Monthly Archives: September 2006

The more things change…

Today is our Friday meeting, and we watched the second part of the racism training DVD we’ve been running. It’s important, no doubt, but I hate watching it because it just fills me with a sort of grieving bleakness to watch the sins of our forefathers dragged out of the comfortably enshrouding shadows of historical record and out into the light of the present day awareness. And with this new legislation which seems inevitably passable making some forms of torture legal, despite the fact that doing so is against everything America purports to stand for, there’s just this feeling that we never learn, that it will never get better and that there is no hope for the true spiritual and cultural civilization of mankind as a whole.

Maybe it’s just the coincidence of watching this DVD at this particular juncture in time (stir in a little PMS depression and you’ve got a nasty little brew). Or maybe it’s just a symptom of an ongoing autoimmune reaction to my own cultural skin that started when the current administration was elected and immediately started mucking about and turning the land of the free into their own private for-profit empire, but I’m just about full up with the hearing about, contemplating, dealing with and trying to figure out what to do about man’s inhumanity to man. I’m going to go out, get something fatty and carbo-laden to eat and pretend all is well for at least 48 hours, despite any visible evidence to the contrary that may seep into my hyper-caloric brain-numbing filters. After that, I promise I’ll come back out into the real world and resume all previous efforts to save the world (or, at least, to physically pound this hell-bound handbasket into a slightly less aerodynamically efficient form). But for this weekend, anyway, my social awareness and give-a-crap-ability are officially off duty. Chiao

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Walk this way

Every day, after I finish work at my morning site, I walk the mile+ to my afternoon site. And so far, I’m loving this time I get to spend with myself. It’s healthy (although there’s a running battle between the trend toward fitness created by the walking and it’s antithetical nemesis, wrought by eating homework club snack leftovers), it’s peaceful and it’s beautiful. Even though I am walking through some fairly poor areas of town, there are flowers everywhere. One yard has the absolute biggest, bluest morning glories I have ever seen (enjoyably, all of the morning glories on my walk are still going strong at noon). And wildlife, like ginormous bugs, gorgeous spiders and the occasional turtle to be helped across the road.

Today, I came across a fine example of Black-and-Yellow Argiope, otherwise known as the yellow orb weaver, only for once the spider had built her perfect, orb-y web right at face level in the shrubbery so I could gawk to my heart’s delight without staring into the sun or getting a crick in my neck. A circumstance of which, I must admit, I took enthusiastic advantage.

One yard along the route has the most astounding bamboo thicket I have ever laid eyes on within a city’s limits. It goes way back into the lot and is several yards wide. Very lush, very luxuriant growth growing very thickly. It’s quite the sight and I just love running my hands through the rough foliage as I pass under/through the overhang.

Also on the boggle-and-ogle list is the porcelain berry shrub that pops up halfway there. Porcelain berry is an aggressive and invasive plant which, none the less is the hands-down winner for the most striking display of fruit I’ve ever seen (that’s not a pic I took, btw, just a reasonably faithful representation via Google Images. Here’s another fine specimen.). You know those hens that lay the colored eggs? Yeah, like that only in deep, rich assorted colors. At first, I thought it had to be some lost bit of plastic greenery, since it’s hard to believe such a range of artificial-looking colors coming from a natural plant. But, there it is, in all its teal-eggplant-skyblue glory. Amazing. There’s another plant, too, that I haven’t been able to identify to day (it’s an arching, maybe shrubby plant that has teeny-tiny red-pink tri-lobed late Sept/Oct blooming flowers (seedpods?) streaming in all directions in long racemes/sprays). If you have any likely suspects, shoot me a link in the comments.

In any case, between the wildflowers, the intentional plantings, the wildlife and the other sights, my walk is one of the highlights of my day. I hope I can keep it up when the weather turns – no telling what I might see.

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Gettin’ it done

Finally starting to begin the process of actually matching students at need in the school system with the volunteers we’ve been accumulating. Coolness. It’s a complicated process, since you have volunteers and students with widely varying availabilities (Mon afternoons 1-2:15, Tues and Thur am 9:30-11, NOT Wednesdays, every other Fri at 2). Like that. And you have to find a match between Tab A and Slot B so that the kids get the time they need, the volunteers get the time they need (some are college students who have minimum community service hours) and no one gets tagged out of turn. I’ve got so many spreadsheets going, I’m beginning to think in cell values. I probably need a matrix or something complicated like that, but I have to draw the line at that. Too many scary flashbacks from College Algebra. I’m just not going there.

