Thursday, August 21, 2008

Haiku

My friend Ian found a bike in New York City selling for $10 and a haiku. His haiku:

bike swift yet plodding
take me to destinations
i do not yet know

brooklyn needs transport
and you provide the lifeline
of independence

Brilliant.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Home Again

It is hot, but not humid. I can drink the water from the tap. The roads are reasonable, and free of men on motorcycles honking at me and offering a ride. All prices are clearly marked and no one has tried to overcharge me. I must be in America.
Traveling abroad makes me appreciate our country more. For all it's faults, real and perceived, it is a great place to live.
After a rocky start, my trip ended well. It improved from bad, to palatable, to OK, to fantastic. I wouldn't have though it at the start, but I was sad to leave.
The reason was the people. In Las Terrenas, I loved working with the kids, but it the other volunteers really made it special. Meeting people is one of the best parts of travel. If you're really lucky you meet someone you connect with, who you imagine will be a friend for life. I met a few of those people, and consider myself very lucky.
People are the best part about traveling, and life too. What else really matters? You can be at the most beautiful beach on the world, but if you don't have anyone to share it with you might as well be marooned with a volleyball as your only friend.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Swimming with Sharks

I don't like to swim alone in the ocean. My logic works like this: if a shark came with the intention of eating a human and I am swimming alone, there is a nearly 100% chance I will be eaten. If I am swimming with another person, that drops to 50%. The more people the better.

The other day I was at the beach. No one else wanted to swim, and I hate sitting on a towel and frying. So in I went, snorkel gear in hand. Normally, I don't stray far from the shore. There's plenty of crabs, fish, and other things to make it interesting. I figured I would casually move myself to the fringe of another group for safety and have a look around. But this day there was another snorkler a ways off, swimming in rocky patch where I imagined there would be even cooler sights to see.

Calculating my shark-odds, I approached him and asked if there were fish to be seen. He nodded in the affirmative and waved me closer. As I got closer, a 2 foot long harpoon-gun materialized in his hand. This possibility I had not calculated. Fortunately, it was not pointed at me. Turns out he was fishing, and he already had three purple fish the size of my hand strung on a wire. Las Terrenas is full of people carrying all manner of fish, crab, or shrimp through the street looking to sell them to whoever is interested. He wanted me to help, and asked me to carry his fish.

I tagged along, trailing behind me a string of dead fish, scanning the briny deep for any predators larger than myself. My new partner swam and dove, peeking under rock outcroppings for his particular pray, and meanced all sea life in general with his harpoon. We were a good team.

But then the following train of thought ran through my mind: Sharks eat fish. People chum the water with dead fish to attract sharks. I am holding a lot of dead fish. I am chum.

With that I bid a hasty good-bye, and beat a retreat to the shallow waters. Below I've listed two of my other ocean phobia. On another note, so far my faithful blog readers have raised ZERO dollars for the very worthy cause I wrote about here. Go check it out, please, and donate something, even if it's 5$. Every little bit helps.

Other Things to be Scared of in the Ocean:
  1. Giant Squid/Octopus
    I saw a giant squid once at the Smithsonian. It was big. Its tentacles long. Death by octopus would be extremly unpleasant. A big purply arm reaching out of the deep, encircling you, drawing you towards its gaping maw. It might ink you if you struggle hard enough, but eventually you wind up in its mouth where it gums you until you are no more. Fortunately they are rare and as of today no one has died by octopus.

  2. Sting Rays
    Sting rays, I heard, have the most painful, non-fatal sting of anything on the planet. They hide under the sand until you step on one and WHAM! You're down for the count. My friend Joe once got stung by a sting ray in Ecuador and they had to call a doctor.

  3. Put Your Own Here
    What else should I fear in the ocean? Leave a comment. Let me know!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Do Something Awesome Today

I've talked about various projects on here, but this one is near and dear to my heart.

I spent most of last summer in Ecuador, setting up a business that would take college students interested in social change overseas. There they would work with social entrepreneurs, see that they too could make a difference, and come back to the States pumped up and ready to change the world.

While the business never got off the ground, the time spent there bore some fruit. In the course of out travels my partner and I met Juan Andrade, a Catholic priest who runs a foundation called Mano Amiga (Helping Hand).

What he does is nothing short of amazing. In Ecuador, if a child loses the family support network there are few other places to turn. Many live on the street begging or selling trinkets. In the worst cases they turn to prostiution, gangs, or violence just to survive. This begets more violence, crime, and poverty and so the cycle continues.

Mano Amiga intervenes and provides them with shelter, food, an education and love. The fundamental social change is this: rather than a detriment, these children will become contributors to their society as business owners, vetrenarians, teachers, etc. (Those are just a few of the things the children told me they wanted to be.)

While Mano Amiga does amazing work, it is limited financially. The government of Ecuador provides $1 per day per child to care for the children. With food, hygene, clothes, and school fees this is woefully short.

One of the biggest expenses is food. Rice and beans are the staple. Vegetables and fruit are uncommon. Meat is rare. A nutritionist recently diagnosed over half the children as mal-nourished.

Fortunately there is a solution! Some nearby farmland was donated to the foundation, and my ex-business partner has partnered with a Rotoact group from Colorado to provide the foundation with the equipment, livestock, and seed necessary to make the farm produce enough food to nourish the children properly.

The benefits of this are threefold:
1.) The kids will be nourished properly
2.) Mano Amiga will spend less on food, enabling it to reach more children.
3.) The farm may eventually generate income for the foundation, again enabling it to reach more chilren.

So if you like feeding hungry kids while eliminating poverty, take a look at the project site. They are over halfway to their fundraising goal. I'd encourage everyone who reads it to donate something, even $10 means a lot.

