Archive for April, 2008

Why the Rivers of America Exist

Today was another normal day at the office. The most notable things that happened were that we offered some of our clients’ children the opportunity to register for school on site (I wasn’t involved in this, but it was a cool thing to do), I learned how to send a fax, and I worked out the details of my new computer-lab responsibilities with the ESL teachers. For the rest of my time here, I will be in our computer lab from 12:45 – 1:45 P.M. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, offering help to those who need it, to the best of my abilities. It won’t be as bad as you think(, Dad). Most of the people I’ll be working with will be adults, not high-school students, and moreover, they’ll be adults who are willing to accept help from others. More importantly, what I really wanted from my internship was a role that allows me to interact directly with refugees, and I’m finally getting such a role, so I’m very happy about this development.

Yesterday, I had asked for and received permission to go home early today so that Marion could take me to a party. Today was another of the festive events surrounding the Kentucky Derby: the steamboat race. Every year, two or three traditional steamboats race from downtown a certain distance along the Ohio River, then turn around and come back. Marion’s bandmate Laurel has a house right on the river, so she had a party so everyone could watch the boat race, hang out, and have fun. It was a great party.

The house was contemporary and huge. It has three stories (though the bottom one consists solely of a garage and half-bath), and tons of balconies and windows from which to enjoy the panoramic view of the river. The river is very wide at that point, and there are trees all around, on both sides of it. You can see downtown off in the distance to the left, and you can see Six-Mile Island (which is six miles from downtown). You can walk along the river a short distance and still be on the property, and you can sit in a deck chair on a circular concrete patio down near the water’s edge. I did both of these things. I was enthralled by the beauty of the scenery, and kicking myself for failing to bring my camera with me.

While I was enjoying the scenery, I realized something. For the first time, I was seeing in real life one of the great natural environments that Walt Disney considered such an important, defining aspect of the heritage of America that they form a vital part of the Disneyland “blueprint,” the Rivers of America. I understand now why the artificial rivers are there: the real ones are ten thousand times more impressive, and deserve to be “on display” in a theme park. (I’d go into more themepark/tourism theory if it wasn’t so late, and if I didn’t know it would bore some people.) Seeing the real steamboats was extremely, cool, too, and made me realize that while the Mark Twain and her sister themepark paddlewheelers are scaled down a bit, the rivers themselves are scaled down much, much more.

At the party, there was also good, catered food, a giant inflatable play structure (which I went through, once), and an awesome rope-swing-harness contraption. I went on it, and it was a heck of a lot of fun. It works like this: The rider lies down on his/her stomach on the harness, which is resting on an inflatable cushion, and is strapped into the harness by the operators. The operators then hoist the rider ten feet into the air by pulling on a rope. The operators operate the harness through a series of ropes and pulleys, anchored to the high decks and balconies overlooking the river. There’s another rope that hangs down from the harness, which the rider has to hold on to with his/her left hand while the operator uses it to swing the rider in a circle. It’s like flying, and it was really cool.

Part of Marion’s band was there, so they performed a few songs just for fun, which added to the festivities. I had a good time there. After the party, I went to choir rehearsal again, which went well. Another member of the choir gave me a ride back home.

April 30, 2008 at 11:30 pm Leave a comment

Chai Tea after work

Today was another ordinary day at the office.  Note that “ordinary” does not mean “boring” for me.  It still pleases and satisfies me to be doing anything to contribute to the system that resettles refugees.  I completed more data entry and more filing in both the ROW and Cuban-Haitian Program offices.

After work, I went and hung out with Amy Coultas at a local coffee shop.  We had chai teas and chatted about my life, and I enjoyed being out and about.  Afterward, I got myself a Subway sandwich for dinner and spent the evening relaxing and reading the TV Tropes website.  I would have gone to the Pie Pantry again if Marion had gotten home before me (allowing me to take the car out), but she didn’t, so I stayed home.

Yes, this is officially my shortest blog entry yet.  That really is all the news I have to report.

April 29, 2008 at 11:14 pm Leave a comment

A somewhat gloomy Monday

The morning started out just fine.  I went in to work, and did my usual things for Lee and Rodolfo (Rodolfo is the guy in charge of the Cuban-Haitian Program office, where I’m helping out these days when the ROW [Refugees Of the World] office doesn’t need me).  From 11:00 to about 1:20, I hung out in the ROW office, doing some work, but mostly sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.  I was expecting a call from the editor at the Episcopal News for this diocese, who wants to write a little story about me and my internship.  During that down time, I went back and completed my entries in this blog for yesterday and Saturday.

At about 1:20, I went to lunch.  When I came back, at around 2:00, I called the editor and we had a phone interview.  It was not much better then my Skype interview for the World Fantasy 2008 Podcast, which I didn’t think was very good. I’ve only gotten a little better at thinking sentences all the way through before I start saying them.

