Category Archives: Education

Online Prepa

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Remember how part of my transition year included the fact that my son would no longer be attending school in town?  Well, he’s been enrolled 5 months now and here’s how that is going.

At the end of July, we headed down to the UVEG office in Moroleon in order to enroll my son in the online Preparatoria program.  He needed to actually take the entrance exam there in the office, I suppose to reduce the chance of cheating.  Well, as I didn’t need to be there, I dropped him off and went shopping.  I went back later to pick him up and the supervisor said that he had left some time earlier because he wasn’t able to take the examination.  Why wasn’t he able to take the exam?  Well, I set it up so that notifications from UVEG get sent to my Gmail account, not his and he didn’t know my password to get the link for the exam.  Well, alrighty then.

So we tried again the next day.  I waited this time.  I brought my Kindle and twirled around in a computer chair for about 2 hours while he completed the exam.  He tested out of the Introduction to Spanish course, but didn’t do so well in the other sections, well, he passed, but not enough to opt out of those sections of the course entirely.

So his first course online was Introduction to Computer Science.  Seems like a good one to start with.  Only he found it tediously boring.  When it came time to take the exam, he missed an entire section (because it was boring) and failed.  He had the option to do an extra credit activity (for a fee of course) and passed with a 77.  

The second online course was Online Classroom Study Techniques.  Again, this seemed like a good course, even helpful perhaps?  But just like the first course, he found it BORING!  He procrastinated and then the last day to turn in the exam he had made plans with friends, so rushed through it and guess what?  Failed again.  He did the extra credit activity and passed with a 70.

You can probably guess that I wasn’t a happy camper at this point.  As an incentive, I drew up a potential income chart.  If he scored above a 90, he would earn 500 pesos.  An 80 would earn him 200 pesos.  No earnings for grades in the 70s.  Anything below that, woe betide him.  He must reimburse me for the retake fees.  AND he would not be allowed to say at the little house in Sunflower Valley overnight until he brought his grades up.

The third online course was Mathematical Reasoning and he bellyached about that, but the first week he completed 70 percent of the course. He was doing well.  He had 80-100% correct answers on his activities.  Then he let it slide.  He logged on to complete the final section, worth 25% of his grade to find out that the course had closed the previous day, 3 days early, due to technical problems with the site.  So he failed AGAIN!

For some reason we couldn’t register for the recuperation activity, site problems I guess. So he would have to take the course over again.  

The next class was Text Analysis, not his favorite by a long shot. Upon registration,  I really emphasized that he needed to complete the course sooner rather than later.  The whole point of doing this online course bit is for him to learn how to manage his time effectively.  So far he hasn’t mastered that particular skill. If he learns something from the actual course he is taking, well that’s a bonus.  Call me crazy but time management would be something to excel at before taking more extensive(and expensive) courses.  I also threatened to send him to the downtown computer lab to do his school work daily.  If there are too many distractions (Minecraft, Facebook, Whats App) for him at the little house, well then, time to move to a distraction-free monitored zone.

This time, he really applied himself even though I know this was his least favorite course so far.  The report card came and he passed with a 71 the first time around. No extra activities needed, no redoing the entire course.  Yipee!  As a reward, the prohibition to staying at the little house in Sunflower was lifted. He now could choose one night to stay overnight per week.  IF he passed the next course, he’d be allowed to stay 2 nights.

December brought a redo of Mathematical Reasoning.  Since he had done well with the material the first time around, he rushed to completion a full week ahead of schedule.  He double and triple checked that 100% of the course activities had been submitted and we waited for the grade. 79.  Much better!

So, over the holidays, there aren’t any classes scheduled.  Wanting to get a jump on the new year, we went to register for his next class, English (he’d better pass this one) and much to my delight, beginning in 2018, all online preparatorio classes are free in the state of Guanajuato.  Oh, happy day!  I feel less guilty about quitting the book reviewer job now.  Of course, if my son fails and needs to do extra credit activities, there’s a fee involved but he must reimburse me according to the rules above.  He’s currently 14% through his total studies.  Considering that his classmates who continued their education at the local prepas will only be 25% through their studies next July, I think he’s making good progress.

