Tuesday, January 29, 2008

teaching english continues to go well! and i've been getting good feedback from my students. it's hard to believe that today was only my 3rd class. i'm proud i already have everyone's names down pat. (julieta, gerardo, emilio, yuki, xavier, jean, didier, roni, isabelle, maria....)
for tonight's class we did a quick review of the future tenses from last class. then we went on to explain modal verbs (would, could, may, might, should, must). I had a handout made up with each modal verb, its different usages (possibility, obligation, permission, etc) and then examples for each.
then in order to practice the verbs, we read an article on global warming out loud together and i had them find the modal verbs in the article and define their use. then we moved into a discussion on global warming and what should we do as individuals and what our governments should be responsible for extra. As a group they were pretty well informed about the issue, but there was a lot of emphasis on the government's responsibility to impose changes and respond to global warming rather than individual's obligation to act.
I tried not to give my own opinion too much, but did try to play the "devil's advocate" (which i admit was sometimes my own opinion) in order to keep the discussion going and interested.
personally, i believe that we don't have time to wait for governments to respond to global warming- yes governments do need to take action, a lot lot lot more action- but it at the same time, individuals are going to realize that we can't go on living the same way we do. we have to make sacrifices, and we have to start now! to start examining the way we live next class I'm going to show a short film called the the story of stuff . its a 20 minute film that you can watch online or download. its all about being conscious and rethinking of cycles of extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal. take a couple of minutes to check it out! i'll be sure to blog about how showing it in class goes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

my first evening teaching english yesterday went well! i really like my students. they are a really an interesting and diverse group (brazil, haiti, lithuania, colombia, japan, france, mexico, mexico, mexico, mexico,mexico....) they all seem enthusiastic about participating and want to learn so they can get better jobs, improve they're immigration chances, etc. Many of them are on student visas, one is a grad students, another is a lawyer, one's a dispatcher. i feel challenged, but in a motivating sort of way, to live up to them and their desire to get the most out of this clast.
also, it is a bit strange being the person in charge while being, by far, the youngest. so i hope my abilities can outweigh that.

i've just spent the last hour preparing exercises on the future tenses for tomorrow's class.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

this morning i went to a meeting for ans environmental initiative called "greening duluth", duluth is the street i live on. they have some really neat ideas like starting an organic farmers market in this empty parking lot in the summers and green roofing, etc.

In the meeting the organizer put up three words on the chalkboard- sustainability, greening, and community. and we, as a group, free associated whatever things popped into our heads. (ie longevity, inclusiveness, organic, greenroofs, composting...). we also brainstormed ideas of programs, opportunities for collaboration and events.
later in the evening i was reflecting on it with my roommate who is an ecologist. she quite frustrated in by the meeting. especially at the fact that the group was largely made up of artist-types whose ideas about dealing with romantic issues came off as romantic and idealistic. many of the ideas for projects and events that will be under the wing of the "greening duluth" org focus on aesthetic/beautification and creative expression, rather than hard scientific data supporting the efficacy of their methods and approaches.

it got me thinking about how there seems to be a divide between scientists and activists. i felt myself caught between my roommate's (scientific) point of view and that of artist/activists. (my position seems, most appropriately, to mirror the in-between that anthropology navigates between the arts/humanities and the physical sciences.) i can see the validity of both camps. we need science to better understand the environmental problems that we have created and science certainly can off some technologies and solutions to change systems of production, energy, waste management, ect. at the same time, artists/dreamers/activists are important for raising consciousness, understanding what the environment means in our daily lives, looking for solutions from the bottom up, building community. somehow i wish this divide could be bridged. ecologist roommate won't be going back to GD meetings, which is a shame. they need her perspective, and although i know it would be frustrating for her, i think it wouldn't hurt for her to give theirs a chance.

there is so many more questions that are raised by this little post- so much more deconstructing that needs to be done!
like what is the term "environment" anyways? is it synonymous with nature? and where to humans fit in in relation to nature? are we part of it or distinct from it? is it in our "nature" to be "green" or are humans innately destructive to our environments? are the little things we do daily (like recycling) thinking we are being environmental really just trivial when it comes to the big picture (say in relation to the energy we collectively use in order to heat our houses to not freeze living in northern canada, to to fly half way across the world on business of vacation)? the 10ish people who attended the meeting were entirely white and middle class- can projects like greening duluth be inclusive to and integrate perpectives of a variety cultural and socio-economic groups, or are they inherently western-centric and middle class?

any musings to share?