I spent the rest of the afternoon helping Rodolfo catch up on case notes, and the evening at home, goofing off. I didn’t feel well most of the day, so I took an allergy pill when I got home.  It only made me feel 50% better, so now I can definitely tell I have a cold.  Of all the weeks for me to get sick, it would be the week leading up to Derby, which has the highest concentration of exciting things for me to do.

April 28, 2008 at 10:34 pm Leave a comment

Learning new things on a Sunday

(Most of this was written after the fact, on 4/28. The fonts are messed up because I copied and pasted from Word, and there’s a DLL file to handle that process that WordPress sends out when you try to do it, but I’m on a work computer, so I’m just going to leave it until I get home.)

Today our church received a visit from our diocesan bishop, which meant that ten young people were confirmed and one person was received, and the choir was joined by two violinists.  The entire musical ensemble met in the sanctuary at 9:15 and spent almost all of the next 45 minutes rehearsing.  It was a lovely service, and Robert served as an acolyte, waving one of two spinning windsocks on long, flexible poles.

 

Afterwards, we went to Marion’s parents’ house to see their wildflower garden and have sandwiches for lunch.  During lunch, Marion and her parents told me stories about tornadoes they had experienced as children.  It was interesting, but it was also a bit of a culture shock.  I haven’t been around such a close extended family since I was very little.  Also, I don’t think I want to live in the same city where I grew up all my life.   No offense to anyone there; I just like moving around and experiencing different things.

 

I spent the afternoon relaxing and reading a book.  At 5:00, we left the house again.  Marion dropped me off at Crescent Hill Baptist Church for the Mock Refugee Camp activity that some of my coworkers were planning, then took the boys to youth group.  When I got there, Crescent Hill’s youth group had already divided into four-person “refugee families” and was in the middle of the role-playing activity.  The roles of security guards, UN officials, and other refugee-camp officials were played by my colleagues and other older members of the church community.  All I could do was observe and listen as everyone else role-played, but even that was worthwhile.  I, and the participants, learned that going through refugee-camp processing is extremely frustrating and confusing.  It can involve filling out forms in foreign languages, being expected to answer questions that you simply wouldn’t know the answers to, and multiple trips to the UNHCR office to interview for resettlement, all of which is very stressful.

 

I helped my colleagues clean up, and then Shelley gave me a ride back to Marion’s house, where I made myself dinner.  When the boys got home, they started playing Guitar Hero III, and they taught me how to play.  It took me three tries just to get all the way through my first song (“School’s Out” by Alice Cooper).  Learning to play Guitar Hero after having already learned to play DDR involved a mental paradigm shift.  DDR doesn’t care what body part you use to hit the arrows, as long as you hit them in time with the music.  In Guitar Hero, you have to “strum” (flick a lever with your right hand) in time with the music, while using your left hand to press the correct colored buttons.  If you do either one without doing the other, you don’t get points for that note.  At first, I failed because I was only pressing the colored buttons in time with the music.  Once I got better, though, it was fun.

Side note: My church back at UC Santa Barbara was showcased in the daily featured-photo section of the school newspaper! Here’s a link to the picture and caption.

April 27, 2008 at 11:16 pm Leave a comment

A Running Marathon and a Writing Marathon

(Note: The first half of this post was written and assembled on Saturday, around noon, and the rest was written on Monday 4/28.  It was actually published that day, but is back-dated.)

This morning, Marion and I got up early (well, early for a weekend; we got up between 7 and 7:30, which is about the same time as we do on weekdays) and bicycled downtown to watch the Derby Festival Marathon and Mini-Marathon. I rode one of the boys’ bikes; if we hadn’t needed to get going and I’d looked for tools, I would have adjusted the seat higher. We stopped off at Starbucks on the way to get coffee and pastries for breakfast, and then continued downtown. We ended up standing and watching the race from the corner of 4th Street and Breckinridge, which was where the full marathon and mini-marathon race courses diverged. The mini-marathon runners turned left (our right, from where we were standing) and the marathon runners turned in the opposite direction, from 4th onto Breckinridge. We stood, watched and cheered for about 40 minutes or so, and I enjoyed the energetic atmosphere. We were waiting for Sam, Marion’s younger son who was running the mini-marathon, to come by, but he bailed out about a mile before where we were standing. (He called his mom to say so. Still, 11 miles is further than I could run.) I had a good time all the same, and I have pictures.

Some of the cheering crowd:

Marathon 05

Marathon 06

Marathon 07

After that, we bicycled back to the house.  Getting all that exercise in the morning made me feel energetic and eager to do something productive, so I uploaded the above pictures, along with several others, to Flickr, and went back and added a picture to Tuesday’s post.  Then, I started an expenditures spreadsheet for my stay in Kentucky.  It’s not going to be as complete as the one I had for Japan, but it’s better than nothing.  I also agonized over going to Balticon at the end of May, but decided it was too much hassle and expense for me.