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Increasing Happiness–Scientifically

A few weeks ago, I finished an online course about global poverty.  While I enjoyed the experience, I thought I’d try something more upbeat this time around.  So I registered for The Science of Happiness sponsored by edX and the University of California–Berkeley and was not disappointed.  

Everyone wants to be happy.  Not only do you feel better emotionally, but it provides all sorts of benefits for your physical self as well. Happy people have more friends, live longer, have fewer health problems and generally enjoy life more.  But did you know that 50% of your happiness level is genetic and there’s not much you can do about that.  However, 10% is determined by life circumstances and there are some things you can do about that.  Whereas the remaining 40% is based on your actions, how you choose to live your life.  (See Happiness: it’s not just your genes, stupid!) Basically, you are in control of somewhere between 40 and 50% of your overall happiness.  Sounds good to me!

So how happy are you now?  Well, there are ways to find out!  Start with the Authentic Happiness Inventory sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania to measure your overall happiness. You have to register but it’s free.  While you are there go ahead and take the General Happiness Scale which assesses enduring happiness and the Fordyce Emotions Questionnaire which measures current happiness.  Now you have a baseline to work with.

Instead of going through why you should be happy, as the course did, I’ll just assume that you want to be happy and concentrate on that 40-50% that you have some control over. The course had a number of Happiness Practices that have been scientifically proven to increase your happiness.  Of course, the amount of happiness that you experience after applying these practices in your life varies from person to person as is to be expected. But it can’t hurt to give them a try!  Interspersed among the happiness practices are the movies that were included as part of the course syllabus.  You don’t want to miss those! I especially recommend Hector and the Search for Happiness.

Happiness practice #1: Three good things

Spend 10 minutes every night remembering three good things that happened during the day. For each thing, write a title, details about the event (including how you felt then and now), and what caused it. This activity teaches us to seek out and savor positive things, and it’s been shown to increase happiness up to six months later.  I already make a practice of doing this on a regular basis.  I think it really does make a difference.

Happiness Practice #2: Active listening

Take 15-30 minutes a week to have a conversation with someone you’re close to, and ask them to share what’s on their mind. As they’re talking, show attentive body language and don’t get distracted or interrupt them. Make sure you understand by paraphrasing what they’re saying and asking questions. Try to be empathetic and avoid pronouncing judgments. What’s your compassionate level?  Find out by taking the Compassionate Love Scale that measures your tendency to support, help, and understand other people.

Happiness Practice #3: Random Acts of Kindness

This was my favorite activity. Do five kind things – that you wouldn’t normally do – in a single day. To maximize the effects, make them all different and take time later to write down what you did and how you felt. The five kindnesses don’t have to be for the same person, and the person doesn’t even have to know about it.  If you need some inspiration try 101 Easy Ideas For Random Acts Of Kindness.

Happiness practice #4: Forgiving

Begin by making a list of people who hurt you who are worth forgiving. Then, start with the least painful offense and take some time to think about how you suffered and how that makes you feel. When you’ve decided to forgive, you can start to think about the circumstances that led to the offense, including the offender’s childhood, past hurts, and other pressures they were under. Pay attention to whether you feel kinder toward the offender and consider giving them a small gift. In the end, you can reframe the experience and try to find meaning and purpose in what happened. Not sure you need to forgive anyone? Take the Transgression Motivations Questionnaire to measures your forgiveness level.

Happiness practice #5: Mindfulness

This practice has three options.  Choose the one that works best for you.  The more you do each practice, the more happiness benefits you will reap.

Option #1 Mindful Breathing

Focus your attention on your breath, the inhale and exhale. You can do this while standing, but ideally, you’ll be sitting or even lying in a comfortable position. Your eyes may be open or closed. It can help to set aside a designated time for this exercise, but it can also help to practice it when you’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious. Practice mindful breathing 15 minutes daily. 

Option #2 Body Scan Meditation

Focus your attention on different parts of your body, from your feet to the muscles in your face. This activity is designed to help you develop a mindful awareness of your bodily sensations, and to relieve tension wherever it is found. Research suggests that this mindfulness practice can help reduce stress, improve well-being, and decrease aches and pains.  Practice 20-45 minutes, three to six days per week.

 

Option #3 Loving-Kindness Meditation

This one consists of receiