Friday, July 30, 2010

. . .

"Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained."

- Marie Curie

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Subway Adventures

"Show me $40, and I'll give you $80!"

My ears perk up and I look down the subway car, searching for the face that belongs to the booming voice filling the car. The crowd shifts and I see a middle-aged fellow sitting about four rows from me, holding a tray in front of him. On the tray (or book or something) sits three green bottle caps (from Sprite bottles, most likely), and the man is busy moving them back and forth, picking them up, sliding them around, spinning the tray occasionally.

I'm confused as to what he's doing until I see a little ball of masking tap rolled up beneath one of the lids, and I realize he is playing one of those test-your-eyesight games thats played on the JumboTron at sports arenas while people wait for the game to begin.

Intrigued, I watch as he tries to lure the passengers around him into playing his game. They aren't having any of it. Smart people.

I can't figure out how this guy is making money. I mean, I'm sure that's what he is doing, but I can't figure out his business model (as no one is taking the bait). So I keep watching. My intent stare must have caught his attention, because he moves the caps around again and then motions across the car for me to pick the correct cap, trying to get me to play. So far it has been really easy and I have guessed the location of the tape every time, so I smile warily and point across the subway at the side of the tray where I know the ball is located.

Oops. I should have known better. He takes this as an invitation and moves to a seat much closer to me. Not what I had intended, though now the fun is much closer to my seat, so I'm not really complaining. He is loud and entertaining, and everyone watches his move down the aidle and his subsequent attempts to get me to play his game.

I decide to amuse him until I can figure out how he is making money. I guess the correct location of the tape ball a couple times. Then he pulls out a wad of $20s (there had to be at least $300 or $400 there) and hands me a few.

I don't know what to do. Why is he handing me money? I mean, I know he isn't just giving it to me for the fun of it.

"There's forty dollars. Now show me forty dollars and it's all yours."

Just show him forty dollars? Like, wave it in front of his face for a second or two? I don't have that kind of cash on me anyway, so I say No thanks! and hand it back. I pretend to just not be interested, but I actually have no idea what is going on yet. Seeing that I'm not going to play, he moves down one seat to prey on the friends I'm with.

My friends and I continue to guess the location of the tape ball correctly. Other people on the car jump in occasionally. Another older man with a portly belly and bad B.O. joins in and lays down forty dollars. He gets it wrong. Shouts and groans erupt around the subway car.

"Nah man! It's the one on the right!"
"The middle one, man!"

This is so entertaining that I can't keep from laughing. The man tries to entice me to play again. Nope. Not happening. The older man who lost $40 previously comes back with another wad of cash.

"I'll put down $100 for $300," he shouts gruffly. Jeers and shouts of appreciation follow.

He picks the wrong one. Again. This time, I think the guy's an idiot. Was he not watching at all when the man was mixing the caps around?

The man moves from friend to friend until he settles on Sona, the soft-hearted one, and Jace, one of the only boys in our group. He mixes around the caps and all, and then hands Sona $80.

"Show me $40, and it's yours."

She shakes her head. We all know the ball is under the middle cap, but we aren't playing.

"Is this your wife?" he asks Jace. We all laugh. The man, thinking he's caught on to something, taunts and teases Jace about being a man and putting up the money and whatnot, until Jace finally caves. Out comes his wallet and two twenty dollar bills.

Sona, looking petrified, picks the middle cap.

The man lifts the middle cap, and ... NO TAPE BALL. Jace loses his $40.

I'm still laughing. What a delightful scam! I'm sure that in the ruckus of pulling out money and whatnot, the man switched the caps around. It wouldn't take much.

We've already missed our stop for South Street, so we get off at the next one. The other guy with bad B.O. who lost all the money previously keeps really encouraging Jace to try and win his money back. "Just one more game!"

Second light bulb moment: That guy is in cahoots with the game host!!!!!! Of course! That's why he was so intent on playing the game and then made such stupid mistakes and didn't seem to mind losing all that money. It was his job to get the game rolling and encourage others to play. Really, not a bad business model when you think about it. And judging by the very large wad of cash in the man's hand, it must be a pretty lucrative job as well. Nothing like cheating an unsuspecting tourist out of large sums of money!

All in all, the most eventful and entertaining subway experience I have had yet. It'll be hard to top.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Only one week left...

Today a corps member described institute as the most fun they never want to have again.

In some ways, I would agree. I am on the verge of being burnt out with the late nights and intense work environment. And I'm almost ready to not work in the same place that I live and live with the same people I work with. That can be stressful.

But I am NOT ready to say goodbye to my coworkers (though hopefully it wont be a permanent parting). I wish I could work with these guys for the rest of forever. I really love and appreciate each and every one of my fellow OCs, and I am going to miss seeing them all the time. And I feel like I've learned so much from them in the short time I've gotten to know them. Hooray for making friends that help you grow as a person!

