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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

TV Shows About Government

As you probably know, this year is a presidential election year. Excitement is rising as primary results roll in. No matter who you support, check out these government-themed shows to get you further in the spirit.

1. House of Cards:
This show is a very exciting political drama that portrays the sometimes ruthless side of government. It stars Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, a South Carolina representative that aims to gain more political power with the help of his wife, Claire. This show currently has five seasons and is only available on Netflix.

2. The West Wing 
For a more optimistic view of the White House, look no further than The West Wing. This chronicles President Bartlett (Martin Sheen) and his staff navigating major problems plaguing the nation. It is both loved and criticized for its idealistic depictions of people in power, who are both capable and highly moral. This show ran from 1999 to 2006 and is now available on Netflix.

3. Quantico:
Okay, this is not really about government, but it is just so good that I think it deserves a pass. This show follows Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra), a top FBI recruit who is framed for terrorism. The show alternates between flashbacks of her training in Quantico and her current struggle to prove her innocence and find the true culprit. This show blends intriguing characters, mysterious pasts, and an intense, fast-paced plot. This show is at the start of its second season and airs on ABC Sundays at 10. 

4. Parks and Recreation
And finally, a hilarious show about local government. This follows Leslie Knope (Amy Pohler) and her coworkers in the Parks and Recreation department of Pawnee, a small town in Indiana. This show features memorable characters, crazy situations, and witty dialouge. (Think The Office but for the government). This show ended its seven season run last year and can be watched through Netflix or Hulu.

I hope you enjoy these shows! Feel free to share some of your favorite government/political TV shows in the comments.

Written by Jenna M., Homework Assistant 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Planning your Summer!

While the school year can get so, so busy, the summertime is the one time where you can choose your own schedule. Whether you want to just relax, work, travel, even study, I’ve compiled a list of some options to consider when thinking about your summer. 
Especially for those interested in applying to programs or jobs, deadlines are fast approaching, so it’s a good time to start planning!

Here are a few links so that you can actively pursue programs! Whatever you choose to do, I hope you have fun doing it!
Volunteer abroad:


Summer Jobs:

Written by Katia G., Homework Assistant

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Organization for the Disorganized

Throughout my life, I have faced a battle. The odds were against me and at times I stumbled, but in the end, I prevailed. What was this valiant quest, you ask? It was--I pause, for dramatic effect-- my journey from becoming hopelessly disorganized to becoming only slightly-disastrously disorganized

Jokes aside, I have always been really disorganized. Like, lose-my-jacket-every-day disorganized. And now, a mere two months before my eighteenth birthday, I'd say I'm only lose-my-jacket-every-week disorganized. Progress. Along the way, I've learned what practices work best for me when it comes to keeping myself functioning in school, life and otherwise. My hope is that some of these techniques will work for you, too. 

Time Management 
One word: planner. At some point in my sophomore year, it dawned on me that attempting to remember all my assignments by way of the 'mental note' wasn't really cutting it. As time passed and my responsibilities also increased, it became necessary to establish (and actually maintain) a better system for planning my time. For me, the thing that did the trick was using a half-hourly planner, which I've blogged about before. For you, it may be iCal, Google Calander, a fancy productivity app, or just a small notepad. It will help bring you peace of mind and a sense of control over your own life.

For an analysis of good calendar apps available on the App Store, check out this article.

If you prefer, there are several homework-centered apps available for smart Phones that can be used as a high-tech alternative to an agenda planner. I've personally tried out myHomework, which I enjoyed for its pleasing user interface and features that my traditional planner doesn't have (obviously). In the end, however, I found that it is easier for me to remember to use my good old notebook planner.

If you, like me, choose to use a notebook planner, consider selecting one that you enjoy writing in. Mine is colorfully striped--unlike the drab ones that schools often issue students--and makes me happy when I use it. Note: for those of us who are prone to losing things, a bright planner is easier to keep track of!

Perhaps the most valuable part of using a planner is the opportunity to have a visual representation of your time. I write in all my commitments--including school, work, volunteering, and more. Then, I write down my all of my homework in a continuous list for the whole week. Each day, I look at each task on my homework list and estimate the amount of time it will take. Then I find a time, either that day or the next, where that task fits into my schedule. I pencil it in, blocking off the amount of time I previously estimated. By the end of the day, I have a pretty definitive idea of what my afternoon will look like. Funnily enough, this method of planning has caused me to "race" my estimates, which helps me to get my homework done faster.

