Sunday, January 31, 2010

Readjustment: Soap

Soap

We've been back in America for two months now and damn if we haven't just been going through soap like it is going out of style. Two months and we are more than halfway through our third bar of soap. That is more than one soap a month! If I remember correctly, we only needed to buy soap every three months or so in Samoa.

I could be nice and claim that all the glorious hot water in the shower here means that:

1. We are taking longer showers using more soap and
2. The hot water melts the soap faster than cold water, but

If I am going to be honest with myself, the reason why we are going through soap so much faster is that we are actually using it...every day. By the end of our time in Samoa I was showering with soap once every third day or maybe even once a week. My typical morning shower routine was to stand outside the icy cold jet of water and lean over until my head was in the stream. I would shampoo and condition my hair with out subjecting my body to the freezing temperatures. Then, if I was feeling adventurous, I might jump in full body and jump out for a "rinsing." A little deodorant and, bam, I was good to go. By the end of the school day I would be all hot and sweaty and stinky, but I would also be tired. So I would come home, jump in the shower for a cooling rinse and jump back out. Once again, no soap.

It might seem counterproductive to live in a hot, humid environment that results in body odor and not shower with soap daily. However, I was gonna stink no matter what I did, I might as well not suffer in the ice cold water longer than necessary. Here, on the other hand, I have glorious hot water I can revel in until I realize that hours have passed by and my body has turned into a giant raisin.

— Sara

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Samoa, Huh?



I was at Crate + Barrel the other day (don't ask) when I saw
these. If you cannot read the text, these are "earthy, Asian-inspired dinnerware." I cannot for the life of me figure out what could possibly make these Samoan in anyway. Plus, what is Asian-inspired about Samoa? Crate + Barrel are stupid.

— Sara

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It Takes A Licking

It's a Trooper

When we bought our iBook G4 off Craigslist in Florida, it was already two years old. The previous owner was one of those fastidious Mac people who save all the original packaging and only operate the machine while wearing white gloves and buy a new one every time Mac comes out with something new. So it was in really good condition. However, even well-kept Macs are not meant to last forever.

Before leaving for Samoa we sat down with the computer and had a chat.

"Listen. We know you are already three years old and we are already asking you to do thing with photoshop and indesign that are beyond your abilities, but if you can just hold out for the two years we are in the Peace Corps, we promise to retire you to a nice farm in the country where no one will ask you to open any memory-intensive programs, much less three or four of them at a time."

The computer agreed and we had a deal.

The little G4 hunkered down and powered through all the heat and humidity like a pro. Sure, the space button got a little sticky and it became less and less portable as the battery lost its ability to hold a charge. But these were forgivable considering the conditions. During our last six months in Samoa we could tell the computer felt the same as we did. It was holding on by the edge of its fingernails and sheer determination to see this through to the end. Every time the fan inside started to whir with the volume of a landing aircraft we could hear it counting down (only six more months, only five more months). Eventually, the fan just whirred all the time.

Being the jerks we are, here we are back in America and instead of the promised retirement, we have installed even more memory-hungry software (like Cale's new sketching program that uses an attached tablet) and continue to make unreasonable demands.

"Let's watch this movie. Let's download these YouTube videos."

At least we stopped sticking Windows-virus ridden flash drives in you.

The poor little iBook is looking around wildly wondering where the promised farm of relaxation is.

We need you to hold out a little longer little buddy. Oh...and we need you to go to Southeast Asia with us too. But after that we
promise you can retire...if we have the money to buy a new one.

— Sara

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Are They Gonna Start Advertising Regular Pepsi As Made With Fake Sugar?



Pepsi and Mountain Dew are advertising "throwback" versions of the soda made with
REAL sugar. As opposed to the existing products made with high-fructose corn syrup, which I guess we can now assume is FAKE sugar.

These new Pepsi products aren't the only new development that leads me to believe there is a war being waged against innocent little HFCS. Have you seen this commercial put out by the Corn Refiners Association?



