Thursday, January 27, 2011

Federal Budget Cuts, As Explained Through My Weight-Loss Attempts

So the federal deficit is going to continue to balloon out of control...just like my mid-section.

In 2009, approximately 40 percent of the budget went to the entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Yet no one wants to talk about cuts to these programs in order to bring the deficit down. So instead we are just going to nip around the edges of the budget with minor cuts in other programs that are minuscule in comparison to the entitlement programs.

This is similar to my weight-loss efforts. Let's say, for comparisons sake, that beer makes up 40 percent of my calorie intake (which I don't think can possibly be true, but work with me here). I want to lose weight, but I am not even going to consider cuts to the beer calories. So instead I will just have a salad for lunch. I am just nipping around the edges, but not really getting to the root of the problem.

What I am saying here is instead of Social Security the federal government needs to switch to V8 Fusion and vodka. Way less calories and a full serving of fruits and vegetables!

I am sorry, I am mixing my metaphors.

Do I have a solution to the Federal deficit. No. Do I believe that it is going to be fixed by refusing to even talk about changing 40 percent of the budget and continuing to cut taxes (do you like how I just threw those taxes in there out of the blue)? No. Does this blog post have a point? No.

But I did promise you more blogging. So this is what you get.

— Sara

Monday, January 24, 2011

By The Numbers

Pages Of Reading Assigned
To Be Read For Today (Monday)

Classes I Took Last Semester That Were Requirements
And Didn't Teach Me Any Marketable Skills

Classes I Am Taking This Semester That Are Requirements
And Won't Teach Me Any Marketable Skills

Class I Am Taking This Semester
That Should Teach Me A Marketable Skill

Students In My Smallest Class This Semester

Students In My Largest Class This Semester

My Average Class Size This Semester

My Level of Disappointment
With My Class Sizes On A Scale Of 1-10

Pounds I Lost Since I Started
Eating "Healthy" After New Years

Pounds I Still Want To Lose

Months Since My Last Haircut

$10 USD
Cost Of That Haircut in Bangkok

$65 USD
Cost Of A Haircut Last Week in America

More later

— Sara

Sunday, January 16, 2011

First Week of Second Semester

I started this semester with an awesome schedule. Classes only on Monday and Wednesday. Nothing before 11 am. A semester-long three-day weekend. By Wednesday morning I picked up a 2.5-hour long class at 9:30 on Fridays. Dammit.

I was originally registered for V507 Data Analysis and Modeling for Public Affairs. I never really wanted to take this class. I initially registered for it because the Director of Graduate Student Services included V507 with Rubin in her list of classes not to leave SPEA without taking. However, I registered reluctantly. Later, I brought the class up with a professor adviser and mentioned my lack of excitement. Once again I was reassured it was worth it just to have a class with Prof. Rubin. I was never truly convinced, but I went along with it.

I discovered too late I had ordered the wrong edition of the textbook from Amazon. After our first class on Monday (where we were introduced to what appeared to be 3D math under the guise of "review"), I went to the book store on Tuesday and put down $140 on the book. Luckily I was sharing with Mike, who had agreed to be my homework buddy. That night I sat down at the kitchen table, cracked the shiny new cover and came to an important realization. THIS SHIT IS HARD. I don't even want to take this class. I don't even need this class. There are lots of other classes I want to be taking. Why am I doing this to myself?

And so I learned an expensive lesson ($70 for my half of a book I will never use, lost shipping costs on the book I ordered from Amazon and must now return, and $10 for the course pack I gave away).

I think part of the problem here is the way advising works for SPEA graduate students. There are not any dedicated advisers for the graduate program. There are professors who have volunteered to be advisers for certain concentrations. The first adviser I saw in the Nonprofit Concentration didn't seem to be all that interested in what I was talking about, probably because it is outside her area of interest (she is US nonprofit organizations; I am international NGOs). The second adviser I saw was definitely more up my ally, but still recommended I take this class I don't need, which I find strange.

Before juggling my schedule, I went to four classes on Monday. First was the this dreaded statistics class. The room was packed beyond the fire code capacity and not just because many people on the wait list had come to the class. Apparently, the class cap was already larger than the size of the room. There were definitely more than 50 of us. The professor commented on the unusual size of the class.

After two hours of GA work at the Institute for Development Strategies, I went to my evaluation class. This is a class I am extremely excited about. However, once again the professor commented on the number of us in the room. She had changed the syllabus due to the size of the class. No longer would we write a final paper, we would simply give a presentation on the work and write a short executive summary.

The the class started out well with a group in-class assignment that involved eating three cookies. You cannot really go wrong there. We were to evaluate these three different cookies. We had to come up with the purpose for the cookies, the evaluation criteria, etc. My group felt rather clever deciding we were evaluating cookies to find one for Cookie Monster to sponsor. As it turned out, at least three other groups were working for Cookie Monster as well. There was then some discussion on whether or not Cookie Monster still existed. Rumor had it he had become the Vegetable Monster. A little in-class internets research on the old Droid cleared up these vicious lies. According to the Muppet Wiki, Cookie Monster has always been a healthy eater (appearing on puzzles with fruits and veggies in the 70s and debuting a healthy foods rap in the 80s).
Cookie Monster responded to the rumor in a February 2010 tweet, stating "Time to put end to rumors. YES, me eat vegetables. NO, not going to be called Vegetable Monster! Dis whole thing silly." Cookie Monster tweeted about his healthy eating again in March 2010, stating "Maybe you hear rumor that me going on a diet. Not true. Me just eating healthy foods AND cookies. What wrong with dat?" In August 2010, Cookie posted a video on his official Facebook fan page saying that he eats three square meals a day, including many circular desserts. In September 2010, another video was posted, where Cookie names what he ate today: three varieties of cookies and tofu stir-fry. He adds "What? You think cookie all me eat?"
See the sort of important things I am learning? Who knew Cookie Monster even had a Twitter account? Maybe I should follow him.

Next up was my public finance and budgeting class. The teacher is an Uzbek Ph.D. candidate. My notes for this class include a story about his father working for two months to afford a pair of bell-bottom jeans, the Russian government under the impression it was going to develop an iPhone killer and zombies. I also have these two quotes: one is Winston Churchill, the other is the teacher's.
"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with an average voter."

"Economists always assume some weird stuff."
The finance class, at about 30 students was my smallest class of the day, and, strangely enough, in the largest room.

After finance came my nonprofit and voluntary sector requirement. Once again another class packed to the gills with more than 50 of us in the room. I made a note to myself in the margins during this class.
First I did the Fourth Estate. Now I am doing the Third Sector. I like to get into industries during the worst times.*
*Get a degree in journalism and go to work in newspapers while the industry is supposedly in its death throes. Get a degree in nonprofit management during a economic downturn when all nonprofits are scrabbling for funding.

After my Tuesday night realization, I dropped the stats class and picked up Approaches to Development, my new 9:30 am on Friday class. I heart this class. First, I heart the topics. As the professor said, "I can't think of more pressing issues for human society than the issues we will discuss in this class." Second, I heart that as part of this class we will be participating in the WikiMedia Public Policy Initiative. Before class, we were assigned to read the Wikipedia entry on International Development, which is a complete disaster. We were also assigned to read policies on editing Wikipedia articles. I assumed with excitement we would be fixing this terrible article as part of class. However, it is ever more exciting than that. As part of this class we will write or significantly edit a public policy article of our choice (with in the confines of class topics) as part of this initiative to increase the amount of public policy information available on Wikipedia. The journalist in me is geeking out a little.

So there you, my first week of school. I will continue to try to keep up with my commitment to blog more.

— Sara

Saturday, January 8, 2011

I Just Ate a Loaf of Bread

..which is not in compliance with my diet.

