Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wrestling when you know you can't win

We all do it - at least, I do it enough for all of us: wrestling when I know I can't win. Arguing for better grades, a sister who picks up her bathroom towel, an easy version of swim practice... But I realized that's a lot of what I'm going to be doing this year, and it's a big part of why I wanted to go into research in the first place. I want to wrestle with the rough stuff: poverty gaps and racial/ ethnic disparities and education... There is no way that I - or anyone else - can win those bouts.

Luckily, there's some Biblical support for my underdog wrestling matches. Normally, when I think of Biblical underdogs, I think of David and Goliath, and try to interpret the story into "Look what I can do with God's help! Face the giants! And slay them too!" But there's another story, where Jacob wrestles with God (Genesis 32; the Jacob who ends up fathering Joseph with his amazing, technicolor dreamcoat). Jacob is going to meet his brother, whom he has wronged, but spends the entire night before wrestling with God/ an angel of God. If there was ever an uneven match... (Maybe this is an idea for Shaq's new show? Or, to fall closer to the Genesis line, perhaps pitting me against Shaq/ Michael Phelps/ Mohammad Ali?) They wrestle through the night, and the angel ends up wrenching Jacob's hip out of the socket when he sees he can't overpower him. But when the day comes, Jacob, who just spent the night wrestling with an angel of God, ends up getting a new name (Israel) and a blessing. Pretty incredible for Jacob to put up a fight - a good fight - against something that he knew he couldn't win against.

I've been doing some research on dropouts, and this is a match that I/ we/ the nation/ the world can't win, but I think it's something worth wrestling against, even though failure is imminent.
  • An estimated 1 in 8 children never graduate from high school
  • 60 percent of high school dropouts can be identified in grade six (due to chronic absenteeism, disengagement, school refusal behavior, etc.)
  • Minority students, students from low-income families, students will limited English-speaking skills, or who have parents with a high level of mobility are all more likely to drop out before graduation.
  • Not only are dropouts severely affected, by social, occupational, and marital problems, etc., but societal costs for dropouts are estimated in the billions between lost revenues, welfare programs, unemployment programs, underemployment, and crime prevention and prosecution.
What can you do, one might (rather, I hope one might) ask? I learned about this website It's an online charity that makes it easy for people to help students in need. You can search by location (there are a lot of Ohio projects), by subject (there are a lot of math topics!), cost, poverty level, popularity... Anything that "makes your eyes twinkle!" You can even donate unused portions of gifts cards (the average household has $400 in unused gift cards, according to Plastic Jungle). When you're wondering what to get me for Christmas - this will be it! I know a couple teachers participating in Teach For America that have used this site and receive their projects - a class library, a microscope, and beyond. It's a really good idea.

I respect their wrestling efforts, even though I know they're going to lose. Probably won't even make it into an over-time round.

Christenson, S. (2004). School dropouts: Prevention considerations, interventions, and challenges. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(1): 36-39.
Stanley, K. (2008). Improving high school graduation rates. Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP), Indiana University.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I have not failed, and I still have yet to find 10,000 ways which do not work.

After eating a hot dog (reason number two why I couldn't be a vegetarian!) at a restaurant in Port Clinton, I wanted to make hot dog buns. The bun, rather than being your typical hot dog bun, looked like it had been sliced from a hot dog bun loaf. The sides of the bun weren't brown enough to have cooked all by itself, so I decided to make a short loaf of bread and try to slice it hot-dog style. I started with "Buttermilk bread," a recipe for a simple bread that included only ingredients I had on hand.
If you ever have the time, making a loaf of bread is quite satisfying - between the risings and the mixings, it doesn't take up a lot of your time, but it's a couple-hour endeavor from start to finish. (If you've seen the book about having artisan bread in five minutes a day, don't believe it. It didn't work for us.)
Combine 2 cups unsifted flour, 2 Tbsp. sugar, 2.5 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp. baking soda, and 1 pkg active dry yeast (at room temperature). I also added in some dry milk powder for added protein.

