Sunday, February 28, 2010

"I've got to fart!"

Um, okay. How, exactly, am I supposed to respond to that? My second graders never cease to surprise me.

(By the way, I ultimately decided to ask him to do so in the bathroom, and refrain from telling us about these incidences in the future.)

I suppose I have a small talk on the importance of manners coming up.

Friday, February 26, 2010

One Long Week

It's been a long week. Not only did we suddenly get a new first grade group for an hour and a half in the morning (four days a week), but the third grade math group was abruptly changed from two days a week to four. Sigh.

The third graders are so much fun individually, but absolutely toxic in a group. One of the boys has major anxiety issues that they are still trying to find an accurate diagnosis for. The school psychologist asked me to take notes on his symptoms. Very low pressure, I tell you.

The other boy is the class clown, but also a bit of an antagonist. He has a really awful past, but he's working hard to overcome it. He is an absolute charmer when I work with him and just one other person, but add any more, and bad things happen. The last blow-out took two weeks to recover from, as a group.

The two girls in the group are intriguing, to say the least. One is a born actress. She's very dramatic, and always trying out different accents and characters. She's a lot of fun, but it is so hard to get her to focus. The other girl is a perfectionist---don't you dare tell her she's wrong. She will absolutely melt down. She has come a long way, though, this year. Her meltdowns are a lot less frequent, and you can often see her visibly straightening herself up and refusing to give in to her emotions.

I really enjoy working with them---we've just got to work on the dynamics. I'm trying to line up a tutor for the boy with anxiety issues. He does really well when he receives one-on-one attention. Also, there is much less drama in the group with only three people to feed it, instead of four.

I just want to do what is best for these kids. Sometimes I worry that everything I try isn't enough, that I'm failing them somehow. I've just got to keep trying, and enjoy the journey.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Blushing Boys

You should have seen my student blush! We were looking up Greek Mythology vocabulary, and he was the lucky one to get Aphrodite. He used Google to find out that Aphrodite was the godess of love, beauty, and fertility, but didn't know what fertility was. Another search popped up fertility clinics. Upon finding out what they were, he couldn't click away fast enough!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Gifts That Give More

I recently discovered the joy of donating money to causes. I love giving through The Hunger Site. I'm able to pick a specific cause, and know exactly how my money makes a difference. Twenty dollars can fund a fuel efficient stove for refugees in Darfur. In addition to being better for the environment, women have to go on dangerous fuel-gathering missions less often. Seventeen dollars allows a schoolchild in Guatemala to attend school for one year, paying her school fees and tuition.

Eleven dollars provides one month of care for a patient in Africa with HIV. Alternatively, you can pay a nurse midwife's salary for one week for $25, or cover the cose of a prosthesis for a land mine victim in the developing world for $20.

It's a terrific concept---you can see exactly how your donation helps others, rather than just giving $20 to an organization, to be used for an unnamed purpose.

So check out The Hunger Site's Gifts That Give More!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bad Knee!

Apparently I wasn't thinking last week when I gave a guy's car a jump start. He had a bad knee, and he had to shove the car backward so that we could hook the jumper cables up. What I neglected to think about is how fickle my own knee can be. In brief? I'm now wearing a knee brace.

This makes working with the kindergarteners a lot trickier. It's practically a job prerequisite to be able to kneel down to their level. How else are you going to tie shoes and talk to them at eye level when they smear each other with boogers or start wrestling?

Hopefully with a little babying, my knee will heal right up. I guess I have to wait to break out the roller blades. Oh, well.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Financial Temptations

There are way too many temptations right now. A laptop for my online class, blogging, and reading online books. A Kindle eReader for reading and when I travel to China to work for a year. A cruise to Alaska. Traveling to Vancouver. Eek!