And this internship has been such a growing experience professionally as well. I used to think I was an organized person, but that's before I was introduced to Action Plans and Project Plans. Basically, my action plan now is like my old planner on steroids. It's amazing how much more in control of my time I feel now that I have this awesome tool at my disposal. And the method that Teach For America uses to plan for projects will be really helpful when I start planning things for the Student Film Production Club in the fall.

Also thanks to this internship, I now know my strengths and weaknesses as a leader/student/employee. For example, I am good at organizing, thoroughly planning things, being creative and vision-setting, but I am definitely not very good at following through with projects once they start (nor am I good at finding potential loop-holes in the way my projects run so that I can improve them). However, thanks to my very insightful manager and the way TFA takes the professional development of their employees so seriously, I now know my tendencies (both in work and in life) and feel really prepared to use these tools (and work on my shortcomings) in the fall.

So no, I'm really not ready to leave this bubble of friends, self-improvement, and constant inspiration. Not yet. I'm not ready to leave this almost unreal world in which everyone is passionately united around the common goal of closing the achievement gap and ensuring educational equity for all children in the United States. I'm not ready to leave a place where you can see that passion burn in people's eyes and where people care so much that they lose sleep and money and social lives for this cause.

But I must leave in a week, and I accept that. All I can really hope for is that in exactly one year, I will be back here at institute, not as an OC but as a corps member, attending teacher boot camp so that I too can fight for educational equity.

"One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education." - Teach For America

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

One of the most inspiring poems I have ever read...

You sent me a post card
From your European vacation
That you got for graduation
When you arrived in Portugal.
I get it in my mailbox
At 6:50 to a school bus
a thousand pounds
Of books and hopes
Of Do Now dreams
Of future things
That I now fight
for my students
to own.
In my bag
Lugging now with me
A thousand pounds
of fears and worries
Of urgency and a step that's hurried
Because time is now more precious kept
Than it has ever been.
I gaze off into sandy beaches
Of the world's farther reaches
Wondering what that life teaches
And thinking to myself--
I wish you were here.
I wish you were here
So you could see
Around the closed doors
And closed eyes
That make my students compromise
Dreams that many of us
Took for granted
Dreams that many of us were handed
Gift wrapped
Poverty slapped
Lacking for books,
Not for brains
Worn seams and stains
Walking home alone in the rain
Every single day.
I wish you were here
So you could see
The birth
the worth
the risk to dream
in the dark
from "I'm stupid"
to I'm not only smart
but I am ready to start
because I've got a plan.
That sheepish smile
that says "I get it"
that makes your insides feel
like if you let it
they might just light on fire
with pride
they might just ignite
and you'd glow from the inside
oh how
... and I might have been envious
Of your endless summer
But at 5:45 I cannot stop and wonder
What city you are in
Or what things you've photographed,
when we see our students map futures
Instead of following maps.
I will no longer wonder
If you are sleeping in
Because the time is now my friends
to begin.
So when people ask us,
What we are doing with our summer
Who we are going to be
What we are going to make
You tell them
With pride my friends
At any dinner party
At any double date
We make
Eyes wide
With futures now newly considered
We make minds wide
With potential dreams that defy fate
We make mind's eyes perceive
future schemes
That even the grandest of challenges
can no longer negate.
Say always now, "I Can"
Doctors, lawyers, vets, architects--
Together we make
Hope appear.
How I wish
You had been here.

-- 2007 corps member poem read at Closing Ceremonies

More of the Magic Gardens

Here are more pictures of the Magic Gardens, which I promised to upload a while ago.

*photo courtesy of Julian Broudy

*photo courtesy of Julian Broudy

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reading Terminal Market

Last Friday, a few of us desperately needed to get out of 1300 for the afternoon to stay sane, and so after work we decided to go to Reading (pronounced Redding) Terminal Market in the Center City area.

We decided to walk there (about two miles), looking forward to stretching our legs after being cooped up in the same building all week. After one mile in the intense heat, however, we were less than enthused.

To break up the monotony and pain of walking two and a half miles in 90% humidity, we stopped to admire some really interesting buildings along the way. This old hotel is my especial favorite. Apparently it has been vacant for at least twenty or thirty years (when Kelcey's mom went to school at Temple, the building was already abandoned), and the gorgeous, interesting architecture is covered with equally interesting graffiti.

We finally found the terminal, squeezed in among lots of other tall buildings in the downtown area.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the outside, but once inside, it was like love at first sight.

Everything was homemade this and homemade that. There were old-fashioned soda fountains next to raw fish and shrimp laying out on boxes of cracked ice next to booths of fresh produce. There was an old bookstore, a bakery, a chocolate shop, and a hand-made jewelry shop. It was like heaven.

To celebrate this beautiful place, everyone decided to get desert. Most people went for the ice cream, but I found this great little Middle-Eastern shop and bought fresh-squeezed fruit juice (banana, strawberry, pineapple-- the suggestion of the guy behind the counter). I also got a piece of deeeelicious baklava (pictured below), and I felt quite cultured.

