Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Worthy Organization, Followed By What Should Have Been My Graduate School Admission Essay

The following is a post sponsored by Yahoo! Every time someone clicks here to make Yahoo! their homepage, they're showing their support for Girls For A Change.

I was selected for this opportunity by Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

I learned about Girls For A Change from this opportunity with the Clever Girls Collective, and after studying their mission, I visited their website to learn more. Girls For A Change describes itself on their website as "a national organization that empowers girls to create social change. We invite young women to design, lead, fund and implement social change projects that tackle issues girls face in their own neighborhoods." Under the subheading "Our Mission," the organization's activities are described as follows:

GFC empowers girls for personal and social transformation. The program inspires girls to have the voice, ability and problem solving capacity to speak up, be decision makers, create visionary change and realize their full potential.

This language employs, as do most mission statements, powerful yet nonspecific words. My work in nonprofits and my coursework in Nonprofit Management has led me to scrutinize such language. Any organization can claim an important, attractive mission, and point out the ties between that mission, their local, community-based activities, and a broad, far-reaching goal that contributes to the general saving of the world. The implementation of mission-related activities is what really matters, in my opinion. And that is why I would like to call your attention to the following language from the Girls For A Change website that describes their specific activities:
Today, in cities across the country, Girl Action Teams of approximately 10 girls and two volunteer women Coaches meet to identify an issue or problem that they want to impact. The Coaches then teach the girls essential project planning and execution skills to aid them in designing ang implementing their social change project. [...] Every year, thousands of girls learn how to tackle community problems such as gang violence, low self esteem, and environmental degradation.

What I would like to point out is the way in which the specific activities of Girls For A Change address multiple community needs, not only in the content and broad range of the projects performed by the Girl Action Teams, but also by providing training to girls in effective leadership and management of these projects. Too often are well-intentioned projects inefficiently and ineffectively implemented, and such training not only avoids this problem in the short term, but helps to ensure cumulative benefits in the long term, as with that training, these young women can continue to work toward positive change in years to come. Positive change that takes place once is just that. It only happens once. It does not ensure sustainable outcomes.

The young women themselves benefit personally by gaining skills that they can carry with them throughout the remainder of their school years and into their adult lives and careers. What a great program!

This sounds much more effective and organized than my own youthful endeavors as an activist.

When I was in elementary school, I constantly tried to start clubs of which I was the President. I started my first club, the Cricket Club, when I was seven or so. I distinctly remember how I came up with that name. Riding in my parents' car, we passed a building with a sign that I saw a sign advertising a Cricket Club, and I liked the sound of that. My parents tried to explain to me that the club advertised by that particular sign was a group of people getting together to play a game called cricket, which was "like baseball" and therefore totally uninteresting to me, since watching baseball was against our House Rules. This wise advice fell on deaf ears. I liked that name and would not be moved.

I am not sure what the purpose of Cricket Club started as, other than a thing for which I must serve as President. I think it had something to do with all of my friends gathering under a metal playground structure that resembled something you'd see at Storm King. I think it also had something to do with magic rocks. These were any pebbles selected from the myriad colorful pebbles that covered the ground of our playground, which were especially colorful or beautiful and therefore magic. I have one specific memory of a magic rock that looked like a hot dog bun, and was supposed to make food magically appear if you knew how to use it properly. None of us did.

Sometimes these magic rocks turned out to be dried up wads of somebody's spat-out gum. That was always a disappointment.

The Cricket Club eventually disbanded after all of my friends, sick of the President's hyper-bossiness, quit. At some point before that happened, however, our purpose shifted from magic rocks to social change, which I called Saving The World. A pretty ambitious goal for a second grader.

About a year later, with my best friend Ruthie, I started the Save The World Committee. The title of this one was a bit more to the point. We didn't last long, however. Our parents made us disband when my father overheard us list, among our goals for saving the world, "telling the President to make it so a girl can marry a girl and a boy can marry a boy if they want to." My parents in particular felt it was an inappropriate cause for an eight-year-old and a nine-year-old. My parents weren't homophobic, so I never have been certain of the motives behind this seemingly out of character move. I think it was because, although Ruthie and I didn't know this, our cause had to do with sex, and it wasn't long before we would, had we continued on that track, found out that people didn't just get married because they were really good friends, so why couldn't someone marry their best friend if they want to?

