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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Combating Writer's Block

Writer’s block: the scourge of English students (and writers, of course) everywhere. I recently drafted a twenty page paper for a class and experienced every possible phase of writer’s block: from staring pensively at a computer screen to lying on the floor in the fetal position covered in papers. Luckily, I survived, and I also learned some important things about productive writing along the way. Read on for my 6 tips on kicking writer’s block’s butt.

1.  Speak it out
Often when writing, I know what I want to say, but not how to write it in a sophisticated manner. I've learned that when attempting to craft sentences word by word, I get bogged down in minute (and superfluous) detail. When I want to clearly communicate an idea, I imagine as if I’m speaking the idea to my mom (or anyone, really). When you speak, you automatically have an ease of communication that you often loose when trying to write. There’s always room for revising diction and syntax later, but first: talk it out. You’ll be amazed at how easily your words flow out, now just put them into to writing and then revise, revise, revise!
2.       Know your task
This is what I call my Writing Reality Check: you are not attempting to write the next Great American Novel. You’re not J.D. Salinger (yet), you’re not Mark Twain (maybe someday); right now, you are a high school English student. This might sound discouraging and as if I’m settling for mediocrity- but reminding myself of this has helped me keep moving on countless occasions. Your teachers are not expecting a Hemingway-caliber paper and you should not expect that of yourself. Holding yourself to impossible standards is an open invitation for writer's block. So accept your assignment for what it is: a learning experience.

Preach, sister. 

3. Read the work of an author who’d you’d like to emulate.
When getting inspiration for an essay, I read the work an author whose writing I admire. I don’t seek out any pieces that are on my specific topic (such as a sample essay sent out by the teacher), because then it’s incredibly difficult for me to think of my own, new ideas. Instead, I focus on the tone and style of a favorite writer. This is a great way to get inspired and also to avoid the feeling of unoriginality that often accompanies studying a sample essay.
4.       Set up a writing sanctuary
When writing my big paper, I struggled with concentration. It’s too easy to get distracted by a magazine sitting on your desk or the T.V. show that your parents are watching,so I sought out a place that could be devoted to writing, and only writing. And thus, my writing sanctuary (a.k.a. the room of my college-aged brother), was born. Everything I could possibly need for writing- chargers, extra lighting, papers, books, blankets, hair ties, snacks, water- I gathered in the Sanctuary. Then, I’d shut the door and get to work, in a quiet, supply-stocked, distraction free place.
(Luckily I finished my draft before my brother came home for Spring Break. R.I.P. Writing Sanctuary, I’ll see you again during college essays.)
5.       Treat yourself well!
Of course, frequent stretch and snack breaks are a must. Getting your blood flowing will revive your creativity and give you the energy to power through. Be sure to rest your eyes as well, staring at a glowing laptop screen for 4+ hours is a strain.
6.       If all else fails: swear off of your favorite things.  
This one gave serious results. I swore off my favorite foods, my favorite shows, my favorite websites, and all social media until my paper was in the hands of my English teacher. It took only three days for me to meet my goal, at which point I celebrated promptly with ice cream and a Downton Abbey re-run.

NOTHING is better than this moment. Remember, starting is the hardest part!

Post by Allie C.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Finding the College for You

As more and more seniors begin announcing where they are going for college and as application season for me looms ever nearer, here are some factors to consider when finding the right college for you:

1. Available Majors/School Specialty
First things first: you are going to college to further your education in something that you are passionate about it. Make sure you can study what you want. Not all colleges will offer specialized fields of study like food science or Romantic era literature, so make sure to check before adding a college to your list. Also, consider if the school specializes in your field. For example, if you plan on majoring in the humanities, you might consider applying to liberal arts schools over polytechnic ones.

2. Student Life
That being said, college isn't all studying. You'll need some free time to keep yourself sane throughout those rigorous four years, so you'll want to look into the various student organizations around the campus. Do you play a musical instrument and want to join an orchestra or band? Are you a high school thespian that wants to continue performing? Or maybe you are thinking about Greek life? All of these are examples of student life, which can vary widely from school to school. 

3. Location, Location, Location 
Location is very important when choosing a college. Different regions of the country offer different cultures and job opportunities. For example, if you are a budding computer science major, try to stay in California. You might even consider a different country altogether! Location can also mean whether you want to go to an urban or rural school, with both options resulting in a distinct atmosphere

4. School Size
School size, simply put, is the number of students attending a school. Schools can be as small a under a thousand students to as large as tens of thousand students. Each size has its own advantages and disadvantages. Large schools often offer topnotch facilities and the ability to meet many different people, but maybe it would be harder to get into the classes you need. On the other hand, small schools offer a more intimate environment, where you can know your peers and professors a lot better, but maybe at the cost of a more limited major selection.

All of these factors (and more) should cross your mind at least once when thinking about which schools to apply to.  You might also consider going on a college tour over the summer or next year to really find that perfect fit.  But try to keep an open mind; it is possible to have a satisfying college experience even if you don't end up at your dream school. 

Written by Jenna M., Homework Assisant 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

iPhone Photography

Every year starting from 2007, the IPPA (iPhone Photography Awards) has hosted an international photography competition consisting solely of photos taken on iPods, iPhones, or iPads. The results are simply stunning.