I need to get my priorities straight. Right now, my goal is to save the $3,000 I need to start a Vanguard Target Date retirement account. I'm only about halfway there---living on $1,000 a month while making loan payments and paying rent is hard. Maybe I'm trying to meet too many financial goals at once---I want to start saving for retirement, but I also want to pay down my student loans. At the end of this year, I'll receive nearly $5,000 to pay back part of my Stafford Loans, and AmeriCorps will pay the accumulated interest on that loan. I'll still owe $20,000.

Maybe I shouldn't worry so much about my loans---I'm still planning on taking another AmeriCorps position after this year, and that will pay back another $5,000. After that, I'll just have the $3,000 loan the Dept. of Treasury took over, and $1,000 in Stafford Loans with a private lender. Oh, and the $10,000 Firstmark loan that the AmeriCorps Education Voucher can't touch. At least it has a low interest rate---4.3%.

I hate being in debt. I'm trying really hard to focus on paying back my student loans and setting up an account for retirement. Combine that with building up a healthy emergency fund, and I feel spread really thin. I should put my money towards the retirement account and get that set up, and worry less about the loan that's in deferment. Retirement funds need time to build up, and it has more earning potential over the forty plus years before retirement than any other investment. Now I just need to forget about all of the temptations.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cube: The Makeover Edition

Don't tell my supervisor, but I am slowly but surely making over my little cube. Originally it was just a long faux wood table with four plastic molded chairs, but now---it has a large, soft, fluffy blue chair. And this is just the first of four.

I'm just going to wait and see how it goes over on Monday. Will there be jealousy? Anger? Ire over a lack of consultation?

I cannot imagine how anyone can expect kids to learn sitting on those horrible, uncomfortable chairs. Seriously, eight hours in those things? It was pure torture. (Not to mention that I was sick of having my swivelly, soft office chair stolen every time I turned around).

My supervisor rarely visits my little cube, so I may go undetected for quite awhile---at least until I can think up a plausible explanation for the sudden presence of the thrift store chair. I need to think up a good justification for the change. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Food Stamps

I spent my lovely day off renewing my food stamp application. This was a much less tedious process than the actual initial application---it only took two hours instead of four. The women who handled my application was very nice and informative.

Things I learned? I am now a permanent resident of Washington (I lived here for more than three months). I was able to register to vote, and will be receiving absentee ballots at my mailbox. This is really convenient, and it makes it impossible for me to forget to vote.

Fleeing felons aren't prosecuted by the food stamps office---they're just denied benefits. Yes, I asked. No police are called or accusations made. You're just denied any food stamps you might have received.

Not too shabby for an early morning.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Interesting Kid Quotes

The day started badly, I'll admit. Embedding a staple in your very sensitive thumb will do that to you. However, my day soon improved, with some very intriguing and hilarious quotes to show for it.

The first, from a sixth grade boy:

"Can I have your button?"
"They don't come off."
"Wanna bet?" he says, grinning.

What a charmer, eh?

Another choice quote while reviewing sixth grade mythology: "They're furies, not fairies." Heaven forbid they think that the evil furies emerging from Pandora's box (hate, sorrow, ill health, death) are actually fairies in disguise.

You just have to love kids, don't you?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I Laughed

So I'm standing up in front of the church, offering the Cup of Salvation (or Holy Communion for the non-Church goers), and all of a sudden an elderly man decides to stand right beside me and let it rip. Not once, but twice. Loudly. Without a shred of shame or remorse.

I'm standing there, trying very hard not to burst out laughing (because that would be inappropriate, right?), and keep it together for the next six people. Then I look over to the pastor, and she is cracking up.

I can't do it anymore. I burst out laughing, shakily proclaiming "The Cup of Salvation . . . The Cup of Salvation . . ." while desperately trying to rein in my giggles.

Oh, dear. I sure hope they don't think it was me.

I Love Facebook

My friend got married. And I didn't even know.

I need to work on staying in touch with people. Things got so crazy when I was in Guatemala that I didn't stay in close contact with others. I really wish I had. Now I'm going through all of my friends' Facebook pages and getting caught back up on their lives. I'm finding out where they work now that we've all graduated from college, and where they live. I'm e-mailing one friend a week to find out how their lives are. I found out one great thing: a friend who studies abroad in Guatemala with me is now with AmeriCorps VISTA and living in Oregon. Is there a roadtrip in the future? Possibly.