What shortly followed was the formation of the World Committee. All of the girls in my neighborhood and a couple of friends from school were members. I was the President, of course. I do not remember who was Vice President or Secretary, but I do know who was Treasurer, because of what happened to the club's entire general fund and eventually led to the organization's demise.

The members of the World Committee were savvier than the members of either the Cricket Club or the Save the World Committee. We knew that saving the world was a long process, and a small group of fourth and fifth graders had to start small. So our first order of business was to create a strategic plan, and we decided that the first project we'd undertake was going to be planting a tree. The benefit to the community would be improved air quality for the local population, as well as the environmental benefits of wildlife habitat and the cultural benefit of a tree's scenic beauty.

Lacking in our strategic plan was what type of tree we would plant and exactly where we would plant it. We did not determine from which nursery we would purchase the plant, nor did we ask a specific nursery for sponsorship. One of us must have visited a nursery with her parents, however, because at an early meeting, it was entered into the minutes that the average cost of a young tree was about thirty dollars. Thirty dollars became our goal.

We had a plan to raise thirty dollars, a plan that would engage the community. We went door to door. We did not solicit donations, and in fact, when our neighbors simply handed us a five dollar bill, we were astonished. Ours was a fee for service model. We offered to rake leaves and walk dogs in exchange for whatever our neighbors felt they could pay.

All went well, aside from one of our clients inexplicably ignoring our phone calls and visits without having paid us $10 for walking her dog. We even exceeded our thirty dollar goal. By now, it was winter, so we used the excess for some Christmastime local charity and held on to the thirty dollars, waiting for spring to buy and plant the tree.

But it was not to be. One day that winter, the Treasurer called me with unhappy news. It was a Friday night and her family had ordered pizza delivery. When the pizza arrived, her parents realized that they did not have enough cash to pay the delivery boy. Despite the Treasurer's protests, her mother took seventeen dollars out of the World Committee treasury. She replaced the money with a post-it note I.O.U.

A few months later, the entire family moved to Belgium. The Treasurer's mother never returned the seventeen dollars to the World Committee. We never quite recovered from this setback, and shortly after, we disbanded. It may also have slightly had something to do with the President being too bossy.

With that, I had my first lesson in the disappointment and disillusion that can accompany working for social change, in or out of the nonprofit sector. Yet today I am a student in the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government Nonprofit Management program, so I didn't give up, and it's because of effective, inspiring examples such as Girls For A Change. Remember, you must use the link provided at the opening of this post to be counted, and you must do so by July 1. Time is running out, so spread the word!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Homemade soy milk

I am still in a low Internet state. There is temporarily no Internet at my house, and my laptop isn't working. I can get online with a phone and a Nook, but the keyboards on those are not ideal. So I found my eeePC laptop, a mini laptop I had been ignoring because it had been going through a temperamental phase in which it didn't want to connect to the Internet and froze randomly. Now it occasionally gets slow, the word processor changes the fonts of sections of my document to DejaVu Sans for no reason that I can ascertain, and the Back and Forward buttons on Firefox aren't working. It is better than nothing, and I am happy to have it.

From Food

Above is a photograph of what the title of this post suggests I am going to tell you about. That big long plastic container houses all of the strawberries I picked in NJ and brought back to Oregon in my checked bag. The farm says they only last about three days in the fridge, yet I have had them for more than a week and not a single one has gone bad. I eat them every day, and there are still so many left. It is neverending strawberry happiness.

But I will write a novella about strawberries for you later. I even have a draft that I wrote by hand. Yes, on paper! That's what having no Internet at home and a bad laptop will do to you.

So, the soy milk. I am not a vegan. I am not even a vegetarian. I don't believe people who say that humans should not drink another animal's milk. I don't even drink soy milk that often. I don't seek it out in cafes or at the grocery store. I'm also not a passionate soy milk hater, either. If it's there, I'll drink it. But I never thought of myself as a big soy milk lover either.

