mardi 24 mai 2011

This is What You Do When You're a Senior

Hey there! I haven't written in a while, but don't worry... I haven't given up on the blog. ;) (It'd be quitting to give up before I even get my first comment! I'm going to need to significantly improve my blog-writing skills before I can justify giving up this here project.)

In any case, I've been busy getting ready for graduation. Picinics, breakfasts, awards ceremonies, volleyball in the park... it's a lot of work being a senior. You've got to live it up when you only have two more days of being a carefree highschooler. I could swear that I'm still in middle school half the time, but apparently adulthood advances a bit faster than that.

I'm still working on cleaning out my room... not that it's overly messy but I'm a lot more easily distracted than I thought I was when I started this project. The biggest issue is that I have so many books, and only one bookshelf to put them on. I know that being a minimalist entails letting go of things, but... not... books...

The good news is that I got a job callback today, so with any luck I'll end up with a summer job. ;) And... I have a few more prospective French students. So as of right now I think I'll label today a Good Day.

Oh... and I should be studying for exams right now. Sorry. Bye.

dimanche 15 mai 2011

Spring Cleaning

There are eight days left until graduation and I'm still cleaning my bedroom (I've been cleaning it for about a week now). I wouldn't say that it's clutter-free yet but I've thrown away a lot of junk and I've got another pile that I'll be donating or selling. Converting to minimalism is a lot harder than I thought it would be, since I keep discovering how emotionally attached I am to my things. There are some things, like old stuffed animals, that I'm just not ready to get rid of. And there are other things that I'd kind of like to save in case I have children in the future (old porcelain dolls, books, childhood toys, etc.).
Getting rid of things is kind of like pulling off a band-aid (for lack of better imagery ;-) ). You have to make sure you're ready, then hold your breath and don't think about it.
It's kind of refreshing to be able to create space. I'm coming to realize that emptiness is kind of like silence: restorative and necessary.

mercredi 11 mai 2011

Being a Little Bit Amazing

(As opposed to being very amazing which takes considerably more time and effort. We'll cross that bridge when we get there.)

Clarity and persistence are the keys to accomplishing big goals.

First, you have to know what you want. What are you good at? What do you like to do? Can you turn it into a project? Will you feel amazing if this project is completed? Do you care enough to keep working at it until it's finished?

In my case I like to write. That's easy enough to turn into a project: write a book. The harder part is staying dedicated. I've written two (crappy) novellas in my life and I can tell you that perseverance is difficult. I wrote the first novella when I was ~13 and I remember that I just wanted it to be done, although I can't recall why this was such a big deal at the time. Finishing the book was my motivation for finishing the book. (That's right.) The second one was written last year thanks to the prompting of my French teacher who decided that my final project for the year would be to write a novel in French. So in this case my motivation was just to finish the hundred or so pages so that I wouldn't get an "F" in the class. I didn't think about it. I just sat down and did my daily quota.

Granted, I wouldn't feel comfortable publishing either of these books. But the point is that they're done and even if I'm not Jane Austen, at least I've proven to myself that I have the capability to write these things.

You can do amazing things. What do you want to want to start with?

mardi 10 mai 2011

Becoming an Adult

With graduation ahead, some of my friends and I have been joking that we're going to have to become adults soon. We're entering the "real world" (as opposed to the "fake world?") and before we know it our childish antics will be taboo. Skipping down hallways, meowing like cats (it's a form of greeting at my school), having group conversations with imaginary classmates, perfecting our ninja skills... it's all part of the high school experience and none of it belongs in a professional work environment. As far as I know.

Plus there is the sudden onslaught of life skills that we have to learn to manage. Driving, cooking, laundry, jobs, taxes, manners, independence, studying, money management... some of us are more prepared than others but I don't think that any of my classmates have lived alone before, and everybody I've talked to is a bit nervous about going to college. Some of us are afraid that we won't make friends. Some of us can't tell our insurance card apart from our drivers' license. Some of us have never had a job before... A lot of my classmates are far more mature than I am but we're all still facing something new.

Growing up takes a really long time. Some days I feel like I could take on the world and other days I feel like I'm still in middle school. In our society, graduation is a rite of passage into adulthood. People seem to expect that a graduate will suddenly develop a grasp of the "real world" and conform to the image of the working adult or the energetic college student. In reality, however, I doubt that getting my diploma will make me feel any older.

