Wednesday, 30 September 2015

September 30th

-The course on international law I signed up for is fantastic. Not just the content (I knew that would be), but the platform, too. It's so exciting to see this kind of online learning technologies finally getting over their quirks, and developers optimizing the advantages online learning can offer. Key example here: I can work at my own pace. The flow of the course is clearly laid out and it's very easy to get from one lesson to the next.
-After encouragement from good friends, I've decided to submit the mystery I'm writing to a literary agency.

That's all for now, folks!

Monday, 21 September 2015

September 21st

-This morning, an idea that had been lurking in the depths of my brain for a long time suddenly came to the surface. I remembered that Harvard (as well as MIT and, I believe, quite a few other schools now) offers free online courses. I want to keep my mind sharp during this between-school-and-job interlude, so I went to investigate and found out you can actually get a certificate of completion for these. I tried to sign up for a course on Neuroscience, but it had been moved to a new platform that doesn't seem to be working. So I signed up for a course on International Law. You can't say I don't have a wide variety of interests!
-I had my first session (in a couple years, at least) volunteering in my church's nursery. The kids were lovely. One of them came from a French-speaking family, so I got to speak French to her. C'était génial!
-I had another voice lesson, which went infinitely better than the last one. My teacher Jordan is fantastic, and thinks in the same framework of metaphors that I do. Hooray for progress!
-I recently acquired a NOOK and it's the best decision I've ever made (except for things like continuing my education, getting regular exercise, and so forth.) It's already halfway to paying for itself, with the amount of money I've saved getting ebooks instead of regular books. I've acquired books I wouldn't have been able to justify buying otherwise. I'm sinking my teeth into Stephen Jay Gould's outstanding The Mismeasure of Man (which should be required reading for everyone in the Western world), and I'm also enjoying Olivier Magny's hilarious Stuff Parisians Like.
-I went to the library to renew my Philosophy of Science course and found that the course on the history of London had reappeared as mysteriously as it disappeared. Best of all, this time Part 2, which I needed, was there! Hooray!

-Sign up for a ballet class (and possibly a modern ballet class, too.) I've been wanting to study ballet my entire life, but for a long time I wasn't able to. Finally, over the past few years, I've gotten to take some scattered courses in ballet and modern dance. It felt awesome to use my brain in a way I never had before. I was terrible at it... but by the end of the class I was significantly less terrible than I was before! I learned so much and was really proud of the progress I made. It's definitely something I want to keep doing for as long as I can. It's an awesome way to stay fit. And dance is fantastic for your brain! What more could you want?

Thursday, 17 September 2015

September 17

-The Great Job Hunt of 2015 continues apace. My dilemma is whether to get a full-time job, a part-time job, or an internship. The decision is affected by the fact that in the military healthcare system, I'm only eligible to stay on my parents' health insurance as long as I'm not working full-time.
-I finished an application to volunteer with the Red Cross. Hooray!
-Last week I had my first session volunteering with my church's preschool class. We had thirteen preschoolers and two adults, so I thought things would be crazy, but remarkably, everything went smoothly. Those were some really well-behaved preschoolers!
-My course on the history of London has mysteriously vanished from our library. So I checked out one on Philosophy of Science (a course I was interested in during college but never got around to taking). Looking forward to starting that. 
-Voice lessons are still going well. Another hooray!

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

What I've been doing the past few days

A few bullets about what I've been up to lately:
-The big one: Job applications.
-I am due to start volunteering in my church's nursery soon, and my volunteer orientation for Gentle Giant Draft Horse Rescue is only a few days away! I am beyond excited.
-I finally recovered from my cold! Hooray!
-With that resolved, I've been able to make progress in speech therapy (which is mostly singing therapy, really; my speaking voice is essentially the same as it always was) and, excitingly, resume voice lessons! While I can imagine my middle-school self reeling in shock when I say this, it feels awesome to have regular homework to keep me accountable.
-Writing thank-you notes. I used to hate writing them, but now it's truly a joy, because I've realized it gives me a chance to reflect on the incredibly kind things people have done for me.  It's a very lucky person who has a lot of thank-yous to write.
-In a small but encouraging victory, I convinced CollegeBoard to grant me access to my SAT account, which had effectively been closed to me after my high school deleted my student email (a routine practice when the owner of that email has been graduated for several years.) I have to say, the representative who guided me through the process was incredibly helpful and went out of her way to assist me. Props to her and to the company.
-Continuing to work on French.
-Still cleaning and organizing.
-Further puppy-sitting for my friends' dog, who is as lovely as ever.
-This is actually an older announcement, but I hit a major milestone. After months of painstakingly rehabilitating my voice, I fulfilled a major personal goal: I was able to hit an E6.
And it actually sounded like a human being singing, not an earsplitting shriek. My dog didn't whimper, my family in the next room didn't run away or cover their ears, and no one called the police (my own personal standard of singing success: draw your own conclusions). I'm not saying any of this to show off. That would be nothing short of ridiculous, because an E6 isn't particularly impressive in the grand scheme of vocal ranges. But it's a huge deal for me personally, because it's the note that it's been my goal for most of my life to hit, and for a long time I'd given up on ever getting there, especially after injuring my voice. I'm as excited about this as I am about getting my drivers' license. This has been a great year. When I think about where I was at with these personal goals only a few months ago, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

August 27th - Alpine Adventures

I haven't posted in awhile. This is because I spent the last two weeks in Bavaria (to be specific, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in the Alps). Here's what I accomplished:

-I did research for a story I'm writing on King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Most people have heard of him- even if they don't recognize the name- because he built everybody's favorite castle, Neuschwanstein. You know the one. It speaks for itself:
All the credit for that terrible photo goes to me. Sorry about the scaffolding.