Monday, January 14, 2008

teacher teacher!
ben, you are no longer the only english teacher in the family!
at the MA language program we were yet to find a level 3 english teacher (and classes start in less than a week!).
i have been feeling more and more overwhelmed with the sheer amount of hours (20/week) of my evening french classes and have been questioning how much learning nit-picky french grammar is really relevant for my future. so, i decided to drop the french and teach the english class, which is more like 10 hours a week rather than 20. i'm getting really really excited for the opportunity!

the level 3 is our highest level at MA (about intermediate level speakers). it is basically focused on improving conversation /oral skills. my main task will be coming up with ways to get people talking and participating. i'll also have to be teaching a bit of grammar, which i will have to teach myself first (like what they heck is a modal verb?!!). i'm especially excited to plan a big environmental issues unit into the lesson plans and take my students on some sweet field trips!

i think i can assure you that this new position will be quite a fruitful move for my blog- i should have some funny, probably embarrassing, and hopefully insightful stories to tell!

Sunday, January 13, 2008


i forgot to mention in my last post that last night my roommates and friends had an empanada party. we did this as a send off for tyler, who is leaving to columbia with CPT next week. Empanadas are made throughout central and south america, and as far as Spain and the Philippines. (have you had any ben?)
ours turned out really good!
basically you make a dough very similar to pie crust. roll it out, and then fill it with things like meat or tofu, potatoes, cheese, carrots, other veggies and spices. then you bake or deep fry them (we opted for the baking). you can also make dessert empanadas. we made some DELICIOUS ones with cream cheese and mango filling and topped them with cinnamon sugar!

check out this step-by-step guide for making your own!

sorry for the lack of interesting posts this days. I can't promise much in the week to come either.
this week and the coming week i have been "très occupé" (very busy). I've been trying to catch up with all the things that slid over the holiday and trying to help re-vamp the language program with my job at Maison de l'Amitié. this means making tons of calls trying to recruit volunteers, organizing a new francophone social activities program, getting everything organized for student registration next week.
It makes of quite a lot of stress with my mcgill classes every morning and my french every evening.
but, i've been trying to take care of myself by doing yoga, eating healthily, and drinking plenty of green tea (went to Karen's at Heaven yoga for a great class yesterday morning!).

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

here's some quebecois slang for y'all:

jazer (jahz-é)= to chat, have an informal conversation.

example- "je jaze avec mes amies sur le téléphone"= I chat with my friends on the phone

I started my french courses this evening. i think the teacher will be really good. she's energetic and animated- which is most necessary to keep my attention at until 10pm! the class is also nice and small so we should get lots of opportunity to talk.

if you have a minute check out this link for another great article published about MIE! this is our week to shine!
to procrastinate= “tergiverser”

When I’m avoiding doing work, one of my favourite outlets for procrastination is looking at anthropology grad schools. I know I know, I’m a total geek. But it makes me really excited to see all the interesting programs out there and dream a bit of being part of one. Tonight, rather than take notes on my actual anthro readings I was poking around and found a very exciting program at Michigan State University. (btw what’s Lansing like, is it an alright city? I don’t think I’ve ever been). You do your graduate degree in Anthropology, but you can have a specialization in some very interesting interdisciplinary programs. The one that makes my mouth water is the graduate specialization in Gender, Justice, and Environment . Sounds like a perfect fusion of my three major academic interests- culture, environment and gender!

I really do need to get my focus on here though. Two tough McGill anthro courses every morning, French classes from 5:30-10 Mon-Thurs evening and my part-time job at Maison de l’Amitié will keep me on my toes for the next two months. No chance to wallow in the winter weather (which is ridiculously springy at the moment).

Sunday, January 06, 2008

oh those tricky adverbs!

tant (adv)= "much"

and then the prepositions get involved!

tant de= "so much", "as much", or, in certain contexts "not only"
tant que= "as long as", "while"
tant pis!= "too bad" ("pis" alone means "worse")

not to be confused with "tante" which means aunt. or in slang means homosexual/queen/or other crude words associated with insulting gays.

there's your lesson for the day. i'm going to try to be more regular with these. and it should be easier, now that i'll be speaking more french again at work and stretching and adding to my vocabulary.
tomorrow i'm planning to go and try to sign up for level 6 of 6 of Commission Scholaire de Montreal french courses. i'll have to take the evening courses (5:30-10pm) now since i'm at mcgill every morning now. my two mcgill anthropology courses, ecological anthropology and social change in sub-Saharan africa, promise to be interesting (as well as lots of work! over 1200 pages of course readings!)

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Congratulations to Sandra and Lidia, founders of MIE! They have been chosen by a montreal news paper, The Mirror, as two of their 2008 "Noisemakers." The article is below, or you can read it in original format here.
Raising the ethnic eco-consciousness
Mouvement Interculturel pour l’Environnement gets Montreal’s minority groups thinking green.
A few years ago, Sandra Lee was a McGill marketing student with a budding interest in environmental issues. Involved with a mainstream environmental advocacy group, she found herself increasingly alienated by what she terms the “camping culture” of the people around her, not to mention the fact that she was the only visible minority in the organization.
It dawned on Lee that concern for the environment, as universal as it might seem, manifests itself in different ways for different people. “A lot of environmentalists grew up with a focus on nature, going hiking and canoeing and stuff like that. I just don’t relate to that culture at all. What I’m interested in is environmentalism as it relates to an urban setting,” she says.

Around the same time, Lidia Guennaoui, another young environmentalist, was coming to a similar realization. Shortly after she graduated with a degree in environmental studies from the Université de Montréal, Guennaoui started work in a Côte-des-Neiges Écoquartier that served immigrants from dozens of countries. She found that she lacked the resources to engage them in environmental issues.“There’s a lot of environmental education we need to do, but I realized that we don’t have the tools to do that. The tools that we have are very unilateral,” she says. “We’re at the stage now where we need to open up more and communicate. We all have our own set of cultural and social references, especially when it comes to the environment.”

Earlier this year, Lee and Guennaoui created the Mouvement Interculturel pour l’Environnement (MIE), a new group that hopes to foster cross-cultural dialogue on the environment. Guennaoui describes it as an umbrella covering various groups focusing on different ethnic communities, including Lee’s own upstart organization, Green Life, which targets Montreal’s Chinese community.
“[Our approach] is to find a person in the community that is interested in the environment and have that person develop a homegrown environmental consciousness,” explains Guennaoui. “If we do that, we can also reach the community papers, which are usually written in their languages. We don’t want to impose a certain way of thinking or acting. Our goal is for that to really come from themselves.”
Green Life is MIE’s most established example of that. Since it was founded by Lee last winter, it has entered into a partnership with the Sierra Club and gained attention from Montreal’s English and Chinese media. Lee has worked closely with Chinatown businesses to improve recycling and waste collection in the neighbourhood.
Many Chinese immigrants, especially those from mainland China, where air and water pollution are serious problems, already have a high awareness of environmental issues. The way they approach them, though, is different from non-Chinese Canadians.
Every culture has its own way of communicating, says Lee. “With Chinese people, you need a less direct, more subtle approach, with more humour. You also have to be more concrete and practical. They need something that touches their daily lives, like their health. If you ask them to save the forest, they won’t listen. It’s really a matter of how you communicate, how you package your message.”

Thursday, January 03, 2008

I know this is a bit of a long post, but it's an important message i'd like to share from a friend of mine. something you can quickly do to help a great environmental organization and learn a few new things as well too!