It is one of three commercials the poor corn refiners have been forced to put out to educate the public that the insidious, fattening, manufactured sugar product found in just about every processed food they eat is in fact totally healthy and that they shouldn't worry.

Alright, enough of this irony stuff here. My problem with HFCS isn't so much that it is bad for you. I don't really know what sort of nutritional difference exist between corn sugars, beet sugars or cane sugars. What I do know is that high-fructose corn syrup is in way, way too many foods that we eat. I also know that all the subsidies that make corn an artificially lucrative crop to produce (so it can be turned into HFCS or ethanol) means that we are filling more and more farm land with something that is not actually being used for food. High-fructose corn syrup is not food and they can claim it has the same nutritional properties as other sugars all they want. Sugars aren't food. Try getting your calories from more nutritionally valuable sources and see how less fat you are.

Sorry for my poorly-informed rant there, but that commercial totally freaked me out. Oh, and it doesn't matter what kind of sugar they put in Pepsi or Coke or whatever. It's still no good for you. It still makes you fat. And don't comfort yourself with a diet drink. Try water, it's great.

— Sara

Monday, January 18, 2010

Like Dominoes

Wednesday night before we left for West Virginia (December 30th) Mom started to feel like she was catching a cold. Not wanting to infect Grandma or ruin the trip, she took every kind of cold preventative medicine in the house and possibly performed some voodoo rituals. However, it was to no avail. She woke up Thursday morning with a cold and brought it with her on the nine-hour drive.

Mom spent all day Friday practically immobile, only moving from the couch to the lazy-boy. The cold was really kicking her butt. On Saturday she pretended to feel better so that we could go to a movie and dinner with Grandma. However, it was painfully obvious on what became the like 11-hour return trip
* that she was still feeling pretty miserable. She spent most of the trip curled up asleep in the back seat surrounded by tissues. In a rare occurrence, she even took Monday off work, she was still so miserable.

*Apparently, Cale and I do not travel with as much efficiency or surgical strikeness as my parents. Dad called on our drive there and was shocked to discover how little distance we had covered in five hours. We had stopped to pee, switch drivers and were now stopped to eat some food. When Mom and Dad travel, the do not stop the car...ever...unless they run out of gas.

On the way back from Grandma's we traveled through the most ridiculous winter weather in the mountains. The wind speeds were insane. The temperature outside was less than 14 degrees and snow was blowing every where. The news was telling me it was even below freezing in Orlando. This is when we discovered that the windshield wiper fluid wasn't working. I was driving and tried to wipe the windows only to turn them into an opaque smeary mess.

We spent more than an hour at a gas station trying to remedy the situation. The reservoir was filled with ice. Cale tried pouring new fluid in that was rated to -20 and turned the ice into slushy, but still not a fix. He tried pouring hot water over the reservoir and lines, no go. He tried breaking up the ice with a metal coat hanger, nothing.

Eventually we devised a plan that involved a spray bottle of windshield wiper fluid. I was to lean out the passenger-side window and spray the windshield. However, our test run taught us that in this wind, even at a standstill (much less highway speeds) we could not get the spray on the windshield. So we ended up stopping every 10 or 20 minutes until we got out of the mountains and miraculously the weather cleared up.


Mom did her best to keep her cold to her self. She washed her hands constantly, used antibacterial stuff and kept all her tissues in a bag. I declared that I didn't care if I got the cold as long as it waited until Wednesday, the 6th. My GRE exam was on Tuesday and I refused to let a cold ruin it. Kindly enough, the cold waited and on Wednesday, I was sick. The cold laid me out. I spent two days on the couch with little movement. I wasn't feeling good enough to go out until Tuesday when I restarted my job search after only one day the previous week. Almost two weeks later and I am still not completely over the cold, taking medicine to fight the sinus pain and constantly blowing gunk out my nose.