Everybody knows about Ludwig's castles, but many people aren't familiar with his life story. If you're one of those people, go look him up right now. You're in for an intriguing hour or two, because he's quite simply one of the most interesting people history has ever produced. Besides Neuschwanstein, he also commissioned a lot of other, lesser-known structures, many of which are possibly even more beautiful than the famous fairy-tale castle. The king's personal favorite among these was Schloss Linderhof, nestled like a jewel in the Bavarian alps:

 Photo credit this time goes to and I just didn't have a photo that could do Linderhof justice.
It was there, in that idyllic setting, that I was lucky enough to spend one afternoon, happily wandering the extensive grounds and learning as much about Ludwig and the Bavarian monarchy as I could. It was definitely time well-spent. 
One more thing about Ludwig and Linderhof and then I'll shut up about them. The coolest thing about Linderhof is actually not the palace, as awesome as it is, but something else, something hidden underground. No, not the plumbing.
The king aimed to build a retreat from the world, and the culmination of this goal was a giant underground grotto he had built from scratch just uphill from the palace. No, really.
You enter in through a rock that opens magically at the touch of a button, and descend underground through a labryninth of tunnels, stalactites, and stalagmites that you just can't believe was man-made. After twisting and turning through the tunnels, you finally come out upon this:
Thank you,
Yes, it's a giant, man-made underground lagoon. That's heated. And lit with colored party lights. And comes complete with a giant electric-powered waterfall and wave machine. Did I mention this was built in 1877? See, what did I tell you?- This was one awesome king. Okay, now I'm really done. On to the next thing...

-I practiced my German (duh). I've never studied German, but my parents were both fluent, having lived in Germany for five years, and they spoke it to me a lot starting when I was little, so I managed to pick some up. When I stayed with a German family last summer, the wife said I had about the level of proficiency of someone who'd been studying the language for two years. So, I'm not exactly a polyglot. But I enjoy the language, and I'm always eager to learn more. As a person with a psychology degree (it still feels strange to call myself that, instead of "a psych major"!), it's been interesting to observe how my progress in French, which I mostly learned in a classroom, and German, which I learned very organically, has been different. They say that the hardest language to learn is your third (because you get it mixed up with the second), but for me that hasn't really been the case. I think it's because I started learning German, switched to French, became proficient in French, and then went back to German, with the result that neither French nor German is really my third language. In a way, they're both my second. My conclusion is that when learning a second or third language, it's better to start out in a classroom, but eventually, there's no substitute for getting out there in the world and speaking the language with native speakers idiomatically, in everyday life.

-I travelled to the towns of Bolzano and Bressanone in the province of South Tyrol, Italy. South Tyrol is an interesting place because many of the people there speak German more than Italian. In fact, Bolzano and Bressanone each have a second, German name: Bozen and Brixen, respectively. I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that I was in Italy when nearly every person I saw was speaking German, and every sign was in both German and Italian. It was particularly weird when you went up to a market stall and heard the same seller greet one customer with "Guten tag!" and the next with "Buongiorno!" They could switch between the two languages without even batting an eyelash. How do they decide which to use?

-Bolzano is also interesting because it happens to be the home of "Ötzi", the 5,000-year-old ice mummy of a Copper age warrior. To be honest, at first I only went into the museum where Ötzi was housed because the ticket was included in the price of my trip to Bolzano. It sounded mildly interesting, but I couldn't really understand the appeal. But as soon as I peered through the thick layer of protective glass into the viewing chamber where Ötzi is housed, I did begin to understand why people are so fascinated by his story. In pictures, it looks like he isn't very well-preserved. But in real life, it's remarkable how intact he is. You can see the lines in his skin, his hands, his feet, even some of his tattoos. It's clear why he is such a crucial resource for archaeologists. I was fascinated, and ended up spending a long time in the museum reading about his clothes and tools (many of which are in even better shape than Ötzi is) and the conclusions scientists have been able to draw from them.

-For the last two days or so, I came down with some weird illness. It's a bit like a cold, but colds don't usually force me to spend an entire afternoon and evening lying down, so weak I can barely move my fingers, let alone get up. I'm much better now, thank goodness, but still not at all my usual self.

Monday, 10 August 2015

August 7th

Today I:

-Passed my driving test! (On the first try, hooray!) Honestly, this may quite possibly be the happiest day of my life. It means so much to me to finally have done this, especially when I've had to overcome so many obstacles to get here.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

August 6th

Today I:
-Visited my wonderful grandmother in the rest home.
-Continued to work on job applications and made an Indeed account.
-Reviewed the Maryland Driver's Manual for my test
-Reached the halfway point with the history course I'm going through. However, I found out that sadly, the second disc does not work. I will be returning it to the library and hoping for a solution; if that doesn't work out, I plan to check out the second two-disc volume. (It's a history of London, which has been around in one form or another almost continuously since Ancient Roman times, so it's a long course.)