In the afternoon, I bicycled up to the deli and met Angela for another Script Frenzy write-in.  We sat there from about 2:20 until almost 7:00, writing and watching the NFL draft on TV.  Angela and the boys are all excited about one of the University of Louisville’s players, Brian Brohm, being drafted by the Green Bay Packers. Now that Scott Sigler’s The Rookie has turned me on to football (to a small extent), I just might follow them this season, at least casually.

In terms of writing, I made really good progress.  I got to the end of page 43 and crossed the 10,000-word mark, which was a satisfying milestone even though I’m not going to win this year.  I left off partway through the briefing scene, which flowed really well. I had plenty of ideas, and I was excited about it because I knew it was leading up to a big revelation and a turning point. I haven’t gotten to that yet, though.

I spent the evening at home, goofing off.

April 26, 2008 at 11:00 pm 2 comments

Full workday, relaxing evening

Relatively quick blog entry tonight, because I have big plans for tomorrow and I need to go to bed.

This morning, we had another staff meeting.  The discussion involved a lot less technical jargon and acronyms than the last time, so I could follow it a lot better.  I did not bring up the subject of MySQL, because Lee had recommended that I submit the idea to Jason via email.

Today, from 10:30 A.M. until about 11:30 or so, we had a volunteer appreciation party in our dining room. I eagerly took the opportunity to put the technical skills I learned in InterVarsity to use by setting up a laptop computer and an LCD projector. I also went upstairs, exported the slideshow Shelley had made in Windows Movie Maker as a video file, burned it to a CD, and brought it downstairs and played it. Shelley was very grateful.

I spent the afternoon helping out in the Cuban-Haitian Program office, which is around the corner and down the hall from the one where I usually work. Lee was more or less caught up with data entry and things, and the CHP office was way behind, so I agreed to help them out.  It meant that I did more of the same data entry that I’d been doing, only in a different room with different people, people with whom I can practice Spanish.  I like practicing Spanish.

When I got home, I spent my free time attempting to work on Bridging the Spheres, and succeeded in determining what a few more pieces of the plot should be and making notes on them in my “Plot Notes” file. It was relaxing, but I wish it could have been more.

April 25, 2008 at 11:12 pm Leave a comment

Today rocked!, or, Dumb Memory #14

Today, I spent my day at work doing easy things around the office.  I read a report about Bhutanese refugees, and summarized it. (I’d make a link to the article, but I can’t get to the site it’s on right now.) I also filed more paperwork, added to more spreadsheets, updated a furniture inventory, and printed more thank-you letters.  We got a big donation of pots, pans, china, and other kitchen items today, so I helped unload that from a donor’s van.  Finally, for the first time, I answered the phone to talk to another donor. I was pleased with how well I handled it.  I’m going to need to be able to answer questions over the phone when Lee goes on vacation at the beginning of May. (On a side note, next Monday I’m talking on the phone with the editor of the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky’s newsletter. She’s publishing the article I wrote, with Lee’s help, about Lunch and Learn, and she wants there to be a short piece about me and my internship too.  Yay!)

After work, I decided to try to make it to the Thursday night write-in at a local Barnes and Noble.  I missed my bus, so I sat for almost twenty minutes (listening to podcasts on my iPod) and waited for the next bus on that line.  I failed to realize that that line splits into two routes, and the bus I was on went on the wrong route.  By the time I got to the end of that route, it was already 7:00 (which was when the write-in was starting), so I decided to just take the same bus back and get to the Episcopal Campus Ministry meeting.  I had my computer with me, so I did write a little bit on the bus going back.  I plan to make an audio recording about this experience and submit it to the Deadpan Podcast as a Dumb Memory segment. It will be the 14th such segment I’ve submitted, hence the subtitle of this post.

The University of Louisville’s Episcopal Campus Ministry holds a meeting in my neighborhood every Thursday night.  There’s actually another Episcopal church, the Church of the Advent, just two blocks further down the street from the intersection where I turn to go to work.  They meet there for a relatively informal Eucharist, and then go to O’Shea’s Irish Pub and Restaurant to eat, hang out, and have fellowship.  I was about 15 minutes late, so I came in right as the Gospel was being read, but everyone was very welcoming, especially the priest, who is going to be my mentor.  Counting her, there were five of us there at the Eucharist.

The whole evening was great.  All the people, including the four or five more who joined us at O’Shea’s, were cool and fun to be around. One of them was another professional contact (yay!). Today was definitely not wasted. 🙂

April 24, 2008 at 11:06 pm Leave a comment

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