I love Facebook.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Kindergarten Violence

A little kindergartener in my tutoring group tried to cut his friend. With scissors. While I was working with another little boy. This is not normal Kindergarten behavior.

If he's not kicking someone or flicking markers, glue caps, or erasers at other students, he's threatening them. There is no impulse control.

The last time I saw a situation like this, I was working with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome affected children. I'm seriously worried about him.

We're taking him out of a group situation and I'm going to start working with him one-on-one. I lose out on some of my planning time, but I think this is more important. He can't work in a group---the others are suffering. We just can't get anything done. This way, the others get to learn without wondering if they're going to bear the brunt of his impulses that day, and he gets the one-on-one help he so desperately needs.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Food Stamps Interview: Are You a Fleeing Felon?

There is nothing quite like the food stamp application process. Never have I spent more workable hours sitting in a crowded waiting room, wading through layers and layers of paperwork and waiting for hours on end.

First you sign in at the electronic kiosk. Woe is you if you've never done this before! You will be forced to enter your SSN in just under a minute using a defective computer. If you fail, you must not pass go and start over. Don't you love technology?

Then you sit for an hour---if you're lucky. Once your name is called, you're asked whether you're seeking food stamps, medical insurance, or WIC. Return to your seat and wait another hour.

Once you're finally called into the back room, wade through pages and pages of paperwork about your finances. Get asked if you're a fleeing felon. Laugh, and realize that the question was serious. Stutter a little, and answer no. Get your AmeriCorps living allowance classified incorrectly twice, nearly have a heart attack at $8 in food stamp benefits for three hours of waiting, and ask to see a supervisor. Get your living stipend classified correctly, and receive $200 a month in food stamp benefits.

Wait for half an hour longer in the waiting room to be issued an EBT card. Silently rejoice, and flee from the cramped waiting room as fast as your feet will carry you.

Until your six month interview.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Animal Shelter

I love the local animal shelter. Set in a roomy two-story house, it has couches and pet hammocks, animal houses and little holes for the munchkins to hide in. There is none of the usual cages (except for the isolation cages for new or sick animals). It's very cozy.

I get to volunteer there one evening a week, and just socialize with the animals. If one of them has special dietary needs, I'll take her into a separate room to be fed. If any of the animals need a special medicine, I'll administer it. But mainly, my job is to give the little guys some love and attention.

I usually spend two hours there, petting the animals and playing with them. I can't have a cat (I just rent a room in a house), so this is a perfect animal fix for me.

Where do you volunteer?

Monday, February 8, 2010

It's Going to Be a Frugal Week

Don't you hate when your checking balance is nearing zero? It's the week before payday, and rent and car repair bills have come due, leaving very little money in my account. It's nothing too horrid---if any emergencies come up, I can use my credit card, and I have a full pantry. It's just a little nerve-wracking right now, wondering if anything worrisome is going to come up---a last minute bill? My grandpa suddenly taking a turn for the worse, causing me to have to buy a sudden plane ticket home?

I have some money tucked away for emergencies, but it is truly tucked away: it would take me three days to access it. It's meant to form the basis of my retirement account, but it also provides a little cushion in case an emergency comes up. I would just hate to decimate that account. It took me a year to build it up, working for minimum wage (or less).

Here's hoping everything works out!

Saturday, February 6, 2010


I've been planning and saving for a Vanguard Target Date IRA. Call me a geek, but I love planning financial matters. I know that I am far too young to be seen seeking out a banker to discuss the differences between traditional and Roth IRAs, but now is the best time for me to consider retirement.

Not only will the compound interest definitely work in my favor, but by saving now, I give my money just that much longer to grow. I don't want to be one of those people who waits to save for retirement until they're in their thirties, and then struggles for years to catch up. I want to slowly build my retirement fund, squirreling away money as my (somewhat tight) budget permits.

