Human Echolocation Is The Most Under-appreciated Thing

BLOG POST FOR MARCH WEEK 1

In my AP Lang class we recently started learning about synthesis essays and the topic has lead us to find various articles and sources on a topic of our choosing. Inspired by a fascinating NPR This American Life episode I listened to with my dad a couple of weeks ago, I decided to make my topic human echolocation. It is such an amazing phenomenon of the human brain and makes me marvel at our species just that much more.

The NPR episode features Daniel Kish, a blind man who honed the skill of echo-locating from an early age and is able to live his life in a way that is entirely comparable to the way of a sighted person because of the clicks he makes to inform himself of his surroundings. When Kish, and other echolocators, employ clicks they are able to create a mental image based on the information they gather – attributes of objects that include distance, movement, texture, material, and size. This mental image is comparable to our peripheral vision, resulting in the possible conclusion that humans can see without eyes. The episode can be found here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/544/batman and I highly recommend listening to it if this is a topic that interests you.

Not only is Daniel Kish’s story entirely fascinating, but the neurological aspect of human echolocation is as well. In delving into the topic for my synthesis essay I found a scholarly article on the neurological activity behind it. One study found that when a blind person is echolocating it is the calcarine, or visual, cortex of their brain that is engaged in the activity, rather than the auditory. This points towards two different theories, both equally amazing. One is that echolocation is almost like a sixth sense, not entirely related to hearing or sight. The calcarine cortex has the ability to perceive senses through both echolocation and sight but because the average human doesn’t use echolocation very much, this cortex ends up being used entirely for sight. The other theory is that the functions of brain cortices are able to shift and adapt for each individual person, finding a new purpose for the calcarine cortex when an individual cannot use it for sight.

This entire world of echolocation in humans is still quite unknown and under-appreciated but I believe that it has the ability to make some major changes in the way we think about senses, the way we perceive parts of our world, and the lives of blind people. I can’t wait to learn more.

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The Magic of Shady Creek

I was unbelievably lucky to be able to spend my last week up at Shady Creek Outdoor School as a cabin leader and it was one of the most phenomenal weeks and experiences of my life. The entire school is filled with the most positive, outgoing, and supportive naturalists and being around people like that has left a permanent smile upon my face. From getting to work closely with the encouraging naturalists to seeing the look on a child’s face when they really noticed the stars for the first time or finally came out of their shell enough to dance with the other campers filled me with exponential amounts of joy.

The week was certainly exhausting but it was worth every second of sleep deprivation. Each day consisted of cabin time with my group of 7 girls, accompanying naturalists and classes on different eco-classes throughout the day, leading rec activities, singing lots of songs and watching different performances, and mealtimes of course. With each day I grew closer and closer to the girls I was in charge of, the other cabin leaders, and the naturalists up at camp.

Working with kids and really getting to know them on a more individual level was life changing and made me realize that working with children is far more rewarding than I ever acknowledged before. I’m so thankful to have had this experience and can’t wait to be up there again.

Matterhorn

FEBRUARY BLOG POST WEEK 3

So in continuing the topic of my day and a half in San Francisco, it’s only fitting to talk about the incredible meal that followed our time at USF. My great aunt and uncle live in the city and we had visited with them earlier that day as we were staying with them for the night. They’ve traveled the world together and we enjoyed swapping stories of European train mishaps and other tidbits worth mentioning. Of course, in time we landed on the subject of food and they recommended the Swiss restaurant Matterhorn.

We made reservations and showed up after an afternoon of browsing in shops and snacking on pork dumplings from OTD. A Swiss lady with a thick Germanic accent greeted us and led us to our table, through a restaurant adorned with Swiss wood carving designs and pictures of Switzerland throughout. Their menu featured an assortment of fondues and various sides to dip in it, each prepared specifically to be shared by two people.

We settled on the “Oh La La” option; a combination of Raclette and Camembert cheeses. It was a pretty mild mixture with just a hint of sharpness and it tasted phenomenal. We dipped baguette chunks, apple slices, and sausage into it and feasted until we couldn’t eat a single bite more.

The entire atmosphere of the restaurant was adorable and I enjoyed myself immensely. It was the perfect end to a spectacular day and I recommend this restaurant to anybody craving some Swiss or German comfort food.

USF: Another Option?

BLOG POST FOR FEBRUARY WEEK 2

Taking advantage of our four day weekend, my mom and I decided to drive down to San Francisco for Friday and Saturday so that we could take a look at USF’s campus and spend some time in our favorite city. Since November, I’ve been pretty focused on University of Portland – I found it absolutely perfect and a little Dead Poets Society-esque when I toured it over Thanksgiving Break. Because of this, I went into the tour not expecting to love what I saw; I had mostly agreed to go look at it because it was a great excuse to spend some time in San Francisco and maybe even get to the beach.

I guess things really do never go as planned. I ended up loving the campus and loving the school. It was a beautiful, fog free day in the city and students were scattered around the lawns, studying or picnicking together. The campus was gorgeous and you really can’t beat the prospect of living in San Francisco for the next 4 years.

Academically, I find their small size and Jesuit values really appealing. They also have tons of study abroad options that could end up broadening my horizons more than I can imagine at this point in time. You can go on service trips around the world or in America and the diversity of students and cultures a USF student is exposed to seems incredible.

It’s a similar school to UP so for the next 2 months I presume I will continue going back and forth between the two. Secretly, though, I think my heart and soul may have already decided even though my mind might not be made up.

A Glass Castle

BLOG FOR FEBRUARY WEEK 1

I spent today thoroughly enjoying the rainy, windy weather and it made for a peaceful Sunday, one where I felt perfectly content. Four main points made this day so enjoyable in such a simple way, the first being that church was followed with good coffee and delicious pastries at Tin Roof with my family. We chatted over our yummy breakfasts while the rain pattered against the roof and I could just tell that it was going to be a good day.

I spent my mid morning then making homemade panna cotta and a fresh mango puree to be served after dinner tonight. I never realized that making my favorite Italian dessert was as simple as it really is and the end product was to die for. With some freshly cut strawberries placed on top of the puree, the dessert was truly incredible.

After doing the prep work for the dish I decided to make use of the day in a more active way and headed out into the blustery weather for a 3 mile run. I ran one of my favorite loops from my house and the weather was absolutely perfect for running. It feels so nice to finally be getting into shape again and my legs feel stronger with each run. I jumped in the pool when I got home and I never realized that a freezing cold body of water in the middle of February could feel so good.

I finished up my day by reading the novel A Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It is a heart wrenching and inspiring memoir about her childhood, where she and her 3 siblings grew up with an alcoholic father and absent minded mother, both whom were very against any conventional ways of living. She spent her childhood moving from town to town and living off of next to nothing until she finally made her way to New York City. It was one of those reads that makes you think for a long time after you finish the book and I’m still not sure what emotions I’m supposed to be feeling because of it. At any rate, the read was wonderful and I highly recommend this memoir.

Whirlwind Weekend

JANUARY BLOG WEEK 4

The last 48 hours were about as packed as one could possibly make such a time period. Our 2 day trip to Los Angeles as exhausting but absolutely wonderful and definitely one of the best weekends I’ve ever experienced. Lately, I’ve been going stir-crazy while trying to fight the Senioritis that is placating me each and every day. Focusing on things like high school, which feel more and more trivial by the day, is becoming so difficult when I can be focusing on more exciting things.. i.e. my future. In short, I needed an escape.

After I got off of work on Friday my dad and sisters picked me up and we headed towards La Habra, taking full advantage of the car’s stereo system as we alternated between Rhapsody UnRadio and This American Life podcasts. We made it to our family friends’ house in 7 hours, arriving at about 2:30 am. They greeted us and we visited for awhile before calling it a night (some of us hitting the hay at 3 or so and others waiting til 5 am to go to bed.)