If I had more time, I would love to go back and get breakfast there sometime. I'll have to add that to my list of things to do (though too bad I don't really have any more free time left).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

This Just In... (!!!!!!)

Remember the four railroads companies in the Monopoly game? Remember how one of them is called Reading Railroad? Well, the name is actually pronounced Redding Railroad, not Reading (as in reading a book).


I learned this today, and I still can't get over it. REDDING!!! What?!

It's like when you first learn that the Emancipation Proclamation never actually freed any slaves or that Christopher Columbus wasn't really the first person to discover the Americas. Makes me wonder what else from my childhood is completely inaccurate.

My life has been irrevocably altered.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The New Breakfast of Champions

I love Cheerios. Those little golden donuts of wholesome goodness have recently become my favorite snack food and my new best friends when I'm trying to stay awake and energized at 11 p.m.

It all started when, at the beginning of institute, I brought a ziplock bag to the cafeteria one day and filled up my little baggie with Cheerios. I figured that I really need breakfast to survive the summer but I knew that I would never be waking up early enough to get to the cafeteria before 8 am. Not happening when I work until 12 a.m. and don't start working again until 2 p.m. So naturally, I started filling my bag of Cheerios on a regular basis (along with taking a banana). A girl's got to eat.

This brilliant plan recently hit a snag when I read in the weekly E-Blast TFA sends to corps members (and staff) that the Temple dining hall kindly requests we stop taking food out of their cafeteria. They basically told us that they need to serve large numbers of people every day and cannot do that when we take all of their food with us when we leave.

So I guess the dining hall crew doesn't appreciate my resourcefulness very much. And in hindsight, I probably could have been more subtle about my food-hoarding tendencies. So now I take less food (just one piece of fruit a day) and fill a bowl with Cheerios and take that to my table before putting it in my ziplock bag (instead of filling my bag to the brim at the cereal station).

I feel that this is an appropriate compromise. I'm not taking as much as I used to, but I'm still getting enough for a healthy midday snack. Besides, other people don't seem to like Cheerios (no one ever wants any when I offer), so I feel that it's acceptable for me to take a little with me. At least I'm not pilfering the popular stuff, like Captain Crunch.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Fourth of July

I feel that this is important to blog about, not because it was a very epic day by any means, but because if this blog is going to be a true reflection of my time spent in Philadelphia this summer, I need to include the Fourth of July.

My adventure started with a longer-than-expected bus ride.

Being a rather paranoid traveler when it comes to public transportation, I had researched online the correct bus route to the museum before I set out from 1300. I knew exactly what to do to get to where I wanted to go (i.e. Get on Broad Street subway line, get off at City Hall, walk across to the north side of JFK Blvd, where I wait for bus 32, which will take me to the museum). Hey, knowledge is power... especially in a new city where getting off at the wrong stop can sometimes be dangerous.

So anyway, I knew where I was going. Waiting for the bus was actually rather enjoyable, because even though it was swelteringly hot outside, I got to look at Philadelphia's City Hall building while I waited. Yay!

The reflection of City Hall on a nearby building.

The bus finally arrived and I hopped on. After a couple stops, a seat finally opened up (it was a very crowded bus) and I took a seat. I could now hear the conversation between the two girls behind me, and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to eavesdrop on the gossip being exchanged (something about a baby daddy and "Nuh-uh. She didn't!" and prom-- so fascinating!).

My entertainment sadly got off the bus a few stops later, so I'll never find out what happened after the cheating boyfriend approached her in the crowded auditorium. I'd like to imagine that the girl slapped that boy silly for thinking he could come back to her after what he did, but judging from her remarks, she just might have taken him back. Wish I knew.

A couple stops later, I started to wonder where we are. Remember how I had memorized the bus route I was taking to the museum? I definitely didn't remember this many stops on the route. Come to think about it, why are we heading north?

I start to panic a little on the inside. Did I just completely miss my stop? I was so engrossed in the story behind me that its entirely possible. But we're headed north? That doesn't happen until much further up on the map (unless my scale is way off), in which case I'd better get off NOW because the farther north we go, the less I would feel comfortable being alone in a neighborhood I don't know.

I look around. There are a few other passengers shuffling nervously. This strikes me as odd. And then I happen to see, through some trees, the museum. But we are definitely on the wrong side of that museum by now.

I stand up and make my way to the front.

"Um, excuse me, sir?"

No response. I decide that my timid voice is ineffective in this situation.

"Hey," I say much louder, "doesn't this bus stop at the art museum?"

If I hadn't been in a panic over that fact that I was quickly headed in the wrong direction on a vehicle that is out of my control, I would have found the bus driver's look of dismay very entertaining.

"Oh god. I missed your stop."

He then pulls over to the side of the street and opens the doors.