Heat 1 cup buttermilk (i.e. 1 Tbsp. vinegar + enough milk to make 1 cup, after a few minutes), 1 cup water, and 1/3 cup vegetable oil. Mixture will appear curdled, so the recipe says, although mine didn't... I also used brown rice vinegar, but my critic (dear Mother) did not say anything, so it must not have been noticeable.
Add to dry ingredients, beat for 2 minutes at medium speed. Add 1 cup flour, beat at high speed for 2 minutes. Stir in enough flour (I ended up using a little over 5 cups total) to make a soft dough. I also dunk my hands in flour to make the dough easier to knead.

Knead on floured surface 5 to 8 minutes. Place in greased bowl; cover with a damp - not dripping - kitchen towel; let rise 1 hour until doubled. I used the outside, but if you're in Texas where the outside cooks the bread, or you're in Grand Rapids from September - April, simply heat up the oven to low and then turn it off when you put the dough in to rise.

I gave our porch dog a little "water dish" for the hour. After rising, shape into two loaves. Place into two greased 8.5 x 4.5 inch loaf pans. Cover again; let rise about one hour until doubled. Bake for 35 minutes at 375; I pulled mine out closer to 30 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks. Because I was attempting a hot dog bun loaf, I made one loaf shorter, although not short enough... but I still tried slicing it about halfway down to put in some nice apple chicken sausage from our local farmer's market.

First glance, it looks good. And the bread itself was A+, in my opinion. I'd be hard-pressed to put an exact taste to it, so it's good for jams or other tasty toppings, but it was almost a sweet taste. Unfortunately, my cutting skills failed: just like a normal hot dog bun, the sides fell apart. And when the pieces fell off, it felt weird to eat it with only ketchup. Chicken sausage = sad.

Then, I used my ice cream maker to test a recipe for peanut butter, honey, and banana ice cream. Only, when they say "half-and-half," I think they mean half-and-half, not melted butter plus milk as the correct substitution, and when they say "2% milk," I think they mean 2% milk, not skim. So I'm letting it settle in the freezer. It was a bit liquidy, even after churning for a while.

Currently reading: Off the Deep End by W. Hodding Carter, on a midlife crisis goal to qualify for the Olympics in swimming. (Written before he knew the results) and Total Church by two Englishmen about the pervasive connection between the church and community. And life.

Currently learning about: drunk driving rates of 21-24 year olds, the age group with the highest percentage of alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal crashes. Drunk driving in 2007 killed the equivalent of one person every 40 minutes. (See more information here.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

we all want to change the world.

Rascal Flatts, Dierks Bentley and Darius Rucker were in Columbus last night. It was a good concert: Dierks is my secret crush. In addition, I've now been to three Rascal Flatts concert and I think this one was my favorite. Not only did they sing a song called "Take me back to Ohio" in which the crowd, including my former housemate Michigan-fan Monica (normally just referred to as "Monica") had to follow up the O-H with the normal I-O. For the encore, the band came out in football jerseys to sing the Beatles' Revolution, along with bringing out Thad Matta and Kirk Herbstreit. Then they brought out Dierks and Darius and the three acts sang together. I thought it was really well done!
Yes, Darius sang songs from his pre-country days, when he was known, for many logical reasons, as Hootie from Hootie and the Blowfish.

But the most exciting part of the concert?

I finally got voted into an elite running club! I must have figured out the unspoken rules, some of which are:
a) never beat anyone (horribly)
b) never complain about the run until it's started
c) know a little something about everyone in the group.
i. know enough to make fun of everyone, a little bit.
Wish me luck. I hear rumors of initiation - but I'll have to let you know when I figure out why they keep talking about "plenty of cliques that joined a queue." Who even knows these things!

Classes start September 23, at which point you will read uber-smart posts and see me push my glasses back up the bridge of my nose. Until then? Hang in there, I guess. Or, you could watch literal music videos. There are some on youtube, if the newspaper article link doesn't work. I may or may not have watched all seven posted in the article... If you haven't figured this out yet, disclaimers and apologies are automatically included in each blog post. No exception.