Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hoo Hoo Hoo Hoosiers!

Last Thursday, I was walking with Kyler after class when he got a phone call. Maybe his roommates. Or a classmate. Or a family member. Nope. It was my roommate. Strange? I thought so. So I checked my phone to see if maybe I had missed her call, and she was calling Kyler in an effort to reach me. No missed calls.  Hmmm....

I couldn't hear their conversation, but Kyler's only responses were, "Yeah! Awesome! For sure! Thanks Claire!" And then he hung up.

When he got off the phone, I inquired about his strange conversation, and he notified me that we were going to the IU game that night. Well yeah, we have tickets to this game already. And we're sitting COURTSIDE.

Woah! What an upgrade from practically the highest seat in the highest corner in the (Real) Assembly Hall.

To say we had amazing seats is an understatement. We had awesome seats to an awesome game. Fortunately, we remembered to take our camera. Unfortunately, we didn't have it charged. So we came away with approximately 8 pictures. But here they are to give you an idea of just how. close. we. were.

Illinois drawing up a game plan prior to the start of the game.

Christian Watford getting ready to jump on tip off.
  Oh, did we mention that our awesome seat were right behind the Illini bench, right in the midst of, not just Illini fans, but the Illini players' families. They were good sports about us rooting against their youngins.

Tom Pritchard, probably doing something unproductive. (sorry he's not my favorite)

Inbound pass on our side of the court
 And then the camera died. This was about 55 seconds into the game. I would have loved to capture the last 55 seconds for you all, because that's when all the awesomeness happened. In case you didn't catch the game, the Hoosiers won by 3 points! It was neck and neck the entire game, and Jordan Hulls (my personal fave) ended up saving us another heartbreak by hitting some key free throws in the last minute(s). We were stoked that we won a Big Ten game, which was huge in itself, but we also won against the number 21 ranked Illinois Fighting Illini.

And to be on the floor, right in the midst of the action, was incredible. Thanks Claire (for your awkward phone call to my fiance) for offering us your extra tickets to courtside seats!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A New Semester

When thinking about what to write about for this post, I told Kara that really nothing too exciting had happened in the last week to write about. I told her that I should write about our new semester and what our classes/semesters are shaping up like this year. She basically rolled her eyes at me (insinuating the boringness of such posts), but I have nothing better to write about so here it goes...

This semester is going great for both of us so far! Last semester, I was taking a lot of techinical classes, but this semester I have classes like operations, marketing, human resources, strategy, and management, which makes me think a lot more about real-life situations than I had in the past. We are doing a lot of business cases, which help us all think more strategically about what we would do in each situation. I am really enjoying it, and feel that I have learned a lot so far in these first few weeks.

Additionally, this semester is going to be much different than other semesters. Basically, I have 10 weeks of class, one week of a "Capstone" project, and then I head off for 5 weeks on a field study, which is basically a mini-internship that is built into the curriculum. So, with 2 weeks down, I am already 20% done with my classes, which is definitely great. I still don't know where I will be headed on my field study, but I am pretty sure it will be somewhere in the US (a large portion of the class goes abroad, but for timing reasons this probably wasn't the best option - what with the wedding and all). I will keep you updated when I know something - hopefully within the next month.

Kara's semester, from my perspective, seems to be going swell also but maybe she will speak for herself on what she is doing. She is graduating after the semester and definitely sees the light at the end of the tunnel, which she points out to me often.

The craziest thing about this semester is everything that is coming afterwards. School will be mainly normal as always, but after this semester both of our lives are going to change drastically. We are both looking forward to the wedding, the honeymoon, Kara's full-time job, my new internship, and moving 3 times in the course of about 11 months! It will be an eventful summer and the start of a lot of brand new experiences.

Thanks for reading....hopefully something exciting will happen soon that you will want to hear about more than this.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Meet the newest members of our family...

This is Left Tom.

And this is Right Tom.

I don't want these guys to feel like they're known by specific characteristics, (no discriminating here) so I'll just refer to them as Toms.

They joined the family yesterday. Now I know what you're thinking, that Kyler and I aren't really family yet. You're right. But that's not the family I'm talking about anyway. I'm talking about THIS family. The one that lives in the bottom of my closet.