Anyway, it’s actually going pretty well; at least I think so. My supervisor seems pleased, anyway. And if she’s happy, I’m happy. Double bonus points if all the kids and volunteers are happy (no word on that yet).

Had a great day in homework club, too. Got some more signups (we’re at 9 total). Everybody was very well behaved. There was one meltdown, but both parties chose to just separate and cool off rather than fight, which was a wonderful behavior choice (and we told them so), so that was actually alright, too. Any chance these kids get to make a bad choice, and don’t take it, is a good day. Maybe not the sort of really good day where you don’t have any bad choices to make, but c’mon…how many of those do any of us have (not counting days spent bedridden with the flu or the latest best-seller)? That’s what I thought. They all did their homework, ate heartily and went outside to play basketball for an hour or so. I call that a good day. Hoooah!

Tomorrow, we’re going to get together early and plan out our first service project. We have to do 2 10-week projects with the kids, and we want to make sure we can do it in consecutive weeks without being sidelined by holidays and so forth, before the winter break arrives. So, lots of scheduling, planning and basic pow-wowwing to do during lunch. It’s all good, though. Racking up those buffer hours against future need. 😀

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A day late and a dollar short

Sorry for the post lapse. We got in late last night from a lecture on Gender Based Learning Differences, one in a series of lectures sponsored by ChildrenFirst. It was very informative, based mainly on the work of Micheal Gurian, Ph.D. Some factoids I gleaned:

1. On those Functional MRI scans, women’s brains are as “hot” (in terms of blood usage and activity) at rest as men’s brains are during activities (meaning women’s brains are always on and men can actually sorta shut their brain off when they’re not using it, which explains why the hubster is always sound asleep 10 minutes after his head hits the pillow while I’m up all night verifying my grocery list and rehearsing what I’m going to say when I meet Brad Pitt.)

2. After puberty, men have between 5 and 7 testosterone “peaks” during the day, whereas women have monthly hormone cycles. Which explains an awful lot. Although I’m positive that “5-7 peaks” is a lower bound.

3. Girls have greater sensory sensitivity than boys, by upwards of 10 times as much. Which explains that “Princess and the Pea” syndrome that hubby accuses me of. The merest whisper of sound, mildest skin irritation, teensiest irregularity in my socks can bug me to distraction, while to him it seems like I’m reacting to things that aren’t even there. Now I know it’s biological. Uhmm…hold on a minute, will you? I think I’m sitting on a pointy piece of dust.

Ahhhh, that’s better.

Anyway, that was yesterday. Today was just more of the same old, same old. (Remarkable how quickly life goes from “scary unknown” to completely unblogworthy tedium, eh?) In any case, the highlight of today was handing out the new backpacks in homework club that we were given to treat the first 12 sign-ups. We don’t actually have 12 yet, but we gave out the first 6 anyway.

Two lessons learned this week are that large quanitites of fishsticks and seasoned potato wedges will endear you to kids with a vengence, and that I need to go back to elementary school. At least, I do if I’m going to be helping these kids with their homework, anyway. Probabilities in 6th grade math? Coordinating and subordinating conjunctions in English…huh? I mean, I know how to use the stuff in context. But it’s not like we’re on a first name basis anymore, yanno? My greatest fear is that we’re going to mess up some kid’s homework so bad that their grades will actually go down during their time with us. Gah.

On a personal note, being poor sucks. It could be worse. But it still sucks. Luckily, I’ve got a few nibbles on my copywriting bait, and one payment already invoiced. But I owe the IRS something like a grand for this year’s estimated taxes and they scare me a far sight more than not eating does, so you know where a lot of that money’s going. That, and a new computer mouse. My current one (which is actually a novelty mouse replacing the one that started having epileptic fits) is just phenomenonally resistant to functionality and is starting to crap out of what little it stoops to, at that. Apparently, once mice are in my possession, their lifespans are significantly shortened. I’m like the high-tar, nicotine-enhanced touch-o-doom for computer mice, cutting great honking whacks of time off the end of their servicable lives. God only knows why; it’s not like I’m doing anything untoward with them. Apparently, it’s just one of those things. Some people make watches stop. Other people wreck cars. I kill mice. Except I don’t really kill them, per se. They just sink into a sort of physically impaired senility and lanquish there until I free them from their undead servitude. Mwaahhahahhahha! Er…ahem. Anyway. Moving on…