So, I'm not quite sure why, when I read a recent Bust magazine article about making your own soy milk, I became overwhelmed with the desire to try it. Something about the recipe just made it sound so appealing, as well as easy. And it was. In case you can't get your hands on a copy of Bust from a few months ago, the same recipe (with more detail and more pictures) is here. When I brought my food processor/blender from NJ this winter, I was unable to fit the blender attachment in my bag. It wasn't until my most recent trip that I was able to retrieve that blender, and I held onto the soy milk recipe for all those months. In fact, the soy milk is the first thing I made with that blender since moving it across the country.

You just soak the beans, drain them and puree them with new water in the blender, then put the mixture in a pot with more water. Bring it to a boil while stirring the pot, then let it simmer for 25 minutes. Add sugar and a little salt. All of the measurements and ratios and times are in the recipe linked to above.

I didn't have cheese cloth or anything that I thought of improvising at the last minute, so I just used a mesh strainer. The result is a few bean pieces in my soy milk, which is fine when I'm just using it to reheat oatmeal on the stove.

Note. Even if you are not as prone to kitchen katastrophes as I am, do not leave that soy milk unattended when you are waiting for it to boil. Not until you have it lowered to a simmer should you turn your back on that pot. Just trust me. Something about the soybean and water mixture makes it come to a sudden and explosive boil. I mean explosive. I didn't even leave my kitchen this time. I was right next to the stove, rinsing a dish, when I heard the clang of the pot lid and saw an eruption of milky foam leaving sticky soy milk and chunks of soybeans all over my stovetop, under the burners, and on my kitchen floor. It leaked into the oven. It leaked into the drawer under the oven. I had just deep cleaned my kitchen this weekend!

Prior to this incident, however, I hadn't realized the parts of my stove that could be taken apart to be cleaned, and now I have a new project to take on when I am cleaning to relieve stress. So perhaps it wasn't all bad!

I decided I was not to be deterred, so after I cleaned up the kitchen karnage, I set out a new bowl of beans to soak, and that was how I was able to take that picture above. It was really, really good hot, when I had first made it, and it was good cold in iced coffee and in my oatmeal with strawberries.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Back in Oregon


From Sunrise Mountain

I'm back! But with very limited Internet capabilities.

The time when my posting began to dwindle was marked by lots happening at school, lots happening at work, car trouble, and even some doctor visits. Then I went out of town and stayed in a place with spotty Internet. Then I came home to a house with no Internet. I don't plan on getting Internet for awhile, not until there are more people with whom I can split the bill. Plus, it's summer! It's too nice out to be on the Internet all day. I live in a city! If I need Internet, there are plenty of places I can go get it.

From Kittatinny Valley State Park

I've been getting Internet, however, with my Nook or my not-so-smart phone, which means I haven't had much access to a real keyboard or the pictures I've wanted to upload.

From Storm King

So for now, I'm just posting a few pictures. More stories later!

From Storm King

Thursday, June 23, 2011


The billboard on the right is for Coca-Cola, of course, and the billboard on the left, showing a picture of a soda bottle, reads, "YOUR KID JUST ATE 16 PACKS OF SUGAR."

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

June and Thinking about Change

Happy June! We are supposed to have sun this weekend. I am very excited. Maybe soon we can even turn the heat off!

I should probably change my winter, snowscape masthead soon. I don't know if I have the energy to make a new one yet.

Also, I'm thinking that I'd like to change the name of this blog. Big-Haired Jersey Girl was supposed to be temporary. I feel like the use of "haired" as an adjective is kind of awkward; plus, lately there have been more and more people finding this blog because they searched for something with "haired" and "girls". Ewwww. There have also been a lot of searches about high school girls' thighs since I wrote this post. Ewwww again. It is only a matter of time before "thighs" and "haired" come up in the same search term that leads someone to this blog.

What do you think, readers? Should I change this blog's name and if so, to what? Or is this blog title too closely linked to its identity?