And continuing on my mind-reading antics, I know what else you're thinking after seeing the above picture. "What kind of shoes do you wear in the summer?" Do not worry, my friends, my summer shoes are either packed in a box under the bed or at my parents' house. I hope you didn't think those were ALL of my shoes.

But back to the Toms.

For Christmas, my future mother-in-law got all the girls/women (I think I'm the only girl left. Aren't unmarried females girls and married females women? Or what IS the difference?) a pair of Toms. I may have mentioned to her that Toms were all the rage on the IU campus and that I was dying to get a pair. And I may have had Kyler email her a link to the Toms website with my preferred color and size...on like December 15th. And on Christmas, I opened up a pair of Toms. Unfortunately I had turned in my Christmas list too late, but the fabulous lady that she is had already ordered me a pair. Actually, the only unfortunate thing was that the size wasn't right. It wasn't her fault. I have ever-changing sized feet. Last year she got me a pair of 7.5s, and this year I only wear 7s. I'm shrinking...or at least my feet are.

So we (as in Terry) shipped back the other pair, and Friday new, more properly sized Toms arrived on my doorstep! I giddily opened them up and tried them on.

And then realized that after being on the porch for hours, the insides were freezing cold, so I promptly took them off and admired them on my kitchen table.

I tell you what, I haven't even worn the Toms yet, and they're already life-changing. For those of you unfamiliar with Toms, let me explain.

Last spring, I attended the Check Your Label symposium, organized by the director of Alternative Breaks Program, a wonderful lady whom I work with daily. The symposium was all about clothing choices and how consumer spending impacts lives all over the world. The four speakers there all had different experiences with choosing their clothing strategically to make a difference in those with less fortunate social and economic conditions. The keynote speaker of the day was Blake Mycoskie, the founder of Toms shoes.

Here is Blake's story taken from the Toms website:

"In 2006, American traveler Blake Mycoskie befriended children in Argentina and found they had no shoes to protect their feet. Wanting to help, he created TOMS Shoes, a company that would match every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need. One for One. Blake returned to Argentina with a group of family, friends and staff later that year with 10,000 pairs of shoes made possible by TOMS customers."

Now you're probably thinking, "Why shoes?" Well, the Toms website also tells us that.

"Many children in developing countries grow up barefoot. Whether at play, doing chores or going to school, these children are at risk:

A leading cause of disease in developing countries is soil-transmitted diseases, which can penetrate the skin through bare feet. Wearing shoes can help prevent these diseases, and the long-term physical and cognitive harm they cause.

Wearing shoes also prevents feet from getting cuts and sores. Not only are these injuries painful, they also are dangerous when wounds become infected.

Many times children can't attend school barefoot because shoes are a required part of their uniform. If they don't have shoes, they don't go to school. If they don't receive an education, they don't have the opportunity to realize their potential."

Wow! How unconceivable is it that a pair of shoes can make such a difference in a person's life? Although I do love the style and comfort and trendiness of the Toms, it may be the fact that somewhere, because of my future mother-in-law's purchase on my behalf, a child's life is a little bit better.

And that is why I love my Toms!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Charlotte Alternative Winter Break - Part II

As promised, I wanted to delve into the other things that happened on our trip that did not involve volunteering. First of all, the trip was quite the experience due to the extreme diversity we had --two Americans, one South Korean-American, two Chinese students, and one Indian Student. I am sure that every restaurant we went into had people wondering what brought that interesting combination together. I really enjoyed the time that I spent with my groupmates, and we all got along well (despite a few cultural differences). Combined, the six of us could speak 7 different languages!

Bank of America Headquarters
The first full night we were down there we went to downtown Charlotte to check out the sights. The city seemed very clean and had buildings that appeared to be a lot newer than what I am used to in downtown settings (not that I have experienced a ton of downtowns). BofA's headquarters was in town, which was also the tallest building in the city (of course, investment bankers....).

The Epicentre

View of Bobcats Stadium from Epicentre

The Group...minus me
The first night, we went to the Epicenter, which is a really nice part of downtown with a lot of nightlife. We didn't really hit up all of the nightlife, but we checked out an art gallery (below) and also ate at a pretty nice pizza restaurant. Everyone was pretty content just to check the city out and move around all night.

This painting was selling for at least 4K!
Basically, what we did for fun every night was check out a new cool restaurant. It varied from the Cajun queen, the local pizza place, a "ghetto" Chinese restaurant, and Don Pueblo's (below), which I am pretty sure was actually in South Carolina.
Quite the Meal
And, of course, the trip would not have been complete without some completely unanticiapted excitement. As I was waiting to get picked up by some groupmates about 6:20 on Wednesday morning, they called to inform me that someone had broken into our car. At first, I thought it was a joke, but then knew that they were serious! I knew that we had to take care of that, so three of us were unable to go to school that day. Various hold-ups ranging from the police to the rental car company did not allow us to resolve the issue until about 1:00PM that day.

I did meet a new friend while outside waiting for the cops....

And, fittingly, the house beside us was aptly addressed...

I actually spoke to 911 responders just to get someone on-site
6.5 hours and several 90s sitcoms later (Saved by the Bell, Boy Meets World, Full House, Golden Girls), we were back on the road with a new car. We were minus two GPS(es), so I am still not sure how that will all resolve itself....

Lastly, we left about 3:30PM from Charlotte on Friday afternoon, hoping that we could be home by around 1:00AM. As we entered the Smoky Mountains National Park, the snow began to come down - first softly, then heavily. After switching drivers, I woke up finding our car surrounded by fast-falling snow and a car moving about 40MPH. I took over the wheel to give the other driver a break, but we were going terribly slow and the roads were getting bad. An ambulance came up behind us, and a police officer notified us that we wouldn't be getting anywhere fast, as the roads ahead were causing many vehicles to spin in circles. I turned the bus around and found a hotel just outside of Louisville. Six people in one hotel room....I slept on the floor (pretty restlessly, I might add). We woke up, had breakfast, and made the 2-hour trip home - a little delayed, but safe.

It was definitely quite the experience, as all my other three ASB trips have been. I am glad I have had the opportunity to do this every year, because I have been put in many different situations and have learned so much with the experiences. Oh, and here are some pictures of where I was staying (with three 23-year girls, I might add).
My Bed
Kitchen/Dining Room...a little messy but liveable

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Charlotte Alternative Winter Break - Part I

Last week, I traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina on an Alternative Winter Break trip. Essentially, these trips are designed for about six-ten students to travel across the country or abroad to volunteer with social issues that interest them. This was my fourth trip, but it was the first that I have done over winter break. This first post will be about all of the volunteering experiences, and Part II (to come later this week) will talk about everything else we did in Charlotte.

Day 1
Six of us went on the trip, and two volunteers were at three different schools - Vance, Garinger, and KIPP Charlotte (Knowledge is Power Program). Zhu (originally from China, has been in America for 6 months) and I both worked at Vance High School, which was quite the experience. All of these schools are in low-income urban areas, so the demographics, behavior, and size were much different than what I was used to.

Vance High School
This school had about 1,900 students. I was informed by one senior that out of 500 seniors only 150 will be graduating this year - a crazy statistic! The "campus" was rather large, and you had to walk outside from time to time to get to class. The high school was new and fairly high-tech, which was great.

The first day, we helped a TFA (Teach for America) teacher in her Algebra 2 class. They were reviewing for an End of Course exam administered by the state, so we were going over worksheets and helping students when they encountered problems. It was definitely a good review for Zhu and I, using the quadratic equation, factoring, completing the square, graphing parabolas and circles, and my least favorite--synthetic division, which I cannot remember how to do.

Algebra 2 Teacher

Then, we helped grade some chemistry tests, and I also helped prepare a "mystery solution" chemistry experiment involving Dr. Pepper, water, boric acid, vinegar, and bleach. We then picked our classmates at Garinger up and headed to KIPP to help out for the rest of the afternoon.

KIPP - Used to be a Church
 Day 2
We wanted to see what the classroom experience was like, so we sat in on an Algebra 2 lecture. Kids spoke out of turn, often disobeyed the teacher directly, and generally did not understand a lot of what was being reviewed.