My peers and I will have to just do our best to get jobs, to try to learn to cook, to try to improve our social skills and business skills -- I think that's how a person learns to grow up. And then there are the parts where we have to step outside our comfort zones: moving out of the house, traveling, taking responsibility for the effects of our actions, making important decisions... One day we might actually become the responsible adults that we're all pretending to be.

lundi 9 mai 2011

Announcing the Arrival of Spring!

We had two warm days in a row and all the snow is finally melted, so I think that it's safe to say that spring has arrived up here in the Great Northern Woods. Well, the residential part anyway. I can't speak for the actual North-Northern Woods...

My mom planted a bunch of tulips to celebrate but apparently the wildlife finds them delectable. The squirrels ate the tulips with the shorter stems and buried the tops in the dirt (presumably to save them for later). Then the deer came and ate the tulips that had managed to evade the squirrels. The deer eat her hostas as well. Some summer nights when the full moon is out and I can't sleep I look out the window to see a herd of deer in the front lawn, bathed in moonlight, munching on hostas and tulip petals. In winter they get to our house by walking across the frozen Bear Lake, but I'm not sure how they get here in the summer. Same with the foxes and the coyotes... I just don't know where they come from. I don't remember having a lot of wildlife around here in the past and now all of a sudden there are bobcats frolicking on the streets.

Environmentally speaking, I'm not sure if this is a good thing. I'm pretty sure that when animals show up in residential areas (even ones with lots of trees :-) ) it means that they're being pushed out of their natural habitats. But at least we don't have bears here. I wouldn't want to wake up and see a bear snacking on the tulips in the garden.

samedi 7 mai 2011

Things I Don't Remember Owning

First step to becoming a minimalist: getting rid of stuff I can't remember I had. Boxes in the basement, boxes in the attic, boxes in the closet...

The tricky part is that as soon as I open the boxes, I remember what's inside. :/ Yesterday I spent a good part of the evening cleaning out old papers and toys that I had saved from my childhood. I saved literally everything from the age of about 9-14, and stashed it all in boxes in the basement. With no organization whatsoever. So yesterday I ended up picking through boxes of random school assignments, rocks, key chains, dolls, my brother's school assignments, pieces of thread, fabric scraps, some candy, broken pencils... and now I'm wondering what was wrong with me when I was younger because normal people don't stash candy and stolen school assignments in hidden corners of the basement closet... (The good news is that I don't do that anymore.)

I cleaned out the attic, too, with the help of my mom. The attic was, of course, worse than the basement because the attic is attached to my bedroom and it has the added benefit of being the room that nobody will enter. It was more of a personal trash and junk receptacle than anything... but now it's clean. And it's going to stay that way because I've deemed it illegal to open the attic door in the future. The mice might escape.

Just kidding. They're too full to go anywhere. (I didn't limit my candy-stashing to the basement, apparently.)

(The mice are gone, actually. Don't worry. ;) )

Now I just have to move on to my bedroom closets. Scary.

jeudi 5 mai 2011

The Etiquette of Awareness

Amy Vanderbilt never wrote about the internet. She never wrote about cell phones. Unless she was a psychic, I'm pretty sure she never heard the terms "twitter" and "texting."
Well birds twittered back then, but...

The point is that Amy Vanderbilt's etiquette book never contained a chapter about the etiquette of technology in a hyper-unfocused world. She never told us that it's impolite to text during a conversation, so we have to figure it out ourselves. And it's taking a long time, since the world is a lot more distracting than it was in the 1950s.

I think that my generation has to learn to look at the logic of etiquette before we start memorizing how it works in individual applications. The point of etiquette is to put people at ease. This is accomplished by establishing common rules for behavior, and by acting in a way that's generally predictable (that is, one would expect a visitor to sit on a couch as opposed to jumping on the couch and yelling profanities). Based on personal observations, my generation is sometimes confused about what it means to put people at ease.

So I'll use the example of texting during a conversation. The reason it's bad etiquette to pick up a cell phone and start texting while your friend is in the middle of a sentence is that it will make the speaker feel unimportant. Obviously, you like whoever is texting you more than you like the person who's speaking to you in person. ;) If you've ever been in a situation where one of your friends abandons you to go talk to another friend, you'll know how uncomfortable it is to be given the message that you're the "gamma" friend. Abandoning a friend for a cellphone is pretty similar.