In middle school, I had a classmate oh so kindly describe my hips as womanly. I didn't get around to loosing my baby fat (or growing any boobs) until I was a junior in high school. After that I was able eat just about whatever I wanted and fail to exercise without much worry (my lunch was chocolate chip cookies, french fries and frutopia...remember frutopia?). I think that's what being 17 is all about. Fast forward more than four years and I am working out at the Rec Center several days a week and attending Ab Lab in the hopes I would have muscle tone in my wedding dress and on the honeymoon (I had a friend describe me as pear-shaped at the time).

I live on carbohydrates, so two year later when I attempted the South Beach diet, things got desperate. The diet calls for two weeks without carbs. By the end of the first week, I was licking pretzels.

When Cale and I left for the Peace Corps in 2007, I was at my heaviest. Third-shift cubicle jobs aren't known for being healthy. While at work I could slam three cokes, raid the vending machine for pop tarts and never resist the candy bowl.

Samoa was the first time I had ever really lost weight. All it took was a slightly more active lifestyle...oh, and two months living in fear of the food (don't be fooled by that blog entry, it was back when I was still trying to say only good things in the blog, there was a point in training when I didn't eat anything for like three days), horrible boils and a terrible case of bronchitis. In this instance I lost more weight than I was interested in (20 pounds in two months) and even our medical officer prescribed me a hamburger.

I never got below 110 pounds, so I was never officially underweight according to the BMI charts on the internets. Though other people expressed concern over my weight at the time, I was pretty pleased. My thighs didn't touch; my stomach was flat. For the first time in my life I didn't really complain when my clothes didn't fit anymore, since this time it was because they were literally falling off my body and not because I was having a hard time squeezing my ass into them. There are downsides to losing a dramatic amount of weight. My ever so practical Hanes-Her-Way underpants hung in loose folds around my nonexistent ass; surely a sexy look. The biggest problem was the disappearance of my boobs (which weren't so big to start with). Not to get too graphic, but when you lose all the fat out of your boobs, you don't lose any of the skin. Things start to look a little like a National Geographic topless woman.

Unfortunately, all the time I was at this weight I was in Samoa where modesty standards and traditional wear had me in head to toe dresses all day. So there is very little photographic evidence.

We left Samoa on Nov. 30. By the end of January, I was back up to my pre-Samoa weight and pretty unhappy about it. I had made some clothing purchases when we first got back to America that I couldn't squeeze into anymore (at least without obscene amounts of muffin top).

Now that I have started to complain about being fat, I am going to have to diverge. You see, people don't want to hear me complain about my weight. Apparently, I am a petite person. Personally, I feel pretty average. Officially I am only a quarter inch shorter than average height for a woman in the US (though, if we start narrowing the demographics I get progressively shorter until I am more than an inch shorter than the average height for a white woman between 20 and 39 - which still doesn't seem that short to me). However, clothes shopping has indicated to me that everyone else in the world is much taller and larger than I am. I find this strange because I have met many people who are smaller than me. If I walk into a store and have to buy a small, where are these chicks shopping?

Part of being an inherently small person is that people don't want to hear you are unhappy with your weight or trying to lose weight. They also refuse to believe your true weight. Though I don't mind everyone around me erroneously assuming I barely weigh 100 pounds (HA!), it doesn't change the fact that I cannot fit into my clothes anymore.

I lost the America weight quickly when we left for Southeast Asia, but almost immediately began putting it back on again when we were back in the States. So here I am once again in America in January overflowing my clothes. And that brings me to that loaf of bread.

Grad school had not been kind to my eating habits (frozen pizza again? ok), so after the holidays were over I intended to eat more reasonably. I even borrowed the South Beach book from my mom (though the carb-less diet went out the window immediately with a beer on day two). However, I have no will power. I just don't have it in me to lose weight by controlling my food. We recently had lunch at Cale's aunt's house and she sent us home with a loaf of freshly baked bread. It was gone in less than 48 hours (and Cale didn't touch it, that was all me). I can be sitting on the couch — not hungry in the slightest — and hear the bread calling me from the kitchen, "I am so delicious and doughy and yeasty. Come, eat half of me."