If you still have doubts take a look at the kids. They were so friendly, open, caring, and above all happy, despite their backgrounds, and the poverty they lived in even at the foundation.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Tropical Juxtaposition

I was looking at some tropical fish through my snorkel mask when I heard a boom. I stood up in the water. The sun was very bright. The water was very clear. The sun was very white. The coconut trees were very tall. Paradise.
And not but two miles to the west were dark black storm clouds full of thunder, lightning and rain. And yet I stood in sunshine splashing in the waves. Quite a juxtaposition. Very surreal.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Sad Tale of Sanki Panki

Throughout my time here I've seen numbers of old, white men with young Dominican women. While prostitution is common here--hardly a night goes by where I am not solicited--I couldn't believe the audacity of some of these old geezers. Invariabley moneyed and dressed nicely, they go out in broad daylight, to the beach or to dinner in the company of their "mujer".

Seeing something so incongrous and obvious makes it awkward to walk by them and hard not to stare. I keep imagining the face Jim Halpert makes when Michael Scott does something inappropriate in the Office. The face that says, "Really? You're doing that? In public?"

Turns out this is more than prostitution. It sanki-panki (not "hanky-panky" or "skanky-panky", though both are appropriate). What many foreigners will pay a woman a certain amount of money to be their companion. Sometimes for a week, sometimes a month, or sometimes years. It's like hiring a long-term escort. In the very worst cases families will "lease" their daughters out, sometimes at very young ages. There is a well-known Frenchman in town living with a girl of 12. Sadly, it's not hard to imagine that the 12-year old girl will continue to make a living in the sex industry.

It is a symptom of poverty, though that does not excuse it, especially not in the cases of parents selling their daughters. It creates more poverty, dehumanizes women, begets violence, spreads disease and ruins lives.

Most of the foreigners you meet traveling are great people who are interested in seeing the world, learning about new cultures, and/or making a difference like the volunteers here at the Fundacion Mahatma Ghandi. But there's still those few who are here only for a good time, and the Dominican Republic's image as a tropical, live-it-up paradise draws more than its fair share. It's explotation, and it's really sad to see.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

To My Readers

I don't know how many of you there are, but I've been surprised by the number of people who have told me at one time or another, "I was reading your blog and..." One thing I'd like to see have more of at Life's More Real is reader participation. Leave a comment, ask questions, make a statement, agree, disagree, call me stupid, call me smart! I'd love to hear from you, so if you're out there, let me know!

And... you'll have to forgive any recent spelling mistakes, the spell check feature doesn't seem to work here.

Battles with Nicolas

I like little kids generally. They are cute, innocent and honest in the way that only kids are. The kids here a Fundacion Mahatma Ghandi are no different. I've been working with about 15 of them, ages 6 through 8. I help them paint, make necklaces, or with whatever art or craft is scheduled for that day.

Mostly they are all smiles or laughter. They give me hugs, hold my hand or sit on my lap for no apparent reason. All very cute. But there are problems. They don't share. They grab others things. They hit. They scream. I, being a middle school teacher, am not entirely sure if this is what 6, 7, and 8 year olds do when misbehaving, or something else entirely.

When somebody takes someone else's things, the children raise the hue and cry of "PROFE!!!" (short for professor). They point at the offfender and then babble rapidly and incomphrensibly. I come, look at them, try to figure out the object is that is causing trouble and try to return it to the right party. It works by and large, except with one boy named Nicolas.

The other volunteers warned me about Nicolas. He does not play well with others. He likes to grab, yell, hit and scream. Worst of all he doesn't listen to the staff. The first day I let it slide, as I wasn't sure what discpline options I had (make him stand in the corner? send him outside?). The best tool in my classroom management box, the hairy eye ball, did nothing. He'd just stare back at me and smile.

The second day I came determined to impose some order. Soon enough I was given an opportunity. As we were rearrainging the class for another activity, Nicolas planted himself on the top of a stack of chairs that other children needed to sit in. I asked him to get down.

He said no.

Other children started to yell and him and tug at his chair. "Back away, I'll deal with this.", told them.

I again asked Nicolas to come down.

He said no.

I grabbed his chair, with him in it, and lifted him off the pile and sat him down. He clapped gleefully and asked me to do it again.

"No, and you need come down when I ask you. The other kids needed the chair and you were taking them all."

He ignored me and asked me to pick him up again.

"You're going to sit in the corner for five minutes."

He shook his head no.

So I picked him up again, chair and all, and put him in the corner. He got his wish and grinned triumphantly. The lead volunteer came around pass out art supplies. Drawing time! The kids love drawing. Nicolas started to scoot his chair toward the table. I blocked him. I grinned triumphantly. "5 minutes!"

He shook his head no and kept trying to get to the table. I, bigger and stronger, was able to keep the seven year old seated against the wall.

So he tried a new tactic, he started laughing and pointing at me. I ignored it for about 30 seconds. Then, I got annoyed. I asked him why he was crying.

He kept laughing. I asked him again, why are you crying? You keep crying, why?

He just kept laughing. Getting nowhere, I decided to go back to ignoring him. The other kids were drawing, they were laughing too, but in a happy way. Nicolas saw all this and tried to scoot his chair up to the table. "5 minutes." Only "3 now," he said. "Your time starts when you start behaving." Somewhere deep in my mind, memories of my parents stirred.

I started helping other kids, oohing and awwing over houses and flowers. Nicolas kicked me, softly in the rear end. "5 minutes I told him." "Only 2 now," he said. "No, 5 minutes starting when you behave."

And then, a miracle. He was quiet! I was victorious! He slumped in his seat and frowned his biggest frown. 5 minutes came and went. I felt satisfied.

Nonetheless, before I told him I was very glad he was here and that he's a good kid. I also told him that he needs to listen to the adults here, and that we are all team. If he sits on 6 chairs, 5 kids don't get a chair and that's not fair. He nodded his head and then joined his group, still sullen.