Granted, we all have a hard time breaking ourselves away from technology. It's addictive, and it's almost a pavlovian response that we experience when we hear our phones beeping. We have to keep reminding ourselves: people. Pay attention to people. Be aware of what they're saying. Cell phones can usually wait. People, however, don't enjoy spending their time watching others compose text messages.

Getting a Summer Job: Step 1

As you may know from my previous posts, I'm looking for a summer job this year in order to help pay for college.

I thought I would share the first step in this process with you, in case you find getting a summer job as daunting as I do.

Obtain an Application
And either fill it out in the store (or wherever you're applying) or ask if you can take it home and bring it back later.

Prepare Yourself
Before you leave your house to go application-searching, make sure that you do three things:
Put on appropriate clothes that make you feel confident. Granted, you're probably not going to have an interview on the day that you fill out an application, and a lot of times you'll never set eye on your future boss -- somebody at the front desk might just hand you an application and ask you to fill it out. But you never know who might see you and it's best to make a good impression on your future boss and coworkers.
Think about where you want to apply, so that you'll have a strategic plan when you leave your house (although you can always be flexible and apply to different places that you see while you're out). If you're applying to a lot of businesses, make sure to have a list of all the applications that you've obtained, and note whether or not you've turned them in yet so that you won't have any surprises or confusion later on. On a related note, if you have a lot of applications you might want to write where they came from in pencil, since some applications don't have the business' name on them and you wouldn't want to mix them up.
Smile, since people will be more likely to hand you an application if they feel that you're approachable and friendly.

At first I was intimidated about asking for job applications, but it's actually a lot easier than I expected. I obtained applications by looking for businesses that looked like they might hire summer help. I walked into the store (etc.) and approached the person at the front desk/checkout (making sure to smile and be generally pleasant!). I asked them if (insert business name) would be hiring any summer help this year. They either responded... yes, no, or "maybe but it's not likely." If there was a possibility of being hired, they would hand me an application and I told them that I was going to take it home to fill it out and bring it back shortly.

Then you just fill the application out, which is generally self-explanatory (or if things are getting complicated, ask Google. ;) ) Don't forget to bring the applications back and ask where to turn it in. Somebody will either direct you to the manager or take the application for you. Then you wait. If you want you could follow up to make sure that the application has been received by the appropriate person.

Step one: accomplished.

P.S. Remember to say thank you to the people who take the time to provide you with a job application. But you already knew that.

samedi 30 avril 2011

Minimalist Plus Dinnerware

Now that I know where I'm going to college, I'll have to get ready for dorm life. I've been thinking a lot about the minimalist lifestyle and it seems like a good fit for my personality. I don't like spending time cleaning, I don't usually buy a lot of stuff, and I'm always in trouble for leaving things lying around the house... what better way to fix that than just to get rid of the offending property? Plus, I might actually be able to fit into my dorm room, without being crowded out by things.

The only problem is that I don't know how to reconcile minimalism with...

...well, and this is going to sound particular but...

as you probably guessed from this blog's title, I like formality. If I am a minimalist with one dinner plate and a spoon, how will I have a dinner party? Okay, and even if I splurge and provide spoons for everybody...

The logical answer would be that I should be a moderate minimalist. Hum, and I don't know what moderate minimalism looks like. See? We're getting into grey areas here... Spoons or no spoons? Minimalism or not?

Concretely, I guess, I'll be a minimalist plus dinnerware. There. Problem solved.

mardi 19 avril 2011

College News

There's good news on the horizon: I might get to go to Kalamazoo College! After a bit of a go-around (is that the right expression?) with the Registrar's Office (very patient people) we've determined that I will be able to transfer two AP units (Kalamazoo's version of 3.33 college credits), hopefully a third if I score high enough on their French Placement Test, and I will probably be able to transfer six units from the Community College. That would make it 9 units out of 36 needed to transfer. Exactly one year's worth. Which is exactly how much I needed in order to have a shot at affording Kalamazoo College.

On one hand I'm sad that I most likely won't be able to afford the full four years of college but I'm lucky that I ended up with enough transfer credits to give me the chance to go to a great college. I was a little bit sad yesterday because some of the staff have been implying that would be quite a loss not to go to Kalamazoo for the full four years. It's not that I don't want to stay, though... I just can't.