Physical attachments to the device are allowed, but Photoshop or any other digital manipulation of the photograph is prohibited. Despite this, the photographs have a professional quality I never thought was possible from a handheld device.

Professional photographers have long been saying how iPhones are killing the creativity of photography. It is easy to see why. A quick browse through Instagram reveals more selfies and hasty shots of food, all using the same filters, rather than the well-planned and thought provoking shots of professional photography.

However, this competition proves that a photo's quality has nothing to do with the device it was taken with. In fact, many argue that photography's new accessibility has greatly benefited the field. Rather than needing to spend thousands of dollars on professional equipment or hours developing photographs in darkroom, one only needs to spend a couple of hundred of dollars on a device and snap a picture. This means a lot more people can get into photography, bringing in new creative minds in volumes before unheard of.

However, this doesn't mean that iPhone photography requires no effort. A lot of time must still go into adjusting the settings and        
getting the perfect lighting and framing for the shot. That being said, if you are inspired by these photographs, check out these tips for taking high quality iPhone photos.

Written by Jenna M., Homework Assistant

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Desserts From Around the World

Do you have a serious sweet tooth? Do you have a craving for treats more exotic than gelato, crepes, and macarons? If so, keep on reading and check out these lesser-known desserts from around the world:

1. Umm Ali 
Umm Ali is an Egyptian dessert made out of puff pastry (or phyllo dough), pine nuts, milk, cream, and coconut. It is often compared to bread pudding and can be served with ice cream or whipped cream.

Gulab Jamun is a traditional celebration and festival treat from India. It is made of a powdered milk dough that is fried and then soaked in rose syrup. I have tried this myself, and I (among others) would describe it as a decadent, syrupy doughnut hole.

3. Malva Pudding:
Malva pudding is a South African apricot pudding, although its spongy texture can make it seem more like a cake. Other ingredients (such as dates or wine) can vary among regions. Typically, malva pudding is served hot with a sauce on top and ice cream or custard on the side.

Lapis legit is an Indonesian cake with its origins in the Dutch colonial period. It is a very rich spice cake consisting of mace, anise, cardamom, and cinnamon, among others. Its most distinctive feature is its many layers, which are sometimes used to create a design. 

Espumillas are colorful fruit meringue served as street food in Ecuador. They are often sold during festivals or weekends and are often confused for ice cream (due to its appearance and being sold in an ice cream cone). Epsumillas are typically made out of fresh guava, but can be made out of other fruit as well.

Feel free to comment with your favorite desserts from your culture!

Written by Jenna M., Homework Assistant

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Spring Break Day Trips

An awesome spring break doesn't have to mean an exotic trip to a tropical location, there are tons of fun destinations right around the Bay Area! Below are some spring break day trip ideas for every personality.

For the Hipster- Thrift Store Shopping in Berkely. 

Berkeley is a great day trip for High School students. First of all, you can make the day into a college visit by signing up for a tour and information session at U.C. Berkeley. After learning about this renowned university, explore the artsy streets of Berkeley! If you're in to thrifting, Berkeley is the perfect place. You can either wander from store to store when you get there, or read up on the most popular store before you go. Yelp has helpful reviews. After a long day of shopping and touring, unwind at a hipster cafe. Caffe Trieste on San Pablo Avenue is the perfect place to enjoy live music and a latte. A bonus: Berkeley is accessible by Bart, so you and your friends can get there easily even if none of you can drive. 

For the Thrill Seeker- Zip Lining in Felton, CA.
Felton is a quaint town in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Get a grou of friends together and book a zip lining adventure through Redwood Canopy Tours (Just make sure no one is afraid of heights!). On the way to Felton, make a pit-stop at the Rocky Cafe for a delicious brunch that can be enjoyed on the restaurant's second floor deck!

For the Foodie- A Treat Quest in San Francisco
Do some delicious research on a fun day trip to SF. As an example, you and your friends can decide to find the best chocolate chip cookie in all of San Francisco. New artisan bakeries will take you all over the city on your quest. Gather cookies from each place, then settle down for a huge taste-off (maybe in a scenic location like Golden Gate Park?) and determine your winners. Not only will you get enjoy some pretty delicious cookies, a quest like this is a great way to explore San Francisco and discover some cool businesses and plan out a couple of stops out on Yelp beforehand, but feel free to explore once you get there! Some other ideas for a quest include the best cupcakes, the best sourdough bread, the craziest ice cream flavor, or the freshest fruit. The list goes on and on!

For the Young at Heart- Exploring the Aquarium and More in Monterrey
Get up early in the morning and head to the beautiful, waterfront town of Monterrey. Enjoy crepes (with plenty of toppings) at Crepes of Brittany. Then, head over to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium a.k.a. the place you went on a field trip in elementary school that is still incredibly fun. Going as a teen is great because you get a student discount. After marveling at the fish (staring at the fish who swim around and around in their doughnut shaped tank is strangely addicting), explore other Monterrey attractions. Dennis the Menace Park has probably the coolest play structure of all time complete with a climbing wall, a pirate ship, tons of slide, and much more!

Written by Allie C. Homework Assistant