For the rest of the day, amazingly, there were no problems. No one grabbed anyone's things! I caught Nicolas' eye when I had a chance and winked at him. He smiled. Later, he asked me to look at his drawing, "What a pretty... house!" I finally decided it was, though it could have been a spider. He looked pleased. Best of all, later that day on the street he ran up and gave me a big hug!

The moral of this story? When kids (or adults for that matter) misbehave there's always some underlying motivation. Try to understand that and be compassionate. Discpline them but still love them, and kids will love you back!

That advice has been given me by more than one excellent teacher. I think it applies elsewhere in life too. It's also very hard to put into practice and I can think back on too many times this last year alone where I applied the discipline but not the love. But when it works it's great! Just thought I'd share...

A Real Slice of Dominican Life

Updates on my journey thus far:
  • Megan and I traveled to Rio San Juan, a small town on the northern coast. It's biggest draws are the beautiful beaches nearby and the minimal tourist presence. Nearly every night the whole town gathered together to watch teens from various neighborhoods play basketball on some outdoor courts. It was the real deal, they had uniforms, referees, score clocks, and even an emcee. Best of all they blasted merengue between quarters.
  • After five days there we said good-bye. She went east to the beaches of the Samana Penninsula with a newfound Italian friend. I went west to Cabarete, international extreme sports hotspot, where I tried my hand, with mixed results, at windsurfing.
  • And finally two days ago I arrived in Las Terrenas, where I'll be for the next two weeks working for the Fundacion Mahatma Gandhi until I head home.
The amount of expats living here is amazing. Everywhere you look there's a white face whizzing by on a motorcycle or 4-wheeler (the North Coast's preferred methods of transportation). A few blocks down from the foundation, you can find a half-dozen mulleted, middle-aged Germans sitting outside a liquor store drinking beer from noon til dark.

Like everywhere else on the coast it's hot and muggy. I sweat throughout the day and a good part of the night. It's also incredibly dusty. Fortunately the beach is only a few minutes from my hotel.

But I'm not here to sweat or meet old mulleted men. The Fundacion Mahatma Gandhi runs a small community library, the only library in town, which doubles as a community center. The library is small but neat building, with a covered seating area that can be used as a classroom or meeting area. Next to the library is a concrete structure that has a half-dozen classrooms. Outside those buildings is a large field, partially mowed, where the kids can play games. The unmowed part contains, for reasons unknown, a broken down jeep and piles of concrete. Led by a super-friendly man named Jose and his wife Annette, the foundation gives children a place to read, learn, or just come and hang out in a structured and safe environment.

Right now is the last week of summer camp, and I'm helping teach the 6, 7, and 8 year olds. It's been tiring, yet rewarding. The other volunteers are fantastic and have welcomed me with open arms. They genuinely love kids, as is obvoius by watching them for thirty seconds. We are all paying to be here. That seems to have weeded out the free-loaders and malcontents, usually those just looking for a paycheck, that I've seen at other summer camps.

Most of all, I'm glad I'm finally doing something productive. There's only so many beaches you can see before the start to blend together. And up until now 99% of the contact I've had with Dominicans was with the art dealers, taxi drivers, waiters, hotel staff, etc etc. The tourist machinary is so fine-tuned here it's hard to break free. I started to feel that I was wasting my time and my money.

But not today. As I walked to the internet cafe one kid waved at me from across the street and another, Nicolas, ran up to me and gave me a big huh. He is a story in himself, and for that you'll have to read tomorrow!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Great Authors: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Books, like music, can transport you through place and time, expand your knowledge, and in the best cases evoke powerful profound thought and/or powerful emotions. This places literature firmly under the penumbra of Life's More Real and its expertise in all things that make life good. (ha!)

This trip has afforded me plenty of time to read. A quick run-through of what I've read, all recommended:
  • The Normals by David Gilbert. A quirky, fun read about people who volunteer for medical tests.
  • The Piano Tuner* by Daniel Mason. One of the most stirring and beautiful books I've read in a long time. Based in 19th century Burma, it explores the British occupation and one officer's quest to pacify the region through music and culture rather than war. The parallels to the Iraq occupation are striking.
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. A true tale about a New York City author's experience living in Savannah, Georgia. Sheds interesting light on the dynamics of power, money, sex, and heritage among the Southern aristocracy. Revolves around the murder trial of Jim Williams. Many of the events and characters in the book are so outlandish, the fact it's a true story makes it even more enjoyable.

Right now I'm reading the Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky was a Russian writer in the 19th century, a contemporary of Dickens, and my personal favorite author. You probably read Crime and Punishment in high school.

His writing reflects the social upheaval that marked the 1800's. Freud, Mark, and Darwin were challenging assumptions about man's place in nature, society, the afterlife, and his own mind. Intellectual and radical movements; socialism, communism, atheism, and all other kinds of -isms, were sprouting up around the world challenging kings and Church. In his writing, Dostoevsky tries to answer, or at least explore those questions in his writing. And those big questions are still relevant today: is there a God? Why is there suffering in the world? What is good? What is evil?

Dostoevsky is remarkable to me, however, in the way he captures all of the little impulses, urges, thoughts and emotions that motivate people to act the way they do. More than any other author I've read he details that finer, more difficult part of human nature that makes, despite our gifts of reasoning and intellect, so irrational at times. It's hard to see a bit of yourself in it.

So if you haven’t read him check it out. Crime and Punishment is a good place to start. The Idiot is the best book I've ever read. Be warned though, his books can be VERY slow at first. To paraphrase something I once read, "Reading Dostoevsky is like preparing a gourmet meal. It takes a long time, but in the end it's worth it.

Your thoughts and comments are very much appreciated!

*For some reason I can no longer link. Sorry!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Dangers of Being a Cow

Here we have the tranquil Dominican countryside.

video

Then suddenly... BAM! A commotion!

video

Apparently the truck ahead of us nailed this cow. For those of you concerned, the cow did appear to be getting up as we drove off.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How to Create Pangea

  1. Squirt sunscreen into both hands.
  2. With hands, attempt to rub suncreen over your entire back.
  3. Swim in the ocean for 4 hours under a hot, blazing sun.