Dear Friends,
From 2003-2004, I had the deeply enriching experience of working as the Communications Director for an innovative nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC called the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF). SELF combats both global climate change and severe poverty simultaneously by bringing solar power to rural villages in developing countries for improvements in health, education and economic well-being.
I've remained in close contact with SELF, occasionally working on contract or volunteering, and witnessing as the organization spreads its impact tremendously throughout Africa. Just this past year, SELF helped Bill Clinton and Partners in Health to solar-electrify 25 HIV clinics in rural Rwanda and Tanzania, providing health care to thousands of people living with the virus. SELF also provided solar electricity for water pumps, schools and micro-irrigation projects in other parts of Africa.

To help continue this amazing work, I'd like to share with you an incredible, seemingly "too good to be true", opportunity for you and SELF - an opportunity that will require not a penny by you and no more than 5 minutes of your time.

The Hinkle Charitable Foundation (HCF) has issued the Pure Waste Challenge to motivate you to become an agent against global warming. For each person who reads the following three primers, 'considers' pursuing any of the proposed conservation methods, and then sends an email confirmation to purewaste@thehcf.org, HCF will donate $100 to the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF). A simple challenge capable of huge results! (It doesn't matter where you are in the world:)

It's easy -- just read the text below and then write to purewaste@thehcf.org with your name, email address and a one-sentence confirmation that you read the primers, and SELF will receive $100! The Foundation has agreed to pay SELF up to $100,000 and so far 400 people have taken the challenge (so that's $40,000:). We need 600 more people! In less than five minutes, you can educate yourself on ways to help the environment, save money, AND donate to an extraordinary organization without losing a penny of your own money! There is no catch, just pure goodness all around!

Once you've taken the challenge yourself, consider forwarding this email to your friends, families and colleagues and thereby dramatically increasing your impact.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to make a difference. It's the little actions we take every day that go a long way!

Start reading here:.............

(1) Compact Fluorescent Lights Primer
Fluorescent light bulbs get a bad, and badly outdated, rap. Technological advances in the last twenty years have introduced the compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) with electronic ballast and, in the process, have eliminated three of the four most common objections to fluorescent lights.

Myth 1: Fluorescent lights flicker.
Yep, they used to. Modern CFLs, with their electronic ballasts, do not flicker.

Myth 2: Fluorescent lights are slow to start.
While CFLs don’t start at full intensity like incandescent bulbs, nearly all CFLs turn on (without flicker) instantly and reach full illumination very quickly. Of the nearly thirty different types we’ve tested, all come on instantly at close to full illumination. Only the flood light styles start at noticeably less than full illumination, but within 20 to 30 seconds they are at over 80% illumination. Interestingly, we’ve come to prefer softer initial illumination. When we enter a room the slightly softer initial illumination is more welcoming, and the CFL is easily at full illumination by the time we begin any light-dependent tasks.

Myth 3: Fluorescent lights are always cold-feeling and remind us of office lighting.
Older, standard, long fluorescent tubes do emit a cool (bluish) light (4,500+ Kelvin, see Kelvin definition below), but today there are CFLs in a complete range of hues, and many CFLs are available that produce exactly the same warm white light (2,700 to 3,000 Kelvin) as traditional incandescent bulbs.

Myth 4: Fluorescent lights won’t fit in my fixtures, candelabra, or recessed lights.
We agree that this can still be a problem in certain situations. A CFL is often not an exact size substitute for an existing incandescent bulb, but a far greater range of sizes is available than is generally realized. We’ve already successfully substituted standard, globe, flood, candelabra, three-way and dimmable bulbs. To get the widest range of shapes, it is often necessary to shop online or at a lighting store.

The EPA’s Energy Star rating, when applied to CFLs, insures the buyer of a CFL that it comes on instantly, comes quickly to full illumination, is a warm/soft white hue (unless marked otherwise on the package) and renders colors with excellent accuracy. Are CFLs the same as the traditional incandescent bulbs with which we are familiar? No. But as discussed below, they are significantly cheaper to operate in the long run, are much better for the environment, and enjoy a number of other advantages.