I slept in a little bit the next morning and woke up to belgian waffles and sausage and eggs and we had a lively breakfast with the Breniers; Paul and Stephanie have 6 kids who have grown to be like siblings to us. We spent the late morning visiting their toy store and eating candy apples and ice cream in downtown Whittier – my dad’s hometown. It was sunny and beautiful and made me feel a world away from reality.

This quick trip did have a more bittersweet purpose however. My dad’s good friend from high school, and Paul’s brother, Don, passed away a year ago and this trip was to help his family celebrate the one year anniversary of his death. Or perhaps more accurately worded, to come together once again to celebrate the life that he lived. We all gathered at his headstone and toasted to him with his favorite drink (Dr. Pepper), ate some of his favorite foods (Ambrose pizza and chocolate chip cookies) and listened to some of his favorite music (John Denver.) Towards the end of the picnic everybody tied messages to him onto the strings of balloons and we let them float up into the sky. The whole idea of a graveside picnic sounded a bit strange to me when my dad first presented the idea to us, but being there felt like the most natural and content way of remembering Don.

After the picnic we watched a bit of his son’s basketball game and then headed out to spend the evening in Huntington Beach with the Breniers and some of their extended family. In total we were 9 kids racing around the beach and playing in the waves under the pier and that evening definitely makes it onto my list of best beach experiences, only trailing the beach in Holland with the swing set. We ate tacos at a restaurant across from the beach and then headed back to the Breniers house.

We swam in their pool, hot tubbed, played games and danced, sat around their bonfire, and overlooked the city in their gorgeous backyard until 2 am or so. Then we all headed inside, with the intention of watching a movie, and all fell asleep in the living room. The day may have ended in exhaustion but we certainly made the best of the short amount of time that we had together.

This morning we got up and said goodbye to the Breniers before grabbing coffee and heading out for a tour of my dad’s childhood neighborhood. As we drove past each house on the twisting road situated on the edge of a canyon, a story would accompany each address. It was some of the most I’d ever heard about his childhood and it gave the city so much more meaning to us. We also went to see my grandma’s headstone at the nearby cemetery, which was also really nice but I have to admit that seeing “Laretta Johnson” on a tombstone already is a little bit eerie.

From Whittier we headed towards Las Feliz, where we visited our cousin and her husband and two adorable daughters. We walked through their neighborhood and had a delicious breakfast at Alcove. It was a beautiful day, of course, and we had a wonderful time visiting with them before heading back to Chico.

We spent the day driving and pulled back into our driveway around 8 pm tonight, making our trip last a grand total of 49 hours. That was quite the weekend, I just wish I could go back and do it all over again now.

A Markus Zusak Appreciation Post

BLOG POST FOR JANUARY WEEK 3

Markus Zusak is hands down one of my favorite authors I’ve read so far and all of his books make it onto my list of lifetime favorites. Zusak is probably best known for his novel, The Book Thief, which tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a German girl growing up in the midst of WWII, from the perspective of Death himself. The book is beautifully written and the story is rich in every aspect; it truly makes every reader appreciate the humanity and kindness that people have for each other as they help each other get through hard times.

For years The Book Thief remained at the top of my list of favorite books, although I never gave its author much thought. I simply assumed that Zusak was an older, accomplished author who had finally peaked. On the contrary, Markus Zusak is relatively young and his earlier novels are almost as wonderful as The Book Thief. As a side note, if you haven’t read The Book Thief do so immediately.

Zusak’s I Am The Messenger is a novel that tells the story of a boy growing up in a poorer area of Sydney who becomes caught up in the bettering of many different lives after he stops a bank robbery. This story is just as interesting and well written as The Book Thief and it also showcases more of Zusak’s Australian culture which is most noticeable in the dialogue between characters. Read this one too.

And to top it off, Zusak is quite possibly one of the cutest authors in the world. And his accent is fantastic.

markus zusak

People not Postcards

Most people collect postcards or souvenirs on their travels, but those have never mattered much to me. Instead, I prefer collecting the stories of the people I meet along the way.