The resulting red blotch in the middle of your back will look almost exactly like Pangea as pictured in school textbooks. It also will hurt a lot.

The lesson? Unless you can detach your shoulders from their sockets, you cannot cover your entire back in sunscreen.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Answered Prayer: Yee-Ha and Hallelujah!

Yesterday on the bus ride from Santo Domingo I was plugging along through the Book of Leviticus on my quest to finally read the Bible through cover-to-cover. At the time I was feeling a little bummed: the trip hadn't yet met my expectations, and there was--and is--a nagging little voice in my head asking why am I not doing something more worthwhile with my time. But more on that in another post. I said a little prayer and asked for God to give me a glimpse of Him somehow.

So lo and behold, staying at our hotel last night was a youth group of 24 from Otter Creek church in Brentwood, Tennessee. It was my Oregon Duck's hat that started the conversation, they being SEC fans. Apparently two of their congregration have been living here in beautiful Rio San Juan, and they came down to help with their ministry.

They were all overly kind and their accents down right charming. They invited me to join them for worship as the sun set. I joined their circle on the third floor balcony of Bahia Blanca, overlooking the Atlantic. After worship they shared their favorite moments from their time here. They worked with some children who lived at a nearby dump, teaching, ministering, and basically just loving them. It was easy to see through the tears and choked voices that this trip had really meant something to them. They had formed relationships and bonds that they would take back with them to the States, that some would have with them the rest of their lives. Perhaps most importantly, a number remarked on how they never knew they could make such a difference. It was moving and inspiring.

As they closed the evening their leader thanked me for joining them. I stood up and promptly recieved a long ovation--for what I'm not sure. After the clapping died down I told them about my prayer from earlier that day and how they had been the answer. After thanking them for blessing me, I walked off into the tropical night to more applause. If only all my evenings ended like that.

The whole event really got me thinking on what I could be, and maybe even should be doing with my summers. But as I said earlier, that is for another post. Now I must decide if I want to snorkle, try to learn to scuba, or simply just splash in the waves.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Paradise Found

Finally, my expectations and reality have converged in the Dominican Republic. Rio San Juan, on the DR's north coast, is everything Bavaro was not. Quiet. Charming. People here going about their lives rather than trying to hustle me into trinket shops.
Our ride from Santo Domingo took about 4 hours, crossing from the south of the island to the north. When I saw people playing baseball on dirt fields instead of all inclusive resorts I knew this was going to be an upgrade.
Best of all is our hotel, Bahia Blanca. It is literally on the sea, built on an outcropping of rock that juts into the Atlantic between two bays. My room is on the third story. Open the front door and there is ocean as far as you can see. Out the back door, a balcony and more ocean.
Now to set off to explore this charming little town. Still trying to get photos uploaded.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Aljadrez!

At last I've arrived. We spent today wondering around the Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo. One museum had the coolest collection of weapons I've ever seen, including a monstrous scimitar-like thing known as the Brain Crusher (Rompecabezas). I probably couldn't even lift it. Later we visited the oldest working church in the Americas, which looks pretty much like any other old colonial church. The most noteable thing about is was that my friend got kicked out for having her shoulders exposed.
Just minutes ago I stumbled upon a game of speed chess. The locals were eager to have me play, and after my recent games with Your Red Room and others I felt battle-tested and confident. Until I sat down. With about a dozen people watching I got a bad case of the jitters and made bad move after bad move. I rallied briefly, but was crushed. Still, it was more interaction I'd had with any Dominican's who weren't waiters or hotel staff so as far as I'm concerned it was time well spent.
Pictures tonight.

Global Giving in the Times

My favorite Change The World organization, Global Giving, just got some love from the New York Times. But you heard it here first.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Whew...

Kudos to Meriwest Bank. Today they credited back ALL the money my friend lost. Good for them for doing the right thing.
Now we're back in Santo Domingo in the Zona Colonial. It is a huuuuuuge improvement. There are actually Dominicans going about there everyday lives. People are everywhere. Being busy, shopping, laughing, playing dominoes in the park. Feels like I finally started traveling.

Disaster!

Yesterday my friend Meggie's ATM card got stuck in a machine. Right as it did a friendly man happened to come up and offered us the service of his cell phone. We're still not sure of the details, but the supposed bank representative on the other end of the line convinced my friend to key in her pin while holding enter, which then somehow authorized charges.
Yesterday they took $500, the 24 hour limit, as we called frantically to Visa and her credit union to get it canceled. No kudos to Meriwest Credit Union. Me and Megan both talked to their people last night, begging to cancel the card, but their representative refused saying it could only be done during business hours. We explained that if it wasn't cancelled they could withdraw more money at midnight. Still no luck.
We finally got through to someone at Visa who told us he had cancelled the card. Lo and behold this morning we discover $500 in fresh charges, totally nearly $1,000 withdrawn. As I speak we are working the phones, trying to get the card cancelled!
This is a definite bummer. In my humble opinion I think the bank should reimburse my friend the latest $500 at least! To be informed of on-going fraud and yet do nothing seems like negligence on their part.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fun Abroad?