Saturday Cale came down with the cold and spend the entire day on the couch while I was at my first day of work. He is powering through it much better, refusing to let it drag him down. He spend all day Sunday running errands with me and has to work today. It appears he is stronger than me or my mother, or the bug had weakened by the time it got to him.

The only person in the house not sick yet is Dad. If we are following the same timetable, dad should have the cold sometime around next weekend. We will have to wait and see.

— Sara

Saturday, January 16, 2010

But Will It Float?


Courtesy of God's Ark of Safety web site

On the way to West Virginia we passed a couple of strange things on the highway, such as...
God's Ark of Safety Church. The internets have informed me that they are indeed attempting to "recreate" Noah's Ark. The website is also copyrighted 2007 and the pictures of the partially completed ark are identical to what I saw driving by in 2010. So things don't appear to be going so well. Anyway it is odd to drive by a partially completed ark on the side of the road in Maryland.

— Sara

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cale's Haircut

For reasons I cannot comprehend, Cale hates to get his haircut by professionals. Instead he usually insists on having me cut his hair. For his typical low-guard-all-over-the-head-with-some-clean-up-around-the-ears-and-nape-of-the-neck haircut, this isn't much of a problem for me. However, on rare occasions, Cale decided he wants to have a "trim" or "style" of some sort, yet continues to insist that I do the hair cutting. Today was one of those days.

Cale wanted to retain the length he had on top and wanted me to trim up the sides. I was none too excited. I became less excited after Cale found a YouTube video with instructions on how to accomplish this haircut and then instead of having me watch it, he watched it himself, closed the window and then proceeded to call me into the room so he could recreate the video for me through mime
*. After it became clear that we might have better results if I actually watched the how-to video myself instead of getting the information second hand, we spend a ridiculously long time looking for the video again on YouTube. We found several how to cut men's hair videos, but none of them were the one Cale wanted me to see.

*On a side note, Cale is fond of locating hilarious videos on YouTube and closing the window or navigating away from them before calling me into the room to see said video and then spending a ridiculous amount of time locating said video again.

Anyway, Cale demonstrations indicated to me that he basically wanted me to clipper a circle around his head (in a very particular fashion, of course) that dipped down in the back. It seemed like a bad idea to me, but I agreed and clippered around his head. Unbeknownst to me, this hair cutting wasn't going to stop with the clippers (a device that I am only marginally comfortable with). Oh no, it was going to require scissors as well (a device I am entirely uncomfortable with). This is when things started to get really out of hand.

Apparently I was to gather the hair between my fingers in some manner. Having done this the hair on the top would be longer and the hair on the bottom would be shorter and I was to cut up at an angle so that the hair on top was shorter, but still longer than the bottom. This was in some way supposed to soften out what was now a harsh clipper line around Cale's head. Instead, I appeared to make jagged cut lines on the side of his head. This was not going well.

It was at this point that I started to protest loudly about how stupid his head looked. Cale kept insisting that it "looked fine," but I knew that this was coming from the guy that was fine with the
mulhawk, bleached-blonde dreadlocks and that punker cut where you shave the whole head except for one long lock in the front. It did not "look fine."

After much back and forth, I was finally able to convince Cale that he needed to see a professional. However, I had some conditions. He was going to need to explain what happened to his head to the haircutter and he could in no way blame me. If it was necessary to tell the haircutter his wife had done this to his head, he needed to preface it with the knowledge that it was under duress. Also, he was going to need to wear a hat in public until it was remedied.

He is out finding a haircutter as we speak. Hopefully his hair is salvageable.

— Sara

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti

Considering all the thoughts, prayers and offers of help that came to us after the tsunami in Samoa, I just want to encourage everyone to keep Haiti in their thoughts and to consider doing what they can to help in the aftermath of this tragedy.