Papers and Schoolwork 
This is where my struggle really comes into play: the mountains of papers that accompanied my first three years of high school--and my alarmingly tendency to lose those papers. In my senior year, schoolwork has shifted to be primarily on the computer, which has been a blessing as far as organization goes. Which, as it happens, is the basis of my first piece of advice:

1. Use technology as much as possible. If you conduct your schoolwork on the computer, your assignments will never be farther away than a simple keyword search. Even if your teacher doesn't utilize technology much, you can usually choose to do the majority of your assignments (both in and out of class) on your computer. Extra points if you create color coded folders for different classes.

2. Google Docs: Never lose your work. Losing an assignment due to a failure to hit "Save" is a disaster that has likely affected most of us. If you use GoogleDocs (and Google Slides, Google Sheets, and more!), you need not fear. Your work is instantaneously saved to the cloud. Not to mention the fact that your documents are accessible from anywhere! It's a godsend for the forgetful!

3. For all those darn papers: Oh, paper organization. The money I have spent in vain on ultimately useless organizational systems. What system finally did the trick, you ask? Well, "did the trick" is a bit of an overestimated, considering that even this year I've had a couple frantic searches for different pieces of paper. But, it's all about baby steps so here is the most successful method I've tried:

My paper organization consists of two parts: a desktop file tray and a larger filing cabinet in my desk drawer. I try to keep the filing cabinet my primary source of organization. In the cabinet, I have labeled files for each category--which include all my previous and current classes, extracurriculars, and more--which I sort my papers into about once a month. During the in-between time, I use the desktop file tray as a catch-all. When I'm short on time, I can easily slip a paper into the tray so that it is out of sight, but still safe.

4. College search papers: During the college application season, I found it immensely helpful to have a separate, portable organization system for the many papers related to this process. While a file box like this would work well, I think an accordion file folder is ideal because it is small enough to pack if you choose to go on college visits. It's a great place to collect all the pamphlets handed out at information sessions.
I separated mine into the following categories:

  • Testing: for all AP/SAT/ACT score sheets and admission tickets.
  • Research: for various drafts of my college list.
  • Writing: for hard copies of my various application essays and supplements.
  • Passwords: I made myself a spreadsheet for all my various usernames and passwords. Between the College Board, and all your individual portals, your bound to have too many to remember in your head. Getting locked out of the College Board site is a major pain, by the way. 
  • References: for all teacher reference materials
  • Brochures: for all reading materials given out at college visits or sent in the mail. 
  • Miscellaneous: for all the other random stuff.
And that's it! Pretty easy, right? If you have any life-saving organization tips, share them below. I'd love to hear!

Post by Allie C., Homework Assistant 

Monday, March 21, 2016

My Highschool Toolkit

With only 95 days left until high school graduation, I've been reflecting on the little things that have made a difference--however small--in simplifying these busy days of my life. Below, I've compiled a list of my tried-and-true supplies, essentials, and products that have helped me streamline my day-to-day life as a high schooler.

To paraphrase a certain singing nanny, these are few of my favorite thigns. 

In my backpack: 

Half-hourly planner
 Though I've never was the calendaring type, my life was irreversibly changed a year and a half ago when I bought a planner that maps out every half hour of every day of every week. I now look forward to Monday mornings because I get to plan out the upcoming week of school, work, volunteering, and homework. It also helps me keep on track with my work because I have a reserved time for every task. If you're not ready to committ to a planner, you can find printable templates online to give half-hourly planning a try. My favorite planner (I'm on my second one) is this 8 Days Journal. My favorite part about this particular version is how it isn't specified by date or year--only days of the week. That way, if I don't use write in it over a school break, I don't waste a week's worth of space.
A glimpse into the organized chaos that is my half-hourly planner

Papermate Clear Point 0.7 mm Pencils
Yeah, these are the pencils everyone 'stole' out of your desk in the sixth grade. But they're still amazing! I buy them in bulk at the beginning of the semester so I always have them when I need them. Quick tip: only bring one pencil at a time to school and leave the rest at home. After I started doing this, I found that I was losing them less frequently. Also, it keeps you from feeling obligated to loan them out to others! I keep an emergency pencil zipped away in a pocket, though, just in case!

Extra headphones (and laptop charger!)
As technology becomes more and more integrated into the classroom (at my school, students are required to bring a laptop or Chromebook everyday), I've found that always bringing a set of headphones and an extra laptop charger to be enormously helpful. I mark mine with decorative washi tape (which has so many uses, I strongly recommend it!) so that I can easily identify it as my own.

Sharpie Clear View Chisel Tip Highlighters
Hands down the best highlighters I've tried. Though it seems gimmicky, the clear tip feature really does help me see what I'm highlighting. The ink doesn't smudge and the large size makes it easy to locate in my pencil pouch.