"If any of you are getting off at the museum, I missed your stop," he calls out. "But you can just get off the bus here, walk two blocks that way and over the bridge, and you are right there."

I get off, laughing. Now that everything is figured out, I don't actually mind that the guy missed my stop, because he missed the stop for more than half the other people on the bus too. So we all get off, almost twenty of us, and walk back toward the museum.

The best part of the detour was that it took us through a neighborhood in Philly that I would never have gotten to see otherwise. It was a lower middle-class neighborhood, but the streets and houses were well kept. Being a holiday (and a Sunday), everyone in the neighborhood was outside, having one giant block party. The people who lived there had blocked off almost all the streets with tape and parked cars so there was no traffic, and everyone was playing basketball, grilling, and (in some places) dancing in the middle of the street. Parents were sitting on porch steps, music was blaring, and kids were shouting and running around.

I wanted to be there and be a part of that community so badly. It made me really wish (not for the first time) that I had grown up in a neighborhood where we actually knew our neighbors and hung out with the surrounding kids, etc. They all looked like they were just having the best time, and I would gladly have traded a free concert by some big band (any band, for that matter) for an afternoon with them. But none of them knew my ponderings nor asked me to join their giant family for the day, so I continued to walk on (probably looking a little forlorn).

Soon I came to the bridge, crossed over the bridge, and approached the museum from the back.

Approaching the Museum of Art from the "wrong" side

Philadelphia skyline (from the bridge)

It actually turned out really well that the bus driver forgot my stop and that I approached the park from that particular side, because it just so happened that I approached the crowd on the exact same side as where my friend (and fellow OC) Matya was standing. We were already planning to meet up, and so instead of having to go through an intense ordeal of "Stage right or your right?," "Where?!" and "I'm waving and wearing blue," we had a just very short phone conversation followed by a pleasantly quick "Oh, I see you!." It worked out perfectly, and I'm very grateful for that.

We were really close to the stage... The production wasn't
big enough to have large TV screens or anything like that,
but that didn't matter, since we were close enough to the
stage to see everything pretty well.

And then after all the bands played... FIREWORKS!

Sharing fireworks with over 500,000 strangers = a beautiful moment

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

. . .

"All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come."
-Victor Hugo

Love This!

“Even those the regime targeted, like women, minorities, intellectuals, and writers, had something to be thankful for: the realization of their own hitherto untapped powers: if a woman’s hair, or a film by Fellini or Beyzaii, a book by Farrokhzad, could destabilize the political system to such an extent that they had to be eliminated, then was this not indicative of how strong these targets were and how fragile and insecure their oppressors?”
Azar Nafisi’s Things I’ve Been Silent About

. . .

"And now the forces marshaled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning hammerblows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.

And this I believe: That the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: The freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: Any idea, religion, or [people who limit or destroy] the individual. This is what I am and what I am about."

-John Steinbeck

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Teacher Game Night

Teacher Game Night, one of the events that I've been working on throughout the course of institute, was tonight, and I would say that overall, it was a success. I got everything done and completed that I wanted to have done and completed by the event, and the Resource Room Specialists (my fellow coworkers and current teachers) really pulled through for me and completed their games in time to present them.

Teacher Game Night
1. An event held to teach corps members various review games that they can use to prepare for all the testing they will be doing in Week 5 (next week).
2. An event held to also teach corps members review games that they can use in their classrooms over the next two years.
3. A really good excuse to put out candy and temporarily distract corps members from their work.

Kristen and Sarah (both Resource Room Specialists)
explaining their fun review games to corps members.

Now that it's over, I laugh at the fact that I was even the tiniest bit stressed about this little event. I mean, look at it. It covered only two tables. The original event was supposed to be considerably bigger, but I couldn't get anyone to volunteer to present games because everyone is so busy during this time of institute. So I had to readjust my expectations, which turned out just fine. No biggie. The corps members that did stop by seemed to be very happy with the games, which is all that matters.

Snack & Chat also happened tonight at the same time as Teacher Game Night. This event, however, is a recurring event that I am in charge of every Tuesday and Thursday, so it ended up not being very stressful to have both events happening at the same time.

Seated at the Snack & Chat table was our first "chatter"
of the night, Emily. Here at institute, she's in charge
of all the School Operations Managers (the people that help
run the individual school sites), and she's amazing. It was great
having her there to talk for an hour about her experiences teaching.

Side Note: Please admire my awesome sign making skills in all the above pictures. Each sign took me at least three hours of work-- most of which was spent cutting out those infernal letters. Haha.. infernal. I just really wanted to use that word. But seriously though... those letters took forever.

Because what you can't tell from the pictures is that each letter has three layers of brightly colored paper on them. It looks really neat when put on black paper, but it's soooooo time-consuming. To make them, I'd print each letter on bright orange and then cut them all out (all 116 of them), leaving a thin layer of orange around the letters. Then I glued every single letter to bright green paper, and cut them out again. Repeat with bright pink paper, and you've got 116 letters that now need to be placed on signs. Gah! I am going to be a very good sign-maker after all this is over, and I really hope that's a transferable skill.