— Sara

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Footwear Situation

Yesterday's six inches of snow finally convinced me I wasn't making it to Thailand without buying boots in Indiana. I have been half-heartedly looking for boots since we got here. I own a pair of tennis shoes and a pair of heels I got at the Salvation Army. Tennies are not made for winter weather, but without snow on the ground they were staying dry, so I could justify not buying boots. That is no longer possible.

I have learned some very important lessons about women's footwear in the last day. Apparently your booting options are either warm:



or attractive:



But never the twain shall meet.

I wanted to keep my feet warm, but I also wanted to buy something I could wear with my suit to my campus visit in two weeks. I could not have both.

Granted, I was only looking at places like Target, Payless Shoes and Famous Footwear. Maybe if I broke down and looked in a real store I could have found the hybrid. However, if I had done that I also would have had a heart attack over the price.

Cale suggested a compromise:



but I couldn't bring myself to purchase an ankle boot. Plus the ones at the store were more shit-kicker than the ones pictured here and had a more substantial wooden looking heel. However, they also had some sort of warmth generating-liner as well. Once again, cute or warm, but not both.

I have settled on attractive and spent all day yesterday convincing myself that since my feet are dry in these shoes they must be warmer than they were in my tennis shoes. I am not sure I am doing a very good job of convincing myself. Must improve Jedi mind tricks. "These shoes are so warm. So very, very warm."

- Sara

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Single?



Apparently people of my generation look at the word "single" differently than people of earlier generations.

I spent the New Year's weekend in West Virginia with my mom and grandmother. I am not sure how the conversation was initiated; I sort of tuned in halfway through to my mom and grandmother talking about how the "kids these days" don't define "single" the same way that they do. According to mom and grandma, you are single until you are married. No ifs ands or buts. I was confused.

"So do you consider Teresa to be single?" I asked.

Teresa is my sister. She and her boyfriend are celebrating their third anniversary today in the home they own together with the dog and cats they adopted together. However, they are not married and therefore both mom and grandma consider Teresa single. I found this a little confusing.

"Do you go around telling people that Teresa is single?" I asked.

Apparently, mom does. That seemed strange to me. In my mind that is like denying her relationship with Mike in someway or passive-aggressively indicating you wish Mike didn't exist. However, it is nothing of the sort. Mom likes Mike. They are just not married, so they are single.

It doesn't work that way for me. If someone was to say to me, "Hey, your sister is hot. Is she single?" I would most definitely say no. If I said yes, I would be indicating that she was available in some way, which she obviously is not.

I also do not consider my littlest sister single. She has been with her boyfriend for at least two years, which is outside my definition of single. In fact, anyone with a significant other they consider their boyfriend or girlfriend would be outside of the single definition for me.

I am not sure if the two are linked, but I feel like the social networking sites I am on (read: facebook) cover all the possible relationship options that I am familiar with using. You are only single when you don't fit into any of the other options. Whereas mom and grandma would consider everyone single who didn't fit into the married category, though I suppose they would make room for engaged. I am curious if this is a pretty standard generational discrepancy in word usage or if there are regional or religious elements that come into play as well.

— Sara

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Finally Finished

I sat the GRE today. I felt pretty good about the essays when I finished. I felt pretty terrible about the rest. I felt like there were a lot of words I didn't know on the Verbal and like there was a lot of math I was taking too much time on each problem on the Quantitative.

However, they give you your preliminary results immediately after finishing the exam and I got:

Verbal- 800
Quantitative- 680

The verbal really blows me away. I assumed to get an 800 you would have to get everything perfect. So I suppose I assumed wrong. The quantitative score is sufficient. So all in all, I am a happy camper.

– Sara

Monday, January 4, 2010

This Is It

GRE Flashcards

At 11 am EST Tuesday I will be sitting my GRE for those of you who would like to commiserate with me during that time. You can feel free to beam me smart brain waves.

I have been studying for the about a month straight now. You see my flash cards in the picture above. It contains the most common GRE words that I didn't know, a shit ton of latin roots that I only managed to learn less than half of, words divided into definition categories as indicated by Kaplan and common mathematical thingys that are handy to know (like the sides of a 30-60-90 degree right triangle are multiples of 1, square root of 3 and 2).