Life's More Real is in the Dominican Republic for the next month, where surprisingly life is LESS real than anywhere I've ever been. The whole island seems to suffer from all-inclusiveitis. Here in Bavaro, recommend by Lonely Planet as having some of the best beaches in the whole country, those beaches have been replaced by row after row of beach chairs belonging to the different resorts as far as the eye can see.
Each resort caters to a different crowd, political and cultural boundries maintained by a ropes running from hotel to sea. Here Americans, with their trademark love handles. There blondish people speaking a guttural German sounding tongue. Further on topless women indentify the Spanish, French, and Italians and so on and so on. All wear different colored arm bands, like those you get at the fair, to keep theirs in and others out.
The only thing left out is nature. We were forced to hunt for the no man's land between the resorts. We finally found a nice little stretch of beach where no one cared what armband we had on. A tropical Switzerland.
The tourist industry here is in overdrive. Stores selling painting and little wood figures are everywhere. Everyone is friendly, but so for all the wrong reasons. It's impossible to go 10 minutes without someone trying to shepard you into his store, cooing comforting words. "I give you the best price," "What do you want to buy today?" or my favorite "I got what you need." Really? Oh, male and female salt and pepper shakers in erotic poses. Thanks, but not today.
The restaurants? Serving overpriced, poorly done American selections. I'm hoping I'm in the wrong part of the country. We're leaving tomorrow for the North coast and what we hope will be a more authentic slice of Dominican life.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Eight

For all of you chess buffs and history nerds out there, may I recommend to you The Eight, by Katherine Neville. Combining chess, the French Revolution, and dark mystical secrets from the dawn of humanity has never been so much fun.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Trapped

A perfect storm of events have converged to bereave of all the amenities enjoyed by western civilization. No TV. No internet. No car. No work. No online chess. No Family Guy. If I lived in a high density urban area with a great downtown no problem, but instead I live in Ruralville. My nearest friends are miles away. I can only lure so many drive out to see me on week nights.

My isolation has forced me to wrestle with some realities in my life. I spend an amazing amount of time watching TV or online apparently, because without those I don't know what to do with myself. I spend the first 15 minutes of each day wandering like a lost puppy until I find something.

What have I done? Read a 600 page book, caught up on old copies Newsweek, Time and Sports Illustrated, studied French and organized my spices atop my oven in descending order by height.

I've biked for food, biked for internet, biked for fun and biked for boredom. I've called friends I hadn't talked to in forever. I scrolled through my phone and people I didn't know. The number I had for "Laure" belonged to some 50 year old mom in Oklahoma. How did it get there? Neither of us knew.

Now I know why I've never done all the things I wanted to do: learn French, write a book, get really ripped, etc. I was watching Family Guy.

Family Guy is not real life. A day without TV or the internet is so real that I don't know how to handle yet, but it seems like a good skill to learn.

Monday, June 16, 2008

On the Road


Life’s More Real is on the road. School wrapped up yesterday. Desks were scrubbed, posters taken down and good-byes said. I won’t see kids or co-workers until next August. Thursday was the school picnic, where I raised an astounding $75 in 15 minutes in the dunk tank. I wasn’t sure to be complimented or insulted at the line of kids lining up to dunk me. In either case, after one year of teaching I am happy to say that IT IS AWESOME. Strange as it sounds, I’m almost as excited for next year as I am for the summer.
For the next week I’m going to be on the road with my old man. We are traveling in ultimate $150 barrel of oil style. My dad has a 2000 Echo that got 42.11 MPG on our last fill-up. Not only does it look cool, we’ve managed to fit two fishing poles, a tackle box, football, tennis rackets, a chess set and full sized cooler inside with our bags. Even better is the feeling of self-righteousness we get making fun of all the tools tooling around in their huge S.U.V.’s. As far as I’m concerned driving an Expedition is like writing “I am stupid” on your forehead.
We spent Sunday in Grants Pass with my grandpa for Father’s Day. We celebrated by going to Tubby’s, my grandpa’s favorite greasy spoon joint. It was full of seniors drawn to it by the free coffee for people 55+. The cuisine seemed designed to make the diners there tubby as well. Greasy bacon, greasy eggs, greasy fruit even. If you are under 55, I do not recommend Tubby's. If 55+ go for the coffee.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

In Case of Nuclear War...

Click here... Good to know that someone out there will be around to carry on the human race.

Hypermililng Revisted

I drive like a maniac. 75 or higher on I-5. When I filled up for gas last Saturday some quick math (gallons/miles) showed me my 97 Toyota Carolla got 31.76 miles per gallon.

I decided to try a little experiment. I would only drive the speed limit, or under. It was difficult, but I persevered and WOW does it make a difference. I noticed something was going on when I reached 360 miles on my 11 gallon tank and the gas light still hadn't come on. I ended up getting to 400 miles for the first time, and ended up with an astonishing 37.9 mpg! That's an increase of 6.13 mpg or nearly 20%

It's not rocket science, just drive the speed limit.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Hypermiling

Interesting article today on CNN about hypermiling, or maximizing every drop of gasoline you put in your tank. One guy apparently gets 50 mpg out of his Honda. You can learn more about hypermilers at http://www.cleanmpg.com/. Try it out and let me know if it works from you.

Inspired by Zachary from Your Red Room, I've been trying to cut my gas consumption to save the environment and my money. I bike the 7 miles to work about twice a week, and have tried my own hypermiling recently by going only the speed limit. It's been difficult, since I enjoy the speed my '97 Carolla provides, but one nice thing is not having to worry about cops anymore. I'm only half-way through the tank, but I'll let you know how it works out.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The World's Best Game

How many great strategists have lost 6 men from Yakutsk attacking the one lowly Alaskan who happens to keep rolling sixes? I know at least one. Won't happen in chess and that's why I love chess. It is pure strategy. Luck plays little or no part; there is no role of the dice, bad beats, or beginner's luck. The better player wins 9 times in 10.

With apologies to soccer, chess is the true Beautiful Game. Not the board or the pieces, but the game itself. The attacks, combinations, surprises, twists, turns and brilliance it produces are sometimes breathtaking. Bruce from Searching for Bobby Fisher put it best:

What is chess...? Those who play for fun or not at all dismiss it as a game. The ones who devote their lives to it... insist that it's a science. It's neither. Bobby Fischer got underneath it like no one before and found at its center, art.