I was at a train station near the Cinque Terre when a Swiss boy mistook me for a German girl and began to converse with me in “Hochdeutsch.” Having just finished my exchange year in Germany, an opportunity I was afforded through the CBYX scholarship, the language of choice barely fazed me and we chatted as we looked for the right platform and boarded our train together. We talked about our journeys, lives, and his spontaneous backpacking trip until he departed in Pisa. Our names never came up in conversation but I know that I will remember his story and adventurous spirit for a long time, simply because he made the train ride so much more compelling.

The Swiss boy is one of the many people that I met on the various trains throughout my adventures in Germany and other parts of Europe. Although I no longer remember many of their names, their faces and stories remain with me as some of the most valuable things I gained during my year abroad.

I am at my best, truly thriving, when I am surrounded by people of different places, different perspectives, and different backgrounds. I tend to search for the story in everybody, because whether or not it’s been told yet, I know that everyone has something to share with the world. My love for writing and tendency to converse with people of all types can be ascribed to my pursuit to find and share these diverse stories.

Deutsches Uni in meine Zukunft?

Ich schreibe mein Blogpost auf Deutsch heute, weil ich mein Deutsch üben will und weil ich mit die Englisch Sprache gelangweilt bin. Es hat auch was zu tun mit die Prospekt, dass ich nachstes Jahr in Deutschland studieren könnte.

In die letzten paar Monate, habe ich es schon mehrere Mal überlegt ob sowas für mich ist aber ich hatte immer ein bisschen Angst es wirklich zu machen. Nach ich meine Zusage von der Universität in Portland bekommen habe, habe ich nicht wieder an die Idee gadacht, in Deutschland zu studieren.
Bis in der letzte Woche. Ich habe ein bisschen mehr mit mein Eltern geredet und es scheint sehr möglich das UP viel zu teuer für uns wird. Obwohl ich so sehr dort studieren will, es wäre mir viel zu schwer das zum mein Eltern machen. Ich will überhaupt nicht dass sie vier Jahre lang Sorgen machen, um mein Studium zu bezahlen. Und ich will auch nicht ganz viel Studentenlohnen später zu haben.
Deswegen bin ich wieder auf den Idee gekommen, mein Studium in Deutschland zu machen. Dort ist es kostenlos, auch für Amerikaner wie ich und insgesamt wird es viel billiger als Uni in der USA.
Ich bin jetzt in der Prozess, mit die International Buro zu sprechen und ein paar Antworte finden aber ich bin ganz optimistich und glaube, dass wenn ich viel arbeite denn könnte es wirklich passieren.
Ich wäre so froh wenn es klappen konnte und freu mich schon auf mein Zukunft.
Laretta

University of Portland

After years of envisioning myself on the east coast for college I’ve finally almost completely decided on attending school in the PNW in the beautiful city of Portland. University of Portland is offering me a great scholarship and I feel really drawn to their small school size, gorgeous campus, and of course, location. Over Thanksgiving Break I got to tour the campus with my family and I completely fell in love. The school is over a hundred years old and is located on a bluff that is across the river from Forest Park, looking out on the Portland skyline. The old brick buildings and sprawling lawns make me think of the school in Dead Poets Society which is a good enough connotation to convince me to immediately commit to the school. The people are all wonderfully friendly and their programs seem great.

I’ve been considering International Business for a while now, mostly because I want the chance to use my German (and potentially more languages) and the ability to work around the globe in my career. But as I continue to think about major choices, career choices, and finding what is ultimately best for me I am realizing that I worry about turning into some sort of corporate monster. I’m also realizing that my real passion will always lie with books, words, and writing. Because of this and for the sake of following my heart, I’ve decided to double major in English and Global Business and I am beyond excited to see where those fields of study will end up taking me.

I envision myself working for a publishing firm or a Patagonia or Title Nine type company while writing news pieces or fiction on the side. All of these very real decisions are making me unbelievably happy about whatever the next chapter of my life might hold and I can barely focus on the last semester of high school, much less the next several days of finals!