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More racism training, and planning

Today we watched a training video (RACE: The Power of Illusion) that explored the history of genetic science used to legitimize racism. Interestingly, although I knew there was very little actual genetic differences between people, I didn’t realize just how little it was and how random the differences were. Turns out there is more difference between members of a specific race than between them and members of an outside race. They had some students doing actual DNA testing on some of their mitochondrial DNA, and comparing the results to each other and a global database. One of the whitest kids was not only a 100% match for a Balkan native (expected) whose DNA snippet was in the database, he was also a 100% match for an African. And another student who was ancestrally Japanese also matched a Balkan. Makes me wish I could DNA test white supremacists and hand them a printout of all the “impure” people their DNA matched up with. Heh…happy thoughts. 😀

The afternoon, we spent doing some planning for the week ahead. Found some activities and stuff online to keep the kiddies busy, planned a the meals out, had lunch and called it a day. Ah, short Fridays are the best. I hear rumors of a toga party, but dunno if I’m going. It’s already almost party time and the hubster’s not back from work yet. No big loss, though. I’ve lost my party edge somewhere back along the way (probably about the same time I picked up fuzzy socks and sensible shoes.)

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Hi ho, hi ho…eh, you know the rest

Backpost for Thursday:

Back at home, back to work. Spent most of Thursday catching up on stuff that piled up while I was at the Launch. My biggest complaint about my morning site so far is the feeling of JITT (just in time training), in that I rarely know what I’m supposed to be doing until it’s late. There aren’t a whole lot of processes in place for what I’m doing that are written down or otherwise stored outside of the head of the person who has been doing it up to this point, so I’m sort of having to ask as I go and hoping I don’t drop the ball simply because I don’t know anyone’s throwing in my direction.

The afternoon was pretty cool. We’re starting to get some more kids in. We had 6 yesterday. A few issues came up (getting the kids to concentrate on actually doing homework as opposed to sitting around gossiping about other kids at school, getting them to stop doing crafts and clean up, etc – standard stuff). Other than that, the big issue is when and how do I start trying to haul in volunteers. Personally, I want to wait until our student population settles into something that could be considered a “norm.” Otherwise, I just don’t know who and what we need. OTOH, having some help wrangling the kids would make it possible for one of us to stay downstairs to meet-n-greet, clean, cook, plan, organize, etc.

We’re still in the figuring out process, but it seems to be working out better than some of our colleagues. So we’re thankful for small blessings.

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The Launch

Backpost for Tue and Wed:

Sorry I’m a bit behind – it’s been a long few days. Basically, we all loaded ourselves into cars Tues afternoon and headed out to Raleigh to get officially sworn in as Americorps members, and to pick up some disaster preparedness training in the process. The trip up was pretty good right up until we ran into a band of torrential rain, which slowed us up a bit (visibility was, like, the next bumper if that). Anyway, we made it in time to check in and head out for dinner – Indian! There had been a previous vote for Thai, but we managed to swing it around after some vociferous lobbying (and the fact that the Indian place was easier to find for unfamiliar drivers). I was pleased. Indian food has an effect on my body not unlike mood elevating drugs. So I get dinner and a lift in one tasty package. Mmmm…spicy!

When we got back, everyone but me went out for a night of jigging and jugging at a local Irish pub. I’m officially an old fart, it appears, since the last thing I wanted to do after a filling meal of Indian food was jump around and drink cheap beer. Instead, I moseyed down to the fitness center and walked a few miles on the treadmill while hurling sarcastic remarks at MSNBC newcasters (along with my fellow walkers). This all sounds far more fitness oriented than it really was. I simply love to go for a walk after a big meal and being unfamiliar with the area around the hotel, I settled for a leisurely stroll on a conveyor belt instead. I just love to walk. Not for fitness or health, just out of a joy of doing so. So it was, by comparison, a virtuous activity. But not one predicated on virtue. LOL!

I was worried about sleeping with a roomate (I am not a heavy sleeper, nor one that tolerates noise, light, loudly-falling dust, unfamiliar smells or other disturbances. But even though she came in after I was almost out and rumbled around a bit doing the night-time bathroom thing, I actually got a good night’s sleep. Score!