Well said! If chess is art, then Yahoo chess is the street vendor selling cheap knock-offs of the masterpieces. You can play in any number of rooms against all manner of people. I prefer 5 minute, quick hitting games. Either you checkmate, get checkmated, or somebody's time runs out. No long periods watching someone stare at a board.

You can tell a lot about your opponent by their avatar. Mine is a handsome young man in a 3 piece suit with his hands in his pockets. He looks successful and inviting, confident but with nothing to prove because he does need to. The kinda guy I'd like to share a beer with. Some people go other routes. You can break down the people you meet into three types.

MYSTERIOUS:

Silent and strange. Eschews communication no matter the circumstances. Often they have unusual avatars, like aaaafriger. His/her avatar was an asexual looking young person in a police uniform, waving his/her arms in the air. There appeared to be a yacht in the background. He/she was rated 100 points above me and promptly dispatched me, and just as quickly left the board without even a "good game" (or "gg" in Yahoo chess short hand). Where he she/went I'll never know.
Many have Asian-looking avatars, leading me to suspect that vast legions Chinese are playing chess between cyber-attacks on the Pentagon and NSA.

OBNOXIOUS:
Taunting in victory and cursing in defeat. Make online chess interesting and often R-rated. Often dressed as a roman legionnaire or a cowboy. Misogynistic. Many blame women for losing, saying they were being distracted in various ways.
Notable is Chessterthemolester40, who after beating me three times proclaimed "you were chesstually molested!"

COURTEOUS:
Kindly. Often dressed in flannel, a t-shirt, or a suit. Quick with a "gg", thank you (ty), or good luck (gl). Sometimes will try to engage you in casual conversation, occasionally will ask where you live (raising concerns). Weaker players will allow you to beat them repeatedly, increasing your rating.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Pandora's Box Rocks

For you music lovers I want to introduce you to Pandora. This website is an online radio station that adapts to your style.

The whole premise is ingenious. They call it the Music Genome Project, a vast database of songs cataloged by dozens of different attributes: male or female vocals, instruments, rhythm, and other more complicated things like orchestration and arraignment.

You start with one artist or song, lets say Blink 182. They'll then play for you Blink 182 and other bands with similar characteristics. You get to fine tune your preferences with each song by giving it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. And if you like different styles of music, say classical, classic rock, etc, it's no problem. You can make as many stations as you need.

It's incredibly accurate and sometimes eerie. I swear at one point Pandora just started playing my "most played" list off my I-pod. Its real benefit comes from its ability to introduce to new music. Once it dialed into what I liked, it played a lot of new stuff that I could really groove on.

The Good:
  1. A station that finally plays what you want!
  2. Discover new awesome music.
  3. It's free.
  4. You can find out that you like the song "Rooftops" by Lost Prophets because, "it features electric rock instrumentation, a subtle use of vocal harmony, a vocal-centric aesthetic..." and on and on.

The Bad

  1. You can only skip so many songs per hour because of "licensing" or some other legal mumbo jumbo.
  2. You can't repeat a song you really like over, and over, and over again. Which is how I like to listen to music.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Use or Be Used

I like to listen to the Rich Life on KXL 750. It's a money show, but not your typical one. Its tag line; "accumulating wealth and developing a lifestyle rich in the things money can't buy," highlights the show's bottom line: Money exists to make your life better. Your life doesn't exist for money.

Big words from a guy whose life revolves around money, it's easy to say that when you're loaded right? Well, he gave me a reason to believe his sincerity with some of the most spontaneous and unusual talk radio I've heard.

Towards the end of a segment about markets and investment's the host said "Money isn't important," followed by a long pause. I waited for a commercial, or for him to continue, but he didn't. I wondered what was happening. Then he came back on, in a choked up voice. "Money doesn't matter," he said again.

Fighting through tears, he recounted the story of a friend who had died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Even though the whole purpose of his show is money, he continued, that ultimately doesn't matter. In the blink of an eye your life could be over. He ended with "money, stocks, and all that, it's all crap." and then off to commercial.

Wow. You can hear the preacher tell it but you know its real coming from a man who makes his living selling financial advice. "It's all crap." Not a great way to convince people to buy mutual funds.

I say "amen." It's very true. In the end little does matter, least of all your bank account.

In honor of the Rich Life and its straight talking host I have compiled a top five* list of things that do matter in life:
  1. Family: No matter what else happens they're still blood and that makes them unique.
  2. Friends: God's greatest gift to us.
  3. Faith: Something bigger than us, our hope for tomorrow.
  4. Making a Difference Where you Can: Each of us can help in our own way. Leave the world better than how you found it.
  5. Living Life to the Fullest: Laughing, loving, traveling, giving, experiencing- all the things that make life good!

*I tried to make a top ten list but found it too difficult.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Tide Has Turned (Why I'm a D)

I got my Democratic Ballot in the mail recently, first one I've ever recieved. Up until last month I had been a Republican all my life. I remember sitting up late with my dad in 2000, watching networks call Florida for Gore, then Bush, and then toasting to his victory. How much has changed since then!
Republicans have recently lost three special Congressional elections in districts they had controlled for years, the most recently in heavily conservative Mississippi.
What's behind the change? Lets look at what the typical conservative cares about:
  • Fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget
  • Ethical and moral behavior from elected officials
  • A strong military
  • Anti-abortion

After 7 years of Bush, including 4 with a Republican-controlled Congress we have:

  • Historic budget deficiets and embarassing pork-barrel spending like Sen. Ted Stevens' Bridge to Nowhere.
  • Scandal everywhere you look: Cheney's office outing an undercover CIA agent for questioning Iraq intelligence. Florida Rep Mark Foley diddling interns. Dirty money. Ethics scandals.
  • Our blood and treasure is being drained daily in Iraq.
  • And abortion is still happening!

Not to mention Republican's failure to wean us from foreign oil has enriched our enemies like Venezuela while resulting in sky-rocketing gas prices.