. . .

"I don't see people. I see potential."

- Molly Maldonado (my manager), during a conversation in which I was eaves-dropping

A Day in the (Institute OC) Life

Wow. I really am behind on my blogging. Life here is just so busy. I mean, I'm busy during the school year and all, but there blogging is my welcome escape from life and responsibilities.

Here, I just physically don't have the time to do everything. The list of things on my personal list (vs. professional work list) has gotten really long, and it has stayed really long for the last week and a half because I just can't seem to get to everything.

Here's a look into my life right now....


10:30 a.m. - Drag myself out of bed after hitting snooze for at least half an hour. That's going to be a really hard habit to break when I get back to school.

11:00 a.m. - Go to the gym, which doesn't open until 11 a.m. most mornings. Stupid summer hours.

12:00 noon - Go home, shower, eat a banana for breakfast.

1:00 p.m. - Promptly head to the dining hall for lunch, where I swipe at least one banana and refill my bag of Cheerios (for snacks and more breakfasts).

2:00 p.m. - Start work. Work on individual projects. I'm planning Teacher Game Night (where presenters show corps members different games they can use for review before tests) and I'm constantly holding Snack & Chats (where corps members can talk to experienced teachers about their years of teaching, etc). My numerous jobs keep me busy until the Resource Room opens.

5:00 p.m. - Resource Room is open for business! Right about now is when it's time to put away personal projects and man the front desk. There are usually two Operations Coordinators sitting at circulations desks 1 & 2, and if there aren't two on a busy day, the line to check out resources gets craaaazy long.

7:00 p.m. - I usually get an hour-long dinner break at seven. There's a ten minute walking commute across campus to the dining hall, which isn't bad except on hot days when Sun and Humidity gang up on you. Dinner isn't anything to complain about (though it's no freshman cafeteria at OU), and I've made friends with Ms. Angela, the older woman who works behind the ice cream counter and calls absolutely everyone "baby," "honey," "mama" and "daddy" (she only differentiates gender, but not age).

"Wha'choo want, baby?"
"How's that, daddy?"
"Hey baby! Wha'choo want, mama?"

She's the nicest lady. Ever.

8:00 p.m. - Go back to work. Try to get individual project work done when there's a lull in the action. This is impossible to do on Wednesday nights, when the corps members are working frantically to finish the three or four lesson plans they have due the next morning (a huge undertaking, especially for those who are new to lesson planning),

12:00 a.m. - The Resource Room closes. We used to close at 11 p.m. and work on closing things until midnight. But, due to the overwhelming response from corps members on the mid-institute survey, we are now open for another hour every night to help people get the resources they need to be better teachers. This means we get more hours, but we also stay up later. I haven't decided yet which is better, since we just started this new extended-hours schedule yesterday.

1:00 a.m. - We work for one more hour after the Resource Room closes, checking in returned materials and counting beads for the "Represent Your School" contest. We also have a team debrief meeting where we talk about interactions we had with corps members that day, both good and bad. Usually we use this time to process situations in which a corps member yelled at us (which, sadly, happens more often than you'd think). It can be very therapeutic and is very necessary for our health and happiness.

3:00 a.m.-ish - After getting off work at 1 am, it's practically impossible to go right to sleep, even though we are all exhausted. We need time to unwind. I usually check emails, call home, and blog. Sometimes a bunch of us OCs will sit in the hallway and chat, since a lot of us have pretty much the same schedule.

I love living so close to everyone, because we've really gotten to know each other over the last month. But sometimes, at least for me, it's also very necessary to have alone time. I need time to myself to refresh, and when I don't get that, I get cranky and sad. Often I find myself calling my mom at 3 a.m., crying about something stupid (sorry Mom), because I'm too tired to realize that I'm upset over a trivial issue that will magically get fixed by going to sleep (a.k.a. an imaginary problem exacerbated in my mind by mild insomnia). Love those nights the most.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sharing My Umbrella

I got to share my umbrella with a complete stranger today. I've always wanted to do that. You laugh, but I'm serious. I've always wanted to be the one with an umbrella and save someone from getting wet by sharing with them.

Today I had dinner at 7 p.m., like usual. I noticed that the sky was looking a little brooding, so I grabbed one of the extra large umbrellas that we have hiding in the Resource Room for some reason (don't know why they're there, but I'm happy we have them!). Since we've been here, it has actually rained quite a bit (in my mind at least). And it's never just a happy little drizzle. I'd describe the rain here more as ten minute torrential downpours that come and leave in less than a minute.

I knew that the rain was coming, but I still really needed to go get food. So I decided that instead of making the super long walk to the dining hall (that would be closed by the time I got there anyway), I would go get Jimmy Johns (where a deeeeeelicious turkey sandwich awaited!).

So I borrow my friend (and coworker) Geales' "adventure shoes" (her Chacos) for the trek, since none of my shoes were up to the task, and, arming myself with an umbrella, I step outside into the rain.

It's not bad for a bit. I get about half a block away in constant but bearable rain that comes down wonderfully perpendicular to the earth. Totally manageable.

But then it starts to pour. In an instant, the patter turns into a mini drum line on my umbrella. Then the rain changes angles. Rain at a 45 degree angle = not great for white skirt I'm wearing.

I run for a tree. I figure that maybe I'll just wait it out under said tree, which is catching most of the water. But then I hear a thunder clap that is waaaaay too close, and I decide that perhaps under a tree isn't the smartest option after all.

Just as I decide to run for it (another long two blocks), a girl runs up and stands beneath my tree. She is a little wet, but not too much, so I figure she just came out of a nearby building. I ask her where she is headed. She mentions a building in my direction, and seeing as my umbrella would do her some good and keep her from getting soaked, I offer to share my rain shield. She thanks me and accepts the invitation.

So we set off, two complete strangers under one giant red-and-white-striped umbrella, dodging giant rain puddles (pointless) and jumping at the sudden thunder claps (too close for comfort). I am having a great time.

We chat about why we are both caught in the rain (She just got off work at the Temple Visitor Center) as we wait for the light on Broad Street to change. Then we cross the large four lane street and part ways at the nearest building awning. The rain is still pounding down, so I jog the rest of the way to Jimmy Johns for my turkey sandwich.

Of course once I've ordered my food, the rain stops. But since I don't trust the weather here, I take my food To Go and bring it back to my room to eat, just in case the sky decides to throw another Super-Soaker party in the next thirty minutes. I can't expect to have such good company under my umbrella on the way back.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On Conservation . . .

"We of an older generation can get along with what we have, though with growing hardship; but in your full manhood and womanhood you will want what nature once so bountifully supplied and man so thoughtlessly destroyed; and because of that want you will reproach us, not for what we have used, but for what we have wasted...So any nation which in its youth lives only for the day, reaps without sowing, and consumes without husbanding, must expect the penalty of the prodigal whose labor could with difficulty find him the bare means of life."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chillingly Beautiful Photos

Following random link after random link (the best way to discover things on the internet), I found this girl's photo blog----> Vibish Inspiration Hub. While a photographer herself (she has her own website), she maintains this blog to put up photos taken by other people that inspire or move her in some way.

I want a photo blog! (Can I add another page onto this blog, I wonder?)

My favorite part about the blog is that after browsing through at least ten or so pages of photos that she loves, I really feel like I have a pretty good idea of what elements in a photo catch her eye. And I feel like I can almost imagine what her personality might be like.

Her blog has awesome, inspiring, and often chillingly beautiful photographs that she re-blogs from other places. Some of them are so incredible!

. . .

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

-Theodore Roosevelt

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Always Eventful

Things never get boring here at institute. Tonight six of us on our hall were still awake at 1:30 a.m., having a deep discussion about love and long-distance relationships (etc), when the fire alarm went off.

In a way, that alarming, abrasive sound was my savior, because the conversation was getting uncomfortable. People were sharing a lot about their relationships, and while I enjoyed listening to others and thinking about how their anecdotes and insights related to my own life, I didn't feel comfortable sharing my own story with them. Which is silly, because even though we've only been together for four weeks, that time frame in a camp-like environment is enough to get to know most everyone on a deep enough level to feel comfortable to share.

My mom once told me that knowledge breeds contempt. The more you talk about yourself, the more people can find to dislike or hold you in contempt for. And right or wrong, that information has considerably shaped the way I deal with my life without realizing it. I don't tell people very many things about me. I wont volunteer information about my family, my relationships, or my dreams/hopes for the future without feeling that I know you really well first. Really really well.

But I don't think I actually realized this about myself until today. It's like when I was in high school and my volleyball coach remarked to me on a road trip that my dad is a quiet man. Not a huge remark. Just one made in passing, while we were talking about parents who she knew well and didn't know well, etc. But until that moment, I actually never realized that my dad was a quiet man in contrast with the other dads I knew. Which should have been obvious, because he most definitely is very reserved around most people.

And this was that exact same kind of situation. I never realized how much I don't volunteer personal information until one of the guys mentioned this to me. He asked me why I wasn't joining in and sharing my story. I guess I mumbled something about not having anything to say. Which is wrong. I felt like I had a lot to say about long-distance relationships, etc, since more than one of my relationships have gone through that phase. But I had nothing I wanted to add, because I didn't want people to know about my life. At all.

Thanks to the fire alarm, I was saved from dwelling on this very bizarre, unexpected moment of self-discovery (when things that are glaringly obvious to other people suddenly become apparent to you-- like when my friend Valerie told me that I am a meticulous person).

Unnerved, we all grabbed our things and headed down the fire-escape stairwell-- but not after knocking on the doors of everyone on our hall to ensure that they were awake. And once we were all outside, we counted numbers and made sure all nineteen of us were there (we take care of our own). We then joined the seven-hundred-plus tired, cranky people waiting for the shrieking alarms and whirling white lights to stop.

For a second there, we thought there was going to be some serious action. Five fire trucks came to the scene (which either means that they originally thought it was a serious situation, or it was a really boring night at the station). But of course, it turned out to be nothing.

As of yet, no one knows what caused the alarm to go off, but it was probably just a bad popcorn job. But in a way, I didn't really mind. The commotion let me avoid, for just a bit longer, a situation that would ask me to examine my odd tendencies.

Side note: How am I supposed to be a writer if I don't want to reveal personal things about myself? Some of the best writing happens when an author exposes themselves, raw and open to the world, either in a memoir or in semi-autobiographical fictional characters. Those are the stories that have the power to rivet people in their intensity and truth.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Last Saturday's Adventures

I'm a little behind on updating you about my awesome Fourth of July weekend, so I have to hurry up and finishing writing about it before this current weekend is over (otherwise, I've lost my window).

Last Saturday I met up with a friend that I'd met in Cannes, and we walked around downtown, taking lots of pictures (he has a nice camera that I got to use-- I need one of those!) of Love Park, the Comcast Building (their tallest building, with a giant LCD screen in the lobby that covers an entire wall), and a really cool theater with an inside roof garden/patio.

Love Park

Reflection of City Hall

That giant LCD screen in the Comcast Building...

Watching the World Cup from a store window and making predictions.

That awesome inside roof patio

After walking around downtown for about an hour or so, we drove to South Street, which is this awesome street that just might be one of my favorite places in Philly. The street is a super eclectic mix of upscale shops, tattoo parlors, art galleries, sustainable everything (clothes, water bottles, dishes) stores, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and locally-owned clothing shops. There's lots of vintage everywhere-- on customers and in stores.

The Wish Wall, found in the awesome Big Green
Earth Store was made of paper in a honeycomb
pattern, and people could write wishes on slips of
brightly colored paper, roll them up, and put them on
the wall. I think it was a fundraiser for something.

Down some random alley... there seemed to be mosaics everywhere.

Art is the center of the real world.

Our first stop on South Street was at Jim's, the cheesesteak place that my friendly van driver from the airport had recommended as the place to get a truly authentic Philly cheesesteak. As soon as we saw the line out the door and around the corner, we knew we'd come to the right spot. But it was worth it to me (maybe not to Julian though), so we waited in line for about twenty minutes to get our food. I wanted a cheesesteak. It was on my list of things to do.

The verdict: SO WORTH IT! Maybe I was just hot, tired, and starving (in which case, all food tastes good), but that cheesesteak was amazing. Worth every bit of wait. I got the classic version-- meat, cheeze wiz, and grilled onions. Soooooo goooood. Makes me want to go back and get another one.

Then after cheesesteaks, we stopped in this super narrow three story store right next door that was full of Mexican pottery, art, trinkets, and clothes. It was a pretty eclectic little mix of things. There were a lot of pots, mirrors, painted jewelry boxes, and those little statues of skeletons that celebrate the Latin American Day of the Dead holiday.

And then... the best part of my day. Maybe the best part of my weekend.

We found Philadelphia's Magic Gardens. And it's AMAZING.

To quote it's website, "Philadelphia's Magic Gardens is a folk art environment, gallery space, and nonprofit organization that showcases the work of mosaicist Isaiah Zagar."

*this photo courtesy of Julian

This place is too beautiful (and I took too many pictures of it all) for me to smush it into one post. Expect more soon.

Friday, July 9, 2010

What Teachers Make

This is amazing and almost made me cry. Please watch this.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Friday Explorations (part 2)

To continue describing my awesome audio walking tour of the most historic square mile in the United States....

After leaving the Second National Bank (stop 12), I headed to...

Stop 13: Carpenter's Hall
I actually don't remember much about Carpenter Hall from my tour, except that I loved the setting and look of the building. This was one of the few sites that actually had a small grounds, with gardens and walkways, etc. It was beautiful, and refreshing to sit in the shade for a bit.

While I sat, I also got to listen to a fantastic storyteller recount the days before the Declaration was signed, which might be why I liked this stop so much. Because this weekend contained the Fourth of July, all the historical sites in Philly had something fun for families to do as they wandered through, and any sight with that circular sign (forget what it said) meant that there was someone there to tell you a story. So cool.

Stop 14: New Hall Military Museum

Stop 15: The First Bank of the United States
Not as pretty as the Second Bank of the United States, in my opinion. But on my little walking map below the picture, it said "Sparked the first great Constitutional debate." And while GPS Gina had lots of things to say about it (she mentioned Alexander Hamilton, I believe), I was too busy trying to take creatively-angled pictures to really listen.