(2) Tankless Water Heater Primer
Hot water usage in American households consumes between 15 and 30% of a home’s energy demand, according to the US Department of Energy. Surprisingly, the technology used to heat water in the US is antiquated and highly inefficient when compared to the tankless or on-demand technologies now used regularly in Europe and Asia . This primer attempts to explain the new technology and benefits behind whole-house natural gas-fueled tankless water heaters (TWHs).

Myth 1: Only a tank can provide a large amount of hot water.
Heating a tank of hot water is neither an effective nor an efficient way to supply hot water. As hot water drains from the tank, in-flowing cold water lowers the overall temperature of the water in the tank. Traditional tank-based water heaters are not designed to heat the in-flowing cold water rapidly enough to keep the out-flowing water at a constant temperature. In contrast, properly sized TWH systems are designed to keep out-flowing water at a constant temperature.

Myth 2: A tankless hot water system can’t provide enough continuous hot water for an entire household.
The reality is that the heat-exchanger technology used in TWHs is specifically designed to provide a full and inexhaustible flow of appropriately heated water to an entire household.

Myth 3: Tankless water heaters must heat the water so hot that it is dangerous to use them.
Actually this fear is more relevant to traditional tank-based water heaters than to TWH systems. Tankless systems are safer to operate since they heat the water to only slightly above the level of intended use. Traditional tank-based water heaters have to overheat the stored water so that it will remain hot enough as the in-flowing cold water mixes with it.

Myth 4: Tankless water heating systems cost more to operate.
Like any profitable investment there is an immediate outlay of cash, but when you factor in the lower operating cost and longer (20-year) service life, TWHs save their owners a substantial amount of money. In fact, it is difficult to construct a scenario where owners of a new natural gas TWH system will earn a return on investment of less than 45%.

(3) Anti-Idling Primer
Old habits are hard to break. To most, idling a car may seem fairly innocuous, but it is actually detrimental to the modern automotive engine, wastes gasoline, and is often done based on mistaken assumptions or outdated logic, or simply out of habit. Each day, Americans waste approximately 3.8 million gallons of gasoline by voluntarily idling their cars. While all idling is bad for the car engine, this primer addresses only voluntary idling, which occurs when the car is not actually being driven in traffic. (Of course, the best way to address involuntary idling, which occurs in traffic, is to buy a hybrid, but we realize that most people are not yet ready to sell their conventional cars and replace them with non-idling hybrids.) There are, however, easy steps owners of conventional cars can take to help the cause.

Myth 1: Cars should run in an idling mode for several minutes before being driven.
Wrong. Modern engines do not need more than a few seconds of idling time before they can be driven safely. Moreover, the best way to warm up a car is to drive it, since that warms up the catalytic converter and other mechanical parts of the car, in addition to the engine.

Myth 2: Each time you start your car you waste more gasoline than if you let it idle.
Wrong. Automotive engines do not operate efficiently when they idle. Experts say there is a maximum 10 second break-even rule. If you are idling longer than 10 seconds, both you and the engine are better off if the engine is turned off and restarted.

Myth 3: Repeatedly restarting your car is hard on the engine and quickly drains the battery.
Wrong. Frequently restarting your engine does negligible damage to the engine and does not drain modern batteries excessively. In fact, the opposite is true; idling an engine forces it to operate in a very inefficient and gasoline-rich mode that, over time, can degrade the engine’s performance and reduce mileage.

When not actively driving, people tend to idle their cars largely for one of two reasons: either to warm up the engine before driving or to avoid wear and tear on the engine in situations that require frequent restarting, such as drive-through service lines, rail crossings, car wash lines, carpool lines, and departure from concerts and sporting events, or while talking to friends or using the cell phone. By understanding the effects of idling and reducing the practice, you can improve your car’s performance, save money, and reduce needless carbon dioxide emissions.

Now that you've read the three primers, please write to purewaste@thehcf.org with your name, email address and a one-sentence confirmation that you read the primers, and SELF will receive $100!
hello friends! the holidays have been quite splendid in montreal thanks to my four lovely visitors. I hope that you have had equally joyous festivities. happy new year! may the new year bring you health, understanding, and many opportunities to follow your bliss.
much love.