Nor the fact that Republicans have stood in the way of protecting our environment for years.

We gave them power and they abused it. Look where we are now. If the God-fearing people of Mississippi are willing to throw in their lot with the Democratics, far left wackos included, 2008 will not be a good year for the Republican Party.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Project of the Week

It's becoming a weekend habit. I spent an hour today perusing Global Giving. It's hard to choose what to support with so many projects doing amazing things. From providing women in the Sudan with seeds to sow so they can feed their families, to reeducating former child soldiers in Colombia, to planting trees in Haiti, there's something for every taste.

It makes me feel guilty to click past them, like I'm walking by a starving child on the street with a ham sandwich in my pocket (we've all been there). If I were a millionaire I'd fund them all. Until then, I'll be posting a project every week that I find inspiring. If you feel inspired go check it out and give what you can, even if it's just $5 or $10 bucks. If you do, or if there's a project you want me to highlight leave a comment and let me know.

Today's project is the one I finally settled on today. Here's the info from Global Giving:
Turning Waste into Wealth (from Global Giving)
Summary
Engaging 1000 households in solid waste management, thereby improving the living environment for poor people as well as rejuvenating soil and safeguarding agricultural biodiversity.

Project Needs and Beneficiaries
With industrialisation and urbanisation, the quantity of waste is increasing and the composition of waste is becoming more diversified. Today, waste in India is being burnt or dumped; either producing hazardous smoke or leeching into the soil and water. Implementing solid waste management schemes in Kancheepuram District, Tamil Nadu, would mobilise entire communities around the waste-issue, while offering a simple solution for how to turn "waste into wealth" - e.g. vermicomposting and recycling.

Activities
We will implement solid waste management schemes where the community is mobilised and learns the importance of segregating their household waste. The waste will be collected and processed through e.g. composting, biogas, recycling, etc.

How You Can Help
$25 - Train one Green Friend, garbage collector, to mobilize and increase household segregation of waste in towns
$50 - Provide a Green Friend, garbage collector, proper uniform and protective gear to ensure the safety of the worker
$100 - Conduct awareness campaign for poor, rural communities on the benefits of solid waste management for public health, sanitation and the environment

Go check it out and change the world!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Food.

Breakfast: Blueberry shake, peppermint tea, power bar.
Lunch: Avocado salad.
Dinner: Two bowls of fruity pebbles and the last hunk of my Tillamook cheddar cheese.

As the state of Oregon would ask my students on their standardized tests, which of these is out of place?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Life is too short. Stop being awkward.

Sometime, especially around people I don't know well, I can be awkward. Things might not appear awkward, but I feel awkward. I don't know what to say or worry what people will think of me. All you introverts probably know what I'm saying.

One thing that's bummed me out lately is my lack of rapport with my collegues. My school is small, very small. There is one math teacher, one science teacher, one for PE and social studies (me) and two language arts teachers. Things have always been cordial and professional, but never felt like I really clicked. The lunch room jokes and hijinks went on with me as a bystander. And that's no fun.

The other day I had had enough. I think a lot about how it will be on my death bed; what I'll look back and regret, and what I'll say I'm glad I did. Death Bed Me is my wisest self. He sees the worth of actions and things stripped to their core, free of the day-to-day emotion that colors my judgement. Death Bed Me knows I have nothing to lose. He knows that becuase he's about to die, so he wonders why I make big deals out of small things and neglect the big things. I knew he would say, "Why the heck did you spend so much time being awkward. Just be yourself and love people!"

What did I have to lose? It's May. I've been with these people since August. Things should be more comfortable!

So at home I put on my white board among my goals "Be the best teacher/coworker ever. " And if you don't think that the power of positive thinking is real, it is.

Long story short things have been great. People I felt might have disliked me only a few weeks ago I know spend lunch laughing with. People have come by my room just to shoot the breeze. It's amazing how a little self confidence can change your life.

So ask your Death Bed Me what he/she would change and get some self confidence of your own. What do you have to lose?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Debt Sucks!!!

It's not sexy, adventerous, or particularly world-changing, but living well means knowing how to manage your money.

The enemy of your money is debt. It's everywhere on the news these days: foreclosures, bankruptcy, crushing credit card debt. Anyway you cut it debt is no good, but credit cards are particularly insidious with their late fees, endless minimum payments, and rocketing rates if you miss one payment even by one day.

You might have heard these numbers before but they are worth repeating:
  • A typical credit card has an interest rate of about 13%. Try getting that in the stock market.
  • At 13% it would take you about 11 years to pay off a $5,000 balance making on the minimum payments. You would pay nearly $2,000 in interest.
  • The average American credit card debt is $9,200.

Including mortages, cars and student loans it all adds up. I have plenty of it myself with credit card debt and student loans. Last year I nearly became one of those credit card horror stories you hear about. I had about $10,000 on the card, but at a reasonable 5.99% percent. I was one day late on the payment and I called the company and begged the representative to accept my payment via phone. She assured me that my rate would not increase, a point I pressed her on repeatedly.

Much to my surprise then, when I recieved my next statement my rate had rocketed to 24.99%! There were nearly $200 in finance charges alone. Just in interest! I called the company right away and told them I was assured my rate would not change. To their credit (ha) they reviewed the phone call (yes, they really do record those) and changed my rate back, but had it stayed I would have been in trouble.

So if your crushed with debt what can you do? Aside from going on Deal or No Deal or calling one of those shady debt relief hotlines, it may seem dire. But there is hope! And its name is Dave Ramsey. Check him out right now. I love this guy, just love him. He has a radio show dealing with debt reduction and money management that airs here in Portland and around the nation, and he knows his stuff plain and simple.

To get out of debt he advocates the debt snowball. It works like this, list your debts from smallest to biggest and interest rates be darned. Cut back on ALL needless expenses; the gym, netflicks, Starbucks, and pay down the SMALLEST debt first. Free from that payment, you attack the next smallest amount until one by one your debts are gone. Using the debt snowball I've paid off $6,000 since January!

