The Scamp and Her Eyes

My annual eye exam turned up a surprising result: I have a small bleed in my left eye.

The first question the ophthalmologist asked me was if I was under a great amount of stress, or had high blood pressure.

I laughed. If she only knew what I had been dealing with. I almost told her I was a racist, and to maintain that viewpoint was stressing me out, but I went with the simple answer: I’m a doctoral student trying to finish coursework and I have three jobs.

She told me that this often happens when the body is put under a great amount of stress. It can fix itself, but in the meantime, I am supposed to find my zen, and visit her again in 3 months to make sure it has not gotten any worse.

Whilst this is not a bad thing, and I will be fine, it figures that my grad program would make my eyes bleed.

The Scamp and Thanksgiving

Last year at this time I was in Scotland receiving my MSc in Education. I spent Thanksgiving showing my sister my favorite parts of the city, and really feeling good about being back in Edinburgh. I was extremely homesick for my life there, and I had not yet processed and mourned the loss of my life there. I didn’t eat turkey. I didn’t eat mash potatoes. I didn’t have to watch football. I dragged my mom and sister to my favorite pub and made them watch karaoke with the cast of regulars I used to watch every Thursday. It was magical.

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To continue my tradition of being overseas for Thanksgiving, I came to Estonia. I have had a very rough few months in the doctorate program, and the only thing I wanted to do was put as much space as I could between me and the United States. I spent yesterday being a tourist and wandering around the old part of the city and enjoying the snow flurries.

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I had a home cooked meal of turkey burgers, mashed potatoes, and a pear and parmigiana salad. Susanne cooked the entire meal, and she filled me with wine, filled me with good food, and we chatted all night. It was one of the best days I have had in a long time. There was no drama, no one calling me a racist, and no stress. I was able to end the day with a Skype call to my mom, and some yummy dessert.

This year, I am thankful for Estonia. I know that I should say I am thankful for my friends and family, and trust me, I am, but I am thankful for them every day, and not just on one of my favorite holidays. This year though, I am thankful for not being in the US, and have some much needed distance between me and the source of my stress and anxiety. I came here to get some clarity on whether or not I want to continue in the program, and whether or not the degree is worth the program breaking my spirit.

I have been to three different countries in 5 days, walked so many miles I lost count, and have successfully battled the language barrier here. Not once was I depressed, anxious, or stressed. I was a bit lonely on my trip to Finland, but that is to be expected when traveling alone.

This year, I am thankful for my little break from reality, from an adventure to curb my wanderlust for a bit, and for a chance to heal a little. The 365 days since last Thanksgiving have been a roller coaster of good and bad, and I am hoping that because I survived them mostly in tact, that in another 365 days I will be in a better place.

If Brittany Spears can survive 2007, I can survive this.

The Scamp and Latvia

I made a mistake when I was in Helsinki….I didn’t have a plan. I thought I was part of a tour group, when really the tour company provided an hour long tour around the city and then dropped us off in the shopping district for 8 hours. I did not have a map or really any direction, and while I had a Lonely Planet guidebook, it was not much help.

I decided that my time in Riga would not be like that. I spent the four hour bus ride reading about some of the things that I wanted to see, and booked a hotel in the center of the action. I grabbed a good map from the front desk and used Google maps to make a list of how to get to each of the places. I got into Riga around dinner time, and was absolutely knackered from the whirlwind few days, so after a quick bite to eat, I took advantage of the really nice hotel bathtub and my copy of the Bell Jar. I was asleep pretty early and woke up the next morning excited to start the day.

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There was really only one thing that was on my list of place to see in Riga: the only synagogue in the city. After Riga was occupied by the Nazis, all the synagogues in the city were burnt down on July 4, 1941. The Peitav Shul was the only synagogue in Riga to escape the common fate because it was located in the Old Town and there was a risk that the fire would spread to nearby buildings. During the war the synagogue was used as a warehouse. After the war it was learned that the eastern wall of the synagogue, where the bookcase with Torah scrolls (Aron Kodesh) was located, had been concealed. The synagogue did not disappoint. It was absolutely breathtaking. The rabbi let me in and allowed me 30 minutes alone in the majestic space.

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In all honesty, I could devote an entire post to it. I felt peaceful in there, and felt a small connection with family who I will never get to meet, but may have gone there. Latvia was never on my radar as a place to visit, but when my aunt told us that that was where our family was from, it became a place of interest for me.