Stop 16: Franklin Court and the B. Free Franklin Post Office
The B. Free Franklin Post Office is the only colonial themed post office in the United States and the only one not required to fly the American flag. Very cool.

Franklin Court is the site of Benjamin Franklin's home, which was demolished in the early 1800s (so unfortunate). However, in the 70s a world-famous architect by the name of Robert Venturi designed a "ghost structure" to stand where Franklin's home once stood. It was actually pretty neat.

Also, around the court (and I guess beneath it as well) is a museum dedicated to Franklin's many inventions and such. By this time on the tour, I was pretty tired and hot so I wasn't in the mood to stop in and look around. But if I go on the tour again, this is one place that I'd like to take some time to explore inside (especially his print shop).

Stop 18: Betsy Ross House
One of the last stops on my tour, the Betsy Ross House was wonderfully tucked back in a shaded courtyard (or so I thought), and before wandering around, I took a moment to just sit and relax in the shade. I guess almost two hours on your feet in the sun really is tiring. Weird how that works.

After munching on an apple that I, with remarkable wisdom and foresight (a.k.a. luck), had packed for my trip, I was ready to walk around the Betsy Ross House. As I approached the door, I got sidetracked and stood watching a guy with an awesome mustache carve Betsy Ross' face out of soap for a few seconds. That was fun. But he was just shaping the head and wasn't getting into detail yet, so I got bored rather quickly.

I entered the house. Or what I had thought was the house. It was actually just the gift shop. I got sidetracked yet again and looked for a bit at the postcard options available. I guess I have a short attention span when I get tired. But that was actually to my advantage this time, because while internally debating whether 50 cents was worth it for a postcard or not, I overheard the woman at the counter tell an approaching family that the tour of the Betsy Ross House costs $10 per person. Hawhat?!

I guess the free historic square mile can get rather expensive if you let it. I wasn't really in the market for those kinds of expenditures, so I just set down the postcard quietly (50 cents is too expensive, I decided) and left.

Oddly enough (does ironically work here?), I never actually saw the Betsy Ross House. At all. What I'd thought was the front of the house was really just the gift shop, and I never looked up or went around to the proper side of the building or something, because when I saw the Betsy Ross House in a postcard I bought later, that's not what I saw on my stop. Woops. Put that on the growing list for next time as well.

The gift shop. Not her house.

Stop 20: Christ Church Burial Ground
My map reads: "The final resting place of Benjamin Franklin."

The cemetery was my last official stop of the tour. I'd been here once before, when my family came to Philadelphia for a day way back in 2004 (or so), and it was exactly as I remembered it. This time I took some time to explore the rest of the grounds, instead of just heading straight to Franklin's grave. This was also the first stop on my tour that I paid money for. It was only two dollars to get in, and the funds go towards maintaining the grounds, so it didn't bother me to spend it (being the last stop on my trip might have had something to do with it as well).

It is a really beautiful, interesting place. There are over 1,400 markers on just two acres, shaded by large leafy trees. Most of the markers are so old that all engravings have been completely wiped away by time and weather, though some have newer plaques that have been put in place over the decades by their descendants.

Also, did you know that there are also four other signers of the Declaration of Independence buried here? They are Francis Hopkinson, Joseph Hewes, Dr. Benjamin Rush, and George Ross.

And Franklin's grave...
I remembered the grave so clearly from the last time I visited. So much so that I know this time around, I did exactly the same thing as I did before. I took pictures of the entertaining epitaph that Franklin wrote for himself as a young man. I admired that Franklin was buried with his wife. And I pulled out a penny, made a wish, and flipped it onto his grave (for good luck).

But this time, I think he laughed at me. Maybe he thought, you've had a pretty lucky run for the last five years. Too lucky. Because when I held my penny intently, took that wish veeeery seriously, and flipped it onto the grave... it rolled....... off.

My penny rolled off the grave!!!

I stood there, paralyzed. Then I laughed and shrugged. I'm not superstitious, I tell myself. But I pull out another penny anyway.

Well, maybe I'll toss just one more penny. More money for them to upkeep the park, I reason.

Made a wish. Flipped the penny. And it rolled off. Again.


Well, someone is having a joke at my expense. I've run out of pennies.

Franklin and his wife Deborah's grave

Franklin's Epitaph, which was written by himself
as a young man and was not intended to be at his grave.

His gravestone itself was prepared exactly to his
specifications. But then someone had the brilliant
idea of posting this plaque with the epitaph on a nearby
wall, and I am very happy they did.

The epitaph reads:

The Body of
B. Franklin. Printer.
Like the Cover of an old Book,
Its Contents torn out,
And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be lost,
For it will as he believ'd,
appear once more
In a new and more elegant Edition
Corrected and improved
By the Author.

About Me

... A few thoughts to pass the time...