As far as I can tell, my only viable weight-loss option is to leave the country. America makes me fat and I don't have the will power to do anything about it. The question now is if I am going to break down and buy bigger pants or try to tough it out through the spring semester.

— Sara

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

How to be Extremely Socially Awkward How I Spent My New Year's Eve

New Years Eve 2010
Social awkward bonus: I react to all photographs by barring my teeth and stretching my neck (some where inside of me, I think I am smiling).

I recently took one of those personality tests on the olde internets and no one will be surprised to learn I am an introvert (especially not Abby). If you have a minute and would like to read a freakishly accurate description of Sara, click here.

Social Interactions: Stage One

For me, social interactions have a predictable cycle. First, I don't know anyone. Everyone makes me uncomfortable and scares me. So I sit quietly, by myself, away from everyone else if possible and try to make myself look busy (and when busy isn't possible, thoughtful will suffice). I eat lunch alone and try to make it look like its on purpose. Eventually I will find myself in a small group of other socially awkward people and hate it. You see, deep down, in my heart, I want to pretend that I am not so awkward, that I am in fact cool and that I can hang out with the cool kids. Also, these other socially awkward people are way weirder than me. My problem is a personality flaw. Their problem is they cannot find anyone to talk with about being a ninth level dwarf wizard or something. Lucky for me someone usually makes an effort to talk to me (heavens knows why) and I can slowly integrate myself into a small group of people who I have things in common with and who generally don't frighten me too much. I typically don't have more than 10 people that I know well and talk to in any give location.

For those of you who are wondering if I was just reminiscing about middle school or high school, I appreciate your vote of confidence in me. However, I was talking about grad school math camp...five months ago.

Stage Two
Stage two of being an introvert is successfully hanging out with these 10 or so people with minimal awkwardness for extended periods of time. Despite these new friends' efforts, I will stymie all attempts widen my circle of friends. This is followed by one of three stages, depending on the timeline.

Stage Three A
In this stage, there are no major holidays or big parties (this will make sense in stage three b). Instead, I continue to hang out with my new friends on a normal basis until I overload. Imagine, if you will, that Sara is like a cup. Each social interaction pours more liquid into this cup. At some point the cup reaches a point where it just cannot hold anymore. Hmmm...This metaphor is a little ridiculous. Imagine, instead, that Sara is a person who can only handle so much people before she can't anymore. I think is is working better than the cup situation from earlier. People overload is usually accompanied by headaches, bitchiness and a need to be alone in a quiet place.

Stage Three B

There are major holidays or big parties. This usually means that in addition to hanging out with people I know, I will also find myself in some sort of group social setting with people I do not know (friends of friends). There is also typically alcohol. I can A) drink between three and five beers and fall asleep on a couch somewhere or B) drink less beers, get more and more agitated by all the people I don't know and find a corner to sit in and read the news feeds on my phone (this is how I spent my new year's now I have fulfilled the title of this blog). The phone news feeds is a new addition. Prior to this technology my corner sitting was much less interesting. Those that know me understand I am just taking a break. Those that don't know me think I am a stuck up bitch.

Stage Three C

This is probably the most effective way for me to keep from getting overloaded by people. In this scenario I only see any given friend intermittently (once a week at most) and I fail to freak out.

Stage Four
I move far away (where I have to start this entire process over again) and I pretend am still friends with the people I used to know by following them on facebook.

Frequently I will reach a people overload point where I will think about becoming a hermit. I imagine that everything would be so much simpler and less painful if I simply stopped trying to make friends and stopped trying to hang out with people. However, the truth is I don't want to not spend time with people and not make new friends. It is just that I want it to be easier and not make me feel like throwing up a little on the inside (feel free to apply that "inside" to the preceding sentence as you see fit).

— Sara