Now if I only had the $3,000 to start an account.

I really wish that an investment firm would offer a comprehensive IRA for those of us who don't have that much money starting out. I can't be the only one in this boat---aren't there just hundreds of thousands of new college graduates who earn very little? Surely there are others who want to save for retirement, but don't know how, or can't find a good retirement account.

If only they advertised.

Thrift Store Finds

I just hit the local Kiwanis Thrift Store and picked up a soft blue chair for $7. This will go perfectly in the reading corner of my tutoring room. I probably should have checked with my supervisor (whom I share my room with) before indulging in this, but worse comes to worse, I have a new chair for my room at home.

I never knew that chairs could be had so cheaply! I am in heaven. I also picked up a few books, $2 worth of forks and spoons to replace the ones that I lost from the apartment, and some play do and subtraction cards. The grand total? Just $13.

I also found a few books that I'm going to post on Amazon. Two mint condition hardcover Tony Hillerman books were a steal for just a dollar apiece.

What have you found at your local thrift store?

Friday, February 5, 2010

I'm So Ready For Easter Vacation

I have a long Easter Vacation coming up (I know, it's still two months away, but I am so ready for it to be now), so I was tossing around some vacation ideas. Should I, a) Go to Canada? b) Book a cruise to Alaska? or c) go on a roadtrip to Oregon, Nevada, and Utah? Each idea has its merits.

Traveling to Canada (Option A) would be fun. I am always up to explore Vancouver, especially Chinatown. If I went up by car, I could haul with a lot of food, and not have to worry about a place to stay. On the downside, it is hard to find cheap, safe parking.

Option B (a cruise to Alaska) would be fantastic! However, I don't think I can even spare the $500 for a discount cruise. My hypothetical retirement fund would not be happy, and two months of student loan payments would be gone in a flash.

Option C (a roadtrip to Oregon, Nevada, and Utah) permits me to use my food stamps (and thus not starve), but would entail sleeping maybe two nights in a hostel for the lovely shower facilities, and the rest of the time in my beautiful car to pay for the gas to travel. I would eat well, to be sure, and that's one of my top three concerns. The others are not freezing and staying somewhere safe.

Ten to one, I'll end up spending most of the first few days catching up on sleep and reading, and then make day trips to Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland. Not a bad option at all.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

On Bribes, Abduction, and Costa Rican Police Officers

I set every alarm in school off last night. I went in to finish up a class before it came due, and forgot about the alarm system. Within twenty minutes, the building was surrounded and a police officer was knocking on my window. She ran my license (I'm from out of state) and asked for proof that I could be there. All I could produce was my key, as I left my staff ID at home. The custodian had to come in and vouch for me.

By this point, I was freaking out. Honestly, it wasn't such a bad situation, but the last police officer I had dealt with was in Costa Rica, and he had tried to get me to go with him and his coworker. Alone. In the dark. In a strange town.

My bag had just been stolen. He said the only way I could make a report was if I went with them then to the police station. No, I couldn't bring the family from the States that I had just met with. No, I couldn't follow in a cab. I was travelling alone, and there was no way that I was going with them.

So it's no wonder that police make me a little uneasy. I know that police in the States are looking out for your welfare, and don't try to abduct women. I know that they don't accept or demand bribes. They would never wolf whistle at you, as they did in Guatemala. They would never hit on you.

It's just a bit of a shock, trying to readjust to life here. And yesterday was a little scary.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Reciprocal Borrowing

I love reciprocal borrowing. One strange thing I found when I moved out to Washington was that all the libraries weren't interconnected. You could only borrow books in the town that you lived in. This meant a drastically reduced collection.

Until now. Recently our branch has begun a pilot program with several local libraries. If you have a positive borrowing record, you may apply for a library card at any one of the those libraries (or all three, in my case). Though you do have to return the books at their respective libraries, the huge collections make up for it.

I'm off for a little shelf browsing!