After that was over, Zhu and I headed to an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher's class to help out. It was a much smaller class with only 8 kids (7 from El Salvador and 1 from Ethiopia). I spent most of the period teaching phonics with flash cards to a student who had only been in America for two months. To make things worse, he could not read Spanish very well either, which complicated things further. Later in the day, I also helped tutor two of these kids in math, where they were adding matrices. For a seemingly simple topic, it was very difficult to get the process across to them, even though I tried using both English and Spanish.

ESL Teacher
Day 3
This day involved very little volunteering. It was not a "day off", as I was helping deal with a pretty complicated situation involving our rental van. I did manage to help out some at KIPP, where I graded part of an reading comprehension exam. More on Day 3 in Part II....

Day 4
We spent this entire day with Zhu's host, who was a science teacher. The interesting thing about TFA is that the teachers do not have an educational background. This teacher, for example, majored in Political Science in college. The teachers, who have a two year commitment, take a summer-long crash course on teaching. He was only one year older than me, and it was difficult trying to picture myself sacrificing my next two years to do what he is doing.

Blogger is Extremely frustrating when rotating pictures, but this is Zhu's host

In his class, we went to the library to help students with an Internet-based assignment. As all good high school students do, they were often distracted by other things on the Internet and often drug their feet when it came to actually doing the assignment. However, for every student dragging his feet, there was always an extremely engaged one who was eager to learn everything, which was definitely inspiring.

Day 5
This day was extremely interesting because the first block Zhu and I were teaching two autistic kids. I was trying to teach my student addition, but he often forgot to carry his one, which obviously was a problem. He finally began to understand what I was teaching, and we moved on to multiplying. After a long period of time, I was able to get across that any number times zero equals zero and any number times one equals itself. However, multiplying by twos was a whole other story that was never resolved. One of the major problems with autistic kids is that they have difficulty thinking for themselves. To help with this, I had some fill-in-the-blank sentences for my student to complete. He was definitely enjoying it and making me laugh frequently. My favorite was the sentence "My uncle has a _________", to which his response was a "wrist, a right wrist". I also had some difficulty explaining that the sentence "A ______ has four legs" cannot be completed with the words "boy or girl".

The rest of the day, I helped the ESL students with a computer assignment and sat in on an AP Science class, which was a much different experience than the other classes. The kids were all eager to learn and respected their teacher always.

Thanks for reading some/all of this. It was really an incredible experience that is difficult to capture in a blog post, but I hope you got a picture of what we did during the week.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! Many exciting things happened in 2010, but 2011 seems to be giving it a run for its money. With our upcoming graduation, wedding, moving to and fro (3 times at least), and starting new jobs, 2011 will be one of the most memorable! There's so much we're looking forward to, but we had a blast celebrating the close of 2010.

I love to celebrate on New Year's Eve, but Kyler('s family) tends to go to bed early. So I took it upon myself to create a distraction to keep the Gray clan up, and it ended up being more fun than I, and hopefully everyone else, anticipated. Insert: The 2010 Couples Olympics!

The contenders: Kristoffer and Dana, Emily and Zach, Anique and Kamaron, Kyler and me, and Kelli and Austin. I'm not sure we could've had a more competitive group for our little competition. Kyler and I planned a medly of minute-to-win-it type games that lasted around a minute each (hence the name). And we also had plenty of traditional games. Because it was couples olympics, as Kyler would say, teams were only as strong as its weakest member.

The evening turned out to be great fun, and it kept everyone wide awake to ring in the new year, which was my ultimate goal. Now for a recap of the evening:


Toilet Paper Roll-Off
Receiving directions            

Phase 10

Timed Puzzle Assembly

Wii Bowling

Pedometer Race :)


Keep Balloons Up


All night we kept a score board, and at the end of the night the winners were announced. Kristoffer and Dana are the reigning champs. Prizes were distributed, and then we popped open the Sparkling Red Grape Juice, just in time to see the countdown to 2011!

Everyone sporting the placement in the competition!
Just plain goofiness! 
Happy New Year to family and friends!