In any case, we're still not sure if I'll be able to go. I'll make my decision this week, I think.

jeudi 14 avril 2011

Finishing Impossible Things

Sometimes when I'm overwhelmed I can't figure out where to begin to make things better.

An example: I'm really bad at keeping my bedroom clean. Especially when I'm busy. Clothes pile up on the furniture, art supplies clutter the floor, my bed is never made... eventually I stop putting things away at all because it doesn't make any difference. My bedroom looks like it has been ripped apart by a class of angry kindergartners.

At this point I have no motivation to clean my room. It looks like a circus? So what. It always looks like a circus. A messy one. 

Except that that's a lie and eventually the mess starts to get on my nerves.  

But I'm too lazy to clean it because I'm busy watching The Office.

Enter the Rule of 10. Actually, it's two rules:
1. I have to do ten things to make my room look better. Put away ten pairs of socks. Put ten colored pencils back in the pencil box. Whatever.
2. I can't do anything to make the mess worse. No more using my bed as a filing cabinet. Clean clothes have to be hung up upon entering the room.

If I follow these rules it ends up taking a really long time to clean my room. But it also doesn't take more than a minute every day. Usually I find that if I put ten things away I'll want to put ten more things away, and then ten more. You know. Inertia.
Mostly, though, it helps me to feel like I'm more in control. Like an it's going to take forever to do this but at least it won't be difficult sort of feeling.

This concept can be applied to a lot of projects that seem impossible.  Writing a book?  Write ten sentences.  Starting a garden?  Plant ten plants.  Doing your homework?  Finish ten problems...

Growing a High-Maintenance Garden

Aside from my personal vegetable garden, we have a family garden that we put in last year. We tried to grow squash and beans but the zucchini and the monster tomatoes took over. Well, and then the tomatoes suffocated the zucchini so it ended up being a tomato garden.

Part I: Before we planted our garden we came to the understanding that it was to be an organic garden. Marigolds. Pepper spray. Hand-picking the caterpillars and relocating them.

It was great, actually. The plants were doing really well. Unnervingly well. Especially the tomatoes, which by mid-summer were taller than a regular-sized adult. The caterpillars, too, were probably snacking on the robins that popped in once in a while.

It was great until the tomato plants grew bigger than my car. Then it was scary. We could almost hear a fe fi fo fum floating from the tops of the tomato stalks. The caterpillars were multiplying. Unfamiliar insects were breeding in the shade of the tomato trees. We should have started pruning a long time ago.

Part II: The Fertilizer Man (sorry I can't think of a more dignified name for him) was not on board with the organic aspect of the organic garden. I walked outside one day and my mom handed me a broom. "Here," she said, "the lawn man came."

Sweeping fertilizer pellets out of a garden is hard. Sweeping fertilizer pellets out of a tomato jungle is harder.

I guess the point of saying this is to emphasize that we can fuss as much as we want over things, but sometimes we just can't control what happens.  We planted marigolds to use as a pest repellant so that we wouldn't have to use chemicals in the garden.  The marigolds ended up thriving on artificial grass fertilizer.

(Organic gardening is worth the fuss, mind you.  I just wish the Fertilizer Man agreed.)

mercredi 13 avril 2011

Growing the Easiest Garden

My compost pile is the love of my life.

I used to like gardening. A lot. Literally, I would turn my bedroom into a greenhouse in the winter. I planted every seed I could find, as well as some things that in hindsight I'm pretty sure were not seeds. (Cheerios, for example, will not grow.)

The problem is that I killed every plant I owned except for one aloe vera plant and a ponytail palm tree (my mom is in charge of taking care of them). I dreamed of starting a garden but my seedlings would die before they ever saw the Great Outdoors.

I tried really hard to grow a garden. I planted beans. I watered flowers. Everything died. I planted beans. I watered flowers. Everything died. I planted beans. I watered flowers...

It took me a while to accept this, but growing plants is not my calling. Not now.

No, I have a different vocation. It's called Composting Kitchen Scraps and I'm really good at it. It's simple: you take your kitchen scraps (no raw meat) (or any meat) and put them in a bowl. Take the bowl outside. Dump the bowl on your compost heap. It helps if you can contain your compost in some way so that the wild animals and your little dog Abbey won't carry yesterday's mango peels into the neighbors' yards. I built my compost pile around a huge pine tree in our backyard, inside a fence we made from old bricks.

Composting isn't all that different from gardening. It's just that instead of creating food from dirt you're creating dirt from food. Reverse gardening.

