and fewer canned ones. I have access to a discount grocery store, which is heavenly! I can get my splurge foods for just a fraction of the cost. This would have made a huge difference when I was in college, but I definitely got by all right on what I had.

Vegan grocery shopping, when done right, is probably one of the cheapest ways to shop. If you view prepared, packaged foods (such as Morningstar or Boca Burgers) as a splurge rather than an everyday food, you will spend just a fraction of the cost of what you would on meat and cheese. However, it really comes down to making the bulk of what you eat at home, from the raw ingredients. Vegan packaged food is expensive! Eating well on a vegan diet is not.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"What Does Booty Mean?"

Today I found myself asking a third grader in my tutoring group, "What does booty mean?" Upon hearing my supervisor's gasp from the other side of the partition, I quickly clarified, "Pirates' booty, I mean."

Sigh. Nothing like an ordinary day in AmeriCorps.