I love one of his sayings, "Live like no one else so you can live like no one else." That means eating rice and beans to get out of debt, so when you're debt free you can use all that extra income to really live. I keep thinking about the day I'm debt free and instead of giving my money to a big bank I can spend it as I see fit. Someday I'd like a house, a new car, to see the spots on the globe I've missed. I'd also like to support foundations like Global Giving more. Giving is something Ramsey is big on, he's not about accumulating money for money's sake.

So check out his website, stop living past your limits, and pay for things in cash! Leave me comments and let me know what you think.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

It's Mother's Day, time to save the world.

Usually I associate Mother's Day with flowers and chocolate, but this year I'm getting my wonderful mother (I have the best mom in the world) something different. While on a late night on-line chess binge yesterday I came across a link to Global Giving.

This amazing website connects donors with great projects all around the globe, ranging from environmental change to hunger relief to education. One cool feature is that it tells you exactly what your money will do. For $20 this project will provide clean drinking water to one Bangladeshi child for a year. Give $250 to the same project and you will contruct latrines for five families (I thank God for our sewer system every day).

Right now they have a Mother's Day giving campaign relating to women. So instead of flowers I made a donation in my mom's name to free one Nepalese girl from being shipped off by her family to work in the city. In Nepal, poor rural families will sell their daughters as young as 7 into servitude for $40 or so. As you can imagine, there is a lot of abuse.

The group I gave to uses donations to pay for the girl's education, and provides the family with a pig as compensation for the lost money. Everybody wins. Girl gets to stay home and gets an education. Family gets a pig. Mom gets a card that I personalized from Global Giving telling her that I loved her enough to free a child in her name!

When I woke up this morning did I think I'd being freeing a Nepalese girl from bonded labor? No. That's Global Giving's genius. It allows anyone with the internet and a credit card to make a difference anywhere in the world. And you don't have to give a lot to do something amazing.

Make mom happy and see what you can do today.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Body/Mind/Soul

I believe we're made up of those three things, and that you need to nourish each one to live well and be happy. As Juvenal said: A healthy mind in healthy body. And no that's not a rapper, that's Juvenal the Roman poet and satrist. If you haven't heard about him you should check him out here.

In my quest to improve my life I have attempted to follow his maxim and have created the following schedule for my mornings being unveiled for the first time here:

5:30-5:55: Prayer, reflection, and reading the Bible
5:55-6:10: A delicious breakfast
6:10-6:40: Cardio, preferably riding my bike or running if my tires are flat (like they are now). That's as good as a cup of coffee to get your day going.
6:40-6:55: Weights. I have a pair of 25lbs dumb bells I bought from Wal-Mart. Between those, sit-ups, and push-ups it doesn't take me long.
6:55-7:05: Study French. I got the Rosetta Stone for Christmas 2 years back. It's actually pretty decent, but I hardly use it.
7:05-7:20: Shower/Dress/Leave for work. I'm a guy, it doesn't take me long.

I think it's pretty complete but I'd love to hear any comments, modifications, or your own morning goals.

Now for the sad confession. I've had a list like this since August, and have followed about one in ten days. What is keeping me from speaking French, getting in shape, and generally feeling great?

A lack of self-discipline. I don't know if you're like me or not, but I LOVE sleep. And I always love to watch hilarious shows like the Office. Then when the Office gets over at 9:30 instead of sleeping I'll do something like play on-line chess. Or check Facebook. Or play on-line chess and check Facebook all while watching 30 Rock becuase I was too lazy to get up and turn the TV off.

Yeah, I just described my night tonight. But guess what. Tomorrow I'm getting up at 5:30, and it's going to be great.

Cheer me on. Changing myself before (as) I change the world. More on changing the world soon.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Life is short, start living!

Life is short. That is the conclusion I arrive at when my mind starts to wander. Growing up I never wanted to live the typical middle class American life: go to school, get a good job, get married, have kids, retire and die. A futile lemming march into oblivion. I set for myself a more ambitious goal: to change the world!
But nonetheless society set me upon its course and this course I have followed thus far. Oh, I tried to deviate and my life hasn't been cookie cutter. I was the front man for a Christian rock band, but it turns out I have a horrible voice. We played 15 odd shows one summer, some good, some bad, and some that were the most embarassing moments of my life.
I also lived in Ecuador for a year, and that led to me starting and failing my own tourism business. Where am I now? I am a 24 year-old middle school social studies teacher. It's my first year, and to be honest, 90% of the time I love it. For one, I'm a history nerd and I get to talk about the Roman Republic and Robert E. Lee's brilliance on the battlefield on a daily basis. The best part though is the kids. Kids are special, and childhood is an amazing time. Their view of the world is innocent, and exciting, and often very goofy. They are very enjoyable to be around.
So what is this blog about? I'm happy where I'm at in life, being a teacher. I wanted to be a teacher since I was a junior in high school. I've also wanted to be a CIA agent, diplomat, billionaire entreprenuer, and travel writer. Though I'm happy WHERE I am in life I'm not happy with HOW I am living.
Let me catalogue my discontent:
  1. Often I DO NOT change the world for the better though I am given ample opportunity every day.
  2. I am fat. I always made fun of my dad for being fat and now I am fat. 6'3, 200 pounds.
  3. I have neglected my body and am out of shape. The cause of the aforementioned chubbiness.
  4. I fritter away days in a tired haze becuase I refuse to get 8 hours of sleep. I spend too much time watching T.V. or on the internet.
  5. I have exactly zero friends in the town I'm living in becuase I haven't taken the time to integrate myself.

These are just a few things I'm going to fix. So this blog is about living life to its fullest. Now I know where I don't want to be, I know where I'm going. And that's where I'm heading today. April 29, 2008. God Bless