Lately, I've found that my compost pile bears great benefits called Mystery Plants That Grow in Piles of Food Scraps. Mostly these are seeds from food that we ate earlier in the season, and which have germinated. So far we've had squash, broccoli, potato, squash, onion, squash, and squash plants, plus a few extras that we couldn't identify. While we don't feel comfortable eating these plants, I have to tell you that they don't die. Let me repeat that: I cannot kill the plants that grow in my compost heap. It's compost and a garden all in one!

How Not to Get a Job

Thinking about paying for college is seriously scary. I feel like I'm going to dig myself into a hole of debt that I won't be able to climb out of. I mean, I've never had a real job. I've never even finished a job application. How am I supposed to pay for an education?

There are two job applications sitting on my counter as I write this. I brought them home a few days ago and I was pretty gung-ho about filling them out until I googled "How To Fill Out a Job Application" and came to the realization that I was supposed to fill out the applications at the store. So I'm afraid to turn in the applications because now that I think of it the lady at the flower shop gave me a funny look when went skipping out the door with my application in hand.

Well, and then I have to send in a résumé. Which would be fine except that I haven't got any idea how to write a résumé. And even if I did, what would I put on it? I'm good at writing, and teaching French. That's not going to help me get a job at the supermarket.

Special skills? Verb conjugation.

Special interests? Words and sentences.

Maybe people are wondering why I don't just go find more French students.
I am, too. I don't know where to find them.

There's always a third option: henna tattoos. I have a skill for giving people henna tattoos.

I guess my first step toward paying for college would be to find a job. Who wants a tattoo?

mardi 12 avril 2011

Little Etiquette Book

I found an etiquette book at a garage sale and it changed my life.

Did you know that there are rules of etiquette for cleaning your bedroom? Amy Vanderbilt does. She wrote a book about it.

Now I do too. Thanks to my etiquette book. (But don't clean your room before you clean the kitchen -- that's a no-no.)

The greatest thing about having an etiquette book on my shelf is that -- as weird as it sounds -- it improves my self-esteem. Never again will I have to worry about how to set my table, or how to seat guests at a party, or which kind of stationery I should use to send a letter to my grandma. My etiquette book is all-knowing. When is it appropriate to wear nail polish? How do you announce an adoption? What is the proper way to host a bridge party (assuming I ever learned to play)? Where at the table do I sit if I'm left-handed? What sort of gift is appropriate for a nun? What in the world is a linen shower for???

This is what happens when I take more than fifty cents to a garage sale.

In a spirit of adventure, I've decided to make a habit of improving my etiquette. Mostly so that I'll stop accidentally offending people but also because... well actually that's the only reason. If I think of another reason I'll let you now.

Task #1: Make my bed every morning. Simple enough.

lundi 11 avril 2011

Choosing a College

Today I have two missions:
The first is to make chocolate chip cookies.
The second is to determine whether or not Kalamazoo College will let me transfer any of my dual-enrolled community college credits. It's a critical question because, you see, I have to choose between Hope College and Kalamazoo College before May 1st, when the enrollment deposits are due. Kalamazoo is the top choice but Hope has been enticing me with offers of accepting my community college and AP exam credits... possibly allowing me to graduate in three years. Plus Hope College accepts CLEP credits, which Kalamazoo doesn't. So... hmm... go to a college that I love or pay at least $30,000 less to go to a college that I really like, with the possibility of graduating in three years or less? Decisions, decisions.

One of the more perplexing aspects of getting ready to go to college is the nagging feeling that I should have my major picked out. The Nice College People with whom I've spoken have told me that I won't have to pick a major until my sophomore or junior year. Since, you know, college is for finding yourself and whatnot.
Well, um, as much as I'd like to pay an extra $40,000 or so to spend two years finding my passion, that's not going to happen. I insist on taking the straightest path to my major. No frills.

It would just help a lot if I knew what I wanted to major in. (Let me rephrase that: It would help if I knew what I wanted to major in that wouldn't leave me on the streets. I want to major in French but I'm pretty sure that straight-up French is not a good idea...)

Today Mr. Physics Teacher read us a list of the 10 top-paying undergraduate degrees.
It reads as follows:

4.Computer Science
8.Programming or something like that
9. Engineering
10. Engineering

I'm pretty sure I didn't see any Art or Foreign Languages on that list...