I have no idea how I am going to do on the exam. The first day I started studying I took the Kaplan online diagnostic quiz and got a 59%. Though passing on Samoan standards, I am not in Samoa anymore. Over the course of the month I took five more quizzes. At first my scores were going up: 66%, 70% and 83%. But then they started to fall: 62% and 66%. I am not sure what that means. I also sat several practice exams. Some were paper exams, which I am not counting because when I sit the real GRE it will not be a paper exam, it will be a Computer Adaptive Test (who knew that I would leave the Samoan school systems and still have to face a CAT). However, of the online adaptive tests that I took my scores also fluctuated. On my first attempt I got a 710 in Verbal and a 730 in Quantitative. Not bad at all. However, things started to go crazy afterwards.

Verbal Scores: 710, 760, 700, 590, 660
Quantitative Scores: 730, 680, 630, 670, 680

That 590 in Verbal is just horrifying, though it appears that my average is about a 680. My Quantitative average is about 680 too. I was surprised to do so poorly on Verbal and so well on Math. However, it appears that most people do better in the math, even people going into graduate programs for writing and English. I think that proves the Verbal is pretty hard. It all comes down to how many of the words that they give you are ones that you know and for me it is a crap shoot if I know this really hard word or not. I was able to use the Latin roots to reason out some words I didn't know. As I took the practice tests and quizzes, I wrote down all the words I didn't recognize (or were used in an unfamiliar way) so I could define them later. Here is a selection:

alacrity, arrogates, profligate, mendacious, syllogism, lachrymose, restive (this does not mean what you think, unless you happen to know what it means, jerk), fastidious, sedulity, perfidy, gaucherie, chicanery, apocryphal, inchoate, panegyric, panegyric, manse, accretion, epiphyte, parsimony, saturnine, dissipation (doesn't mean what you think it means), tonsorial, jejune...


This list could go one and one. I am not sure if I just have a surprisingly limited vocabulary or if the rest of the world is also not familiar with these words.

The math portion is more straight forward. Aside from remembering all the rules of triangles and some formulae from high school, my main problem is speed. I am too slow at the math questions. I spend too much time finding the real answer, when what I need to do is figure out which of the multiple choice answers is right. For some problems this means doing the work, but for others it means guesstimations or plugging in answers or numbers. I have a hard time figuring out which are which and end up doing all the work for all the questions. On my last math practice I still had six questions left and only a minute and a half left on the clock.

The other portion of the GRE (which is actually the first part of the exam) is the essays. There are two essays, Issue and Argument. In the Issue essay you are given two prompts. You pick one and then argue your agreement, disagreement or qualification of the issue in the prompt. Basically you have to make strong points, back them up with well-reasons support that includes relevant examples and sound good while you do it.

Meghan asked about the prompts, so I thought I would include some here. These are from an online list of all the possible prompts I might see on test day.

"Important truths begin as outrageous, or at least uncomfortable, attacks upon the accepted wisdom of the time."

"Laws should not be rigid or fixed. Instead, they should be flexible enough to take account of various circumstances, times and places."

"It is always an individual who is the impetus for innovation, the details may be worked out by a team, but the true innovation results from the enterprise and unique perception of an individual."

"The most elusive knowledge is self-knowledge, and it is usually acquired through solitude, rather than through interaction with others."


The Argument essay provides you with some sort of written argument (such as a letter to the editor saying the local government should block the construction of a school because of.....) that you have to pick apart. You have to tell how this argument is flawed, why it is flawed and what can be done to fix it. I am much better at this type of essay. If there is one thing that I am good at it is finding fault. Just go see a movie with me.

I have done all the studying that can be done. Now it is just a matter of getting a good night's sleep and making it to the testing facility on time tomorrow.

Wish me luck.