In addition to the synagogue, I saw all of the tourist attractions. By far my favorite was the Cat House. The legend has it that the wealthy tradesman who commissioned the building was refused membership of the Riga Tradesmen’s Guild, mostly just called the Great Guild. The central element of both versions is the anecdote that seeking retribution the tradesman had two copper statues of angry-looking cats with arched backs and raised tails placed on the turret rooftops with their tails turned towards the house of the Great Guild, situated across the street.

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I could live in a house like that. The Riga Cat is also somewhat famous.

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I also visited the oldest set of houses in Riga, as well as the Freedom Monument and a beautiful Russian Orthodox cathedral.

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I took a hundred pictures. I walked around for hours admiring the views, and because I had a tourist friendly map and a plan, fell in love with the city. It reminded me a lot of my first few days in Scotland. I had a map, and my ipod. I wasn’t worried about getting lost, and I was happy to be on an adventure. I put on some of my favorite playlists and allowed myself to really get a feel for the city. I ended the day with pelmeni, only the most delicious dumplings ever, and then a Skype chat with some of my favorite ladies from Scotland. All in all, it was a great little excursion and just what I needed to curb my wanderlust for a bit.

The Scamp in Helsinki

I will never make fun of my mom and her love for guided tour vacations again. I like to go on solo adventures, and I love exploring new places, but exploring a place where I don’t speak the language and the map doesn’t exactly make sense does not lend itself to a good day of sightseeing.

I went on a mini guided bus tour of the city, but then had a whole day to myself to wander around alone. The day started off with a cruise from Tallinn to Helsinki

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I did not take this photo. My butt was on a boat at 7 am and the sun was not out yet. This is what the boat looks like though.

I spent the day wandering through the maze of shopping centers and looking at the beautiful architecture. I had a really hard time reading the map, so I made a few circles before I was able to find some of the museums.

The only problem was that most of them are closed on Mondays.

opps.

I was able to see some of the wonderful architecture

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My favorite part of the day in Helsinki was visiting The Temppeliaukio Kirkko (Rock Church) is a thrilling work of modern architecture in Helsinki. Completed in 1969, it is built entirely underground and has a ceiling made of copper wire. According to Sacred Destinations:

The Temppeliaukio Kirkko was designed by architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. Construction began in 1968 and was finished a year later in 1969. The architects chose a rocky outcrop rising about 40 feet above street level, and blasted out the walls from the inside.

The Temppeliaukio is now most commonly known by its English name, the Rock Church or Church in the Rock. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Helsinki and frequently full of visitors. 

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The church was beautiful. It was peaceful and quiet, and surprisingly warm inside. Chicken and I sat among the other tourists and said a quick prayer before we moved on for the day. I would have stayed there a lot longer if I knew I wasn’t going to be able to read a map.

It is funny to me that I got lost in Scotland a lot that first month. Not once did it bother me. I had my ipod and a playlist of good music and I would laugh at myself and the things I stumbled on accidentally.  That was not quite the case here. I was a little discouraged that the map let me down, and not enough people understood English well enough to help me. After awhile, I was tired of wandering alone, and wished I had someone there to take funny pictures with, and someone who would help me pose chicken in front of all the landmarks.

I’m now in Latvia, and I am going to try and break the cycle and read a map in Latvian tomorrow. I have a Lonely Planet guide books, a map of the city, and a mission to locate a Jewish Synagogue that was only spared during WWII because of how close it was to Old Town and where the Nazis were occupying. Lonely Planet also suggests I go on an art walk, which I think sounds like a great idea. If I had enough time, I would have planned a trip to the national park outside the city to tour the castles, and bungee jump from a cable car (don’t worry mom, there is not enough time for that to happen).

I’m excited for a scamp around the place of my mother’s people, and a chance to eat some very yummy pelmeni.

The Scamp and a Jetplane

The day has finally arrived. Tomorrow I will be on my way to Estonia for a week.

Not only do I get to spend time with one of my favorite people in the world, but I have an action packed week full of interesting destinations and culture, art, and history galore. I plan to detail my journeys for the next week. My mom has given me her camera which means I will have high quality photographs of my adventure.

See ya later California!

 

The Scamp and Art

Finally a piece of art that I can relate to.

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Woman Encircled by the Flight of a Bird, 1941 by Joan Miro

I am happy to report that I will be traveling to Spain in June, and I am hoping that somewhere along the way, I can stumble on this masterpiece.

In 12 days I will be on a plane bound for Estonia.
In 207 days I will be on a plane bound for Spain, Portugal, and Gibraltar.
In 264 days my prison sentence is lifted and I no longer have to interact with the bullies.