Which was good, because it was a long day. As part of my team’s disaster response team, I spent the day learning important disaster response stuff. Like always bring a sweatshirt to seminars (which I did), because they set the AC on “polar bear” and leave it there all day. I also learned that yet again, vegetarians are second class citizens when it comes to group events. I saved myself from sugar shock by purchasing my breakfast of eggs and grits from a conference-center cafe, in lieu of facing diabetic shock due to excess consumption of micro-muffins and cold fruit (the carnivores had hot meat biscuits).

On the subject of disaster stuff, I learned that whatever you do, never ask for clothes at a donated goods drive, because you end up with piles of closet-cleanings that you have to allocate valuable resources to sort (by size, gender, age, season and so forth), store and distribute. After the Florida hurricanes, people were sending fur coats and stuff, all of which were piled into mountains of steamy, wet, mildewing trash that sat out for weeks due to lack of people to do anything with them, before being shoved into local landfills. What a waste. Also, we learned to always sort your goods before shipment, to prevent massive slowdowns and resource drains at the delivery point, was all that was covered (repetitively and exhaustively) during the first part of the day.

Lunch yet again reaffirmed my feelings about corporate feeding of veggies. We actually got the consideration of an eggplant option that was pretty decent, but they made so little of it that some veggies went without. That’s another common veg-food mistake – assuming that veggies somehow eat like birds. Actually, what probably happens is that a good percentage of the carnivores were eschewing the chicken and going for the yummy veggie option, a common-enough occurance (if you give people a choice, they usually take it) which is rarely accounted for in the planning of veggie options.

During lunch, we listened to some speakers and were sworn in by some muckity-muck who looked and talked like every central casting politician from every comedic movie. He kept calling us “America Corp” and doing the cheesy-joke-seque thing between his speech topics. It was like someone had secretly hired a “political parodist” to do the job. (Note to organizational leaders – if you’re going to have people doing important stuff like swearing in a state’s worth of Americorps members, make sure they know how to pronounce the name of the organization they’re swearing them into.)

In the afternoon, we returned to our conference room, which had in the interim been transformed into a “volunteer registration center.” Some of us got jobs (I was a runner) and the rest were volunteers. After we set up shop, with an intake table, interviews, training, ID center and a phone bank stocked with walkie talkies, the volunteers started trickling in. Some of them were given special instructions (you’re deaf, you only speak a foreign language, you’re drunk, you’re obnoxious and so forth), which made the whole event a real hoot to go through. One of my colleagues, who is one of the nicest, calmest people I know, was given the obnoxious volunteer assignment and went at it with a vengence. What a riot! Another colleage was a drunk who got argumentative when asked to leave, and was immediately homed in on by the “media.” I did what any sane runner would do – I pawned the situation off on the center director and left the area! LOL!

Then the phone bank (which was taking real “calls” from some folks out in the hall for volunteer needs from fictional organizations as part of the process) got a bomb threat. Holy cow. What was weird is that, as a runner, I was going table to table trying to get the stations to quietly evacuate their volunteers but no one was paying me any attention. In the end, our “obnoxious” volunteer heard the whispering and did the “Oh my God there’s a bomb in the building!” thing, which set everyone off at a run. It was funny at the time, but I wonder whether that would happen in real life – if people would just assume you were either making it up or otherwise not serious and ignore the warning.

Anyway, I’m now a bona fide Disaster Response Team member (I sooo need a power move), so if hurricanes hit and so forth, I can be called in to man phone banks and handle volunteers and so forth. I also get a spiffy windbreaker at some point. And those of us in the training got special disaster gear included in the lovely-parting-gift backpacks everyone received (along with binders, Americorps service results in a surfeit of packpacks), special disaster gear meaning a cheap plastic carabiner radio thingy, a mini-first-aid kit and a plastic water bottle (which didn’t even have a logo on it). I feel special.

On the upside, disaster stuff runs in the family (not like that, silly). My grandfather was the head of the Red Cross and the Civil Defense department. He did trainings, organized and coordinated rescue efforts and so forth. I grew up in that environment, so I feel right at home being a part of this. I’m actually hoping to be involved in the CERT (community emergency response team) thing they’re trying to set up here in conjunction with this training. We’ll see.

The ride home was better than the ride up. The four of us listened to rap music and made fart jokes the whole way (often prompted by actual farts – don’t ever let anyone tell you a group of girls can’t out-do a group of guys in the raunchy and juvenile behavior arena.) And after being teased relentlessly for my non-gangsta cred in response to my honkey dance moves to Chamillionaire’s Ridin’ Dirty, I come home and find this on my nightly blogsweep. I think I hurt something. Hollah!

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