— Sara

All Prepared to Sit the GRE Tomorrow
My testing supplies

2009

I know my 2009 Year in Review is late. I was off the grid in Inwood, West Virginia for several days, which I will talk about later.

So, without further ado:

2009 IN REVIEW

January found us still in Samoa with just under a year of service left to go. Cale's mom had just left from her three-week visit in December. We were still housesitting up the mountain in the ex-pat area and I was nursing the aftermath of my Christmas boil. We had our Mid-Service Peace Corps conference at FaoFao in mid-January. At the end of the month, I ventured into my school's computer labs to see what two months off had done to the computers. Answer, some lizards had crawled to their deaths inside the computers and a bird had flown to its death inside the lab.

Dead Lizard

February saw the start of school again. We also said good bye to Aaron. I started my incredibly popular blog feature, "Name This Plant" and Cale started a garden with actual plants. We also took over the post volunteer newsletter, Faitala. Also, there was this:

Dead Cow

In
March school was well underway. For the first time in recent memory my school offered girls' rugby as an extracurricular activity. The Student Loan, an American band, visited Samoa as part of the State Departments musical exchange program. We had a nationwide tsunami warning and as far as I can tell, Cale and I were like the only people to evacuate. We did it by bike. It was hot.

Fun with Tsunami Warnings

April was the month of Easter Spectaculars, mini-vacations at Hanna's Hilltop Resort and saying a long farewell to Craig and Allison who were heading home in May.

Wesley Easter Spectacular

In
May Cale was bit by a dog, my school's First XV rugby team lost miserably to Blakey's kids at Avele in the finals, the Methodist schools celebrated Culture Day and my parents came to visit. Cale and I also celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary by doing very little.

Jane's at Manase

June was my birthday and also the celebration of Samoa's independence (though they actually gained in in January, not June). We also saw the the 8th International Siva Afi Competition and hosted the 2nd Annual Beermeat and Video Game Night. But most importantly, Cale got his tattoo.

Cale's Tattoo Day 2

July was a busy month. We celebrated the 4th of July at the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum (thanks Robin), went to the beach twice and the circus once. However, the highlight of the month was the arrival of the donation of 189 computers from New Zealand that Cale and I were organizing. Many of you may remember the insanity that ensued. Thanks to the Surprise Swine Flu Holiday we had two weeks straight to work on the computers and we still weren't done.

The Tale of the Computer Donation

August was more computers, my Year 13 students' CAT (common assessment task) and Cale's birthday.

13.1 Sitting the PSSC CAT

September started out with the Teuila Festival. In the middle we had our COS (close of service) conference. However, it was the earthquake and subsequent tsunami on September 29 that defined the rest of the year. September 30th found us on the south side of Upolu searching for bodies in the rubble.

Tsunami: Disaster Relief

Cale and I spent the first weekend of
October on the south side with Benj, his girlfriend and our taxi driver, Dani. We had a list of people who had contacted us on the blog asking us about friends and family or villages on the south side. We made a tour of the area searching out people and taking pictures to post to the blog. Eight days after the tsunami, Group 82 arrived in country and there was another tsunami scare that day thanks to a earthquake in Vanuatu. Thankfully, everything was fine. Cale and I went to Savaii with our couch surfer, Lindsey, who arrived in country the day after the tsunami and would end up extending her two-week trip to eight weeks. Mid-month we celebrated the Group 82 Welcome and Group 79 Farewell Fiafia.

Group 82 Welcome Fiafia

November was also crazy busy. We were wrapping up all our projects and saying our good-byes. November 30th we were on a plane home to America.

At the Airport, Going Home

December was a cold-weather shock to our systems. I had to wear shoes when we visited Meghan in LA and then it snowed, SNOWED, in Indiana. We celebrated the holidays with family and ate everything in sight.

Christmas Eve

We are looking forward to an equally adventurous 2010 when we visit Southeast Asia and go back to school.

— Sara