I finished a draft draft methodology chapter today. It is not 100% the project that I want to do, but I am proud of how it came together, and I am excited to get feedback from the professor before I present it as part of my proposal at the end of next semester.

I cannot wait for the traveling to begin.

The Scamp Opens Her Eyes

I have been very negative lately. My life has been a revolving cycle of work, school, research, grade, repeat. Because of that, I let myself get caught up in the drama of my cohort, and really let five horrible women almost drive me from the program. While I am still not sold on staying, I am learning to let what goes on in that room once a week stay there. That room does not represent the real world, and does not represent the people I will be working with, and the students I hope to help.

Today I felt vindicated. I am in the process of completing a basic skills certification for my job. For the last few months I have been attending workshops that range from how to help students read their textbook to how to reduce stress in the classroom. The workshop this morning was entitled: How to Overcome the Institutional Alienation of At-risk African American and Hispanic Students. At first I wasn’t going to go. I get enough of this from my cohort, and I did not think I could sit for two hours and listen to how horrible I am because I am white. I need the hours, and I feel that helping at-risk students regardless of race is important, so I decided I would give it a shot. When I left the house this morning, I decided that I was going to sit in the back of the room and not say anything. I can not afford to make anymore waves in my bubble, and pissing off people where I work is not something that I want to do.

I could not have been more shocked about the workshop I participated in today. While the statistics presented demonstrated that people of color are the most at-risk when they enter college, the discussion that we had was about how to help at-risk students. The only time race was mentioned was when the presenters mentioned that at the conference they went to, the presenter was the number one thing a teacher can do to alienate a student in their classroom is see them as a monolith for their race, and treat them based on the color of their skin. The discussion revolved around barriers that any at-risk student would have entering college, and what the institution can do to help break down these barriers and help promote student success.

It was the discussion that I wish I could have every Tuesday night. The presenters kept saying “What can WE as an institution do to help students?” The room was full of men, women, old, young, humanities teachers, math teachers, and science teachers. There were Asians, African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, and White people. No one was singled out by their race, and the blame was placed on the institution as a whole, not on the race of the people involved. I left that workshop finally understanding what it meant to grow and learn as a educator, and finally learning what it would be like for me working in the real world. This is how educators behave. This is how open and honest conversation brings about change. When I discussed a bit of what the conversations are like in my class, one of the presenters told me that was a retrograde way of thinking, and that was not how progressive educators worked.

So while the program is still awful, and I am far from being a proud Titan, it feels good to know that I have now been snapped out of the Twilight Zone, and when I make it into the working world as a professional, my ideas about change, and my strategies for helping students are valuable, and have merit. Why it took me so long to figure out, I have no idea, but I am happy that my eyes are open now.

The Scamp and Sugar

Connective Tissue Disorder: 2; Kim: 0

Thanks to MediCal, it has been almost a year since I have seen my rhuematologist. I have been referred to three different specialists only to be told that they do not take MediCal, so I bit the bullet and went to my old doc as a cash patient. I was happy to see him and his nurses. He has been treating me since I was diagnosed in 2008, and I trust and value his care plan for me. I was properly chastised for not coming in sooner, and thoroughly questions about how I have been feeling. I’m always honest with him about all my aches, pains, and general wellness practices, but today is one of those days that I wish I wasn’t.

For the last year I have been having a problem with dry eyes and a dry mouth. My last couple of trips to the dentist have been stress educing. Until two years ago I had only ever had one cavity. Now I am in the double digits for the number of ones I’ve had filled. What I didn’t know was that all of these things were new symptoms of my disease. Dr. Fab (yes, my doctor’s name is Dr. Fab….well it is Fabricant, but everyone calls him Dr. Fab) informed me that my diet is going to have to change in order to counterbalance some of the things my body is doing to me. That included a new toothpaste, and giving up sugar.

No more sugar.

No more peach rings, no sour gummy worms, no more chocolate (I’ve been stress eating that a lot lately), no more ice cream, and no more mojitos. A few months ago I decided to give up dairy (well, tried. I gave up after a month and substantially reduced my diary intake) in order to help with joint pain, and now I am giving up sugar to save my teeth.

I am a sad girl. The next step is to visit a nutritionist so that I can make a diet plan of foods I can eat and ways I can eat them so I don’t get bored.

On the upside, I leave for Estonia in 32 days, there is only 284 days until I am finally rid of the awful people in my program, and I just booked a trip to Spain and Portugal in June. I am beyond excited for all of the trips on the horizon. It is really the only thing keeping me going right now.