Le Pens
These pens have become a staple item in my pencil pouch. Not only are they totally stylish, but the SUPER fine felt tip point is ideal. I find that it makes my handwriting neater, which is always a plus. I've also found them to be worth the splurge; I've forgotten to cap them occasionally, and they hadn't dried out at all!

Reinforced Binder paper
As someone who tends to over-zealously rifle through her binders, I've often faced the struggle of tearing the holes in my papers. Reinforced binder paper has reversed this phenomenon, and I've never looked back. Also, college ruled is the best. Always. This brand happens to be my favorite because it has dark lines and is not branded with the company logo, which is a pet peeve of mine.
Favorite binder paper and pen 

Pain Reliever
If you take pain relievers for headaches or other ailments, consider storing a small bottle of your favorite brand along with you to school.

Mini hairbrush
No time for hair in the morning? Mini hairbrush will save you.

A favorite pencil pouch
I really can't tell you how much I love my pencil pouch (pictured above). A unique pencil pouch is a great way to add some personality to your arsenal of generic school supplies. I think it is worth the time looking for one that will make you happy every time you use it. Pro tip: since the pouches found in office supply stores can be a bit mundane, makeup pouches actually make a great alternative. Not only will you find a much wider variety of fun designs, but a lot of them will be lined with plastic which will prevent pen leaks from ruining the fabric of your pouch. Stores like Target have some great options.

In my lunch bag:

Small bags (12'' x 9'', to be specific)
I have a small collection of these small, reusable shopping bags that have come in useful as lunch/miscellany bags all throughout high school. They're lightweight, perfectly sized, and surprisingly durable--not to mention that they are given for free at some stores (think: Lululemon and Therapy in Mountain View). Another bonus is that they are machine washable. I have two of these Harry Potter ones, which I didn't get for free but are still super awesome.

Fruit salad:
Mastering the art of the fruit salad has been invaluable for me. It's my all-time favorite lunch and it's perfect for transporting to school. With fruit salads, you can be so creative; try to make a blend of seasonal fruits that is a diverse mixture of  both flavor and color. I shared some of my favorite compilations below.
Summer blend: mango cubes + strawberries + raspberries + blueberries
Winter blend: Satsuma mandarin segments + persimmon slices + pomegranate seeds 
Tropical blend: Pineapple cubes + kiwi slices + banana slices + mango cubes 

Snapware Containers
For homemade lunches, a set of reusable Tupperware is a must. I've found the Snapware brand to be the most reliable because of it's strong seal and large variety of shapes and sizes. I've found this variation to be the optimal vessel for bringing salads and fruit salads to school.

On my desk:

Whether or not you share my passion for labeling anything and everything in sight, I do think you will find it useful to have some labeling supplies on hand for different purposes. I have two favorite methods for labeling: my P-Touch Labeling system and good old Sharpie on tape. While it is, of course, a nonessential, my label maker has turned out to be a great investment for me. I use the labels on the tabs of my binder dividers, which I find to be much cleaner and stronger that those little papers you slide into the slot. I also create labels for basically everything else I own, so that's a plus as well. But for other purposes, I love making labels with a pen and a strip of Washi tape. As noted above, Washi tape is so versatile and adorable. Using it for labels will do double duty by adding a decorative touch to your stuff.
How I use a label maker to create binder tabs. 
3 x 5 index cards
While sites like StudyBlue offers an online substitute for traditional flashcards, I prefer making them by hand so I can flip through them easily throughout the day. I cut 3x5 index cards down the middle to save paper and money.

3-Hole Puncher
For when my teachers constantly fail to 3-hole punch their handouts, this supply is quite useful. After I found one lying around my house, it was easier to keep papers from accumulating in my binder pockets.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Rainy Day Activities

So lately, we’ve had some heavy rain for our neck of the woods. This is largely due to the storms brought in by El Nino, which is stronger than ever this year. While there’s plenty of ways to get all mopey about cloudy skies and thunderstorms, embrace this year’s rainy season to make the most of it!

  1. Rainy Day Crafting
Admire the lovely rain falling down from the comfort of your home. While Netflix and popcorn would be your go-to rainy day “activity,” try something more productive and do that Pinterest project you’ve been dying to try! For me, I can’t wait to work on this California string art that reminds me of sunnier days :)

  1. Run in the Rain
If you easily get sick from the cold, maybe don’t try this one, but if you are down for adventure, this can be an awesome experience. Just some tips! Don’t wear any cotton material. If you wear a jacket, make sure the material will wick away moisture. If you’re really up for it, though, run in a dri-fit top and feel the cool rain on your skin.

  1. Indoor Sports
Our area has a lot of great facilities that can help keep you entertained. Planet Granite can keep you busy all day with rock climbing, you can flip and jump away at Sky High, or take a classic day with friends at the bowling alley. Vallco’s BowlMor lanes is always a fun venue.

4. Puddle Jumping
You are never too old. Put on a rubbery pair of your best rain boots- you know the drill! Happy splashing!

5. Relax
Take a hot bath without worrying about hurrying off anywhere. The storm’s not going away anytime soon. Bring out the bubble bath, get out some nail polish, and read a good book. Head to the library to get your favorite titles.

What do you enjoy doing on rainy days? Try out these suggestions and maybe you can find some sunshine in between all the raindrops.

Written by Katia G., Homework Assistant

Monday, March 7, 2016

Team USA at Rio 2016

The Super Bowl, NBA Championships, and World Series are all exciting national sporting events that happen annually. While I enjoy the fanaticism of these events, there’s nothing as exciting as the whole world competing at the Olympics.

This year, the Summer Olympics will be held in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.  2012 was a big year for the US as we took home 104 metals including 46 gold metals, sweeping away the competition for first overall. Will 2016 be a repeat, or will our athletes face greater opposition by star nations China and Russia?
Missy Franklin, 20, now competes
on the UC Berkeley swim team.
Let’s take a look at some of the Olympic contenders for Team USA.

On the men’s side, Ryan Lochte and Nathan Adrian return to the pool as the favorites.  Even Michael Phelps is in contention for Team USA as his Butterfly records stand undefeated worldwide.

On the women’s side, young 2012 stars Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin will return to dominate the pool. Get ready for lots of medals, USA!

Sprints and Hurdles:

Lolo Jones will return as a key woman in the hurdles, after a stint at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Alyson Felix, female sprinting star, is as famous for her speed as she is for her beaming smile. Don’t miss this fierce gal take on Rio 2016.

Tyson Gay will likely compete in the sprinting events for Team USA, alongside longtime Olympian Justin Gatlin

Galen Rupp will lead the
men's long distance.
After a doping allegation last summer, Galen Rupp has come back to prove his talent in the 5K and 10K, including his first attempt at the marathon.

The women's side should include America's best distance runners, including Shalane Flanagan in the marathon and Molly Huddle in the 10K.

A new team of five ladies will take the floor this summer. Look out for young hopefuls Simone Biles and Maggie Nichols, as well as returning gymnasts Gabby Douglas, and Aly Raisman.

The men’s team will have Danell Levya who placed bronze in 2012, as well as Chris Brooks, Jonathon Horton, and others to lookout for.

Follow the athletes of your favorite sport on http://www.teamusa.org/road-to-rio-2016. Who are you betting on to take home the most gold this year? Get ready Team USA, this is an Olympic year!

Post by Katia G., Homework Assistant

Friday, March 4, 2016

Savvy Shopping

The glorious temptation of going shopping  can land you with an empty wallet at the end of the day. Here are tips that I’ve found for buying affordable, quality clothing – without the crazy prices.

1. Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, and Ross
These off-price stores will become your best friends. I still wear all my favorite, high-end clothing brands, but the prices are cut in half when purchased at one of these stores. A jacket that is regularly priced at $40 could cost just $14.99! 

2Thrift shopping
Although it is not for everyone, hitting up your local Goodwill is where the real inexpensive treasures hide. Don’t be fazed by the idea of wearing worn clothing – lots of donations are in mint condition. You can leave the store with dozens of clothing items, even if you just bring "$20 in your pocket."

Channel your inner Macklemore and hit up that thrift shop down the road.
 3. CLEARANCE racks
Of course, the stuff on the front displays is beautiful and tempting, but if you can keep walking to the back of the store, you’ll find equally beautiful garments that are being faded out in the clearance. NEVER pay full price for an item, because many stores offer regular sales so that the item you want will inevitably be discounted in just a few weeks’ time. 

4. Coupons!
While there are not huge savings involved, it doesn't hurt to scroll through a coupon website before heading off to shop. Retailmenot.com ("500,000 coupons for 50,000+ stores") can be visited  online or downloaded as a smartphone app.

Got any shopping tips of your own? In the meantime, here’s my personal tip: if you’re going to a mall, consider the Milpitas Great Mall which has outlet stores that offer your favorite brands at discounted prices. Happy shopping!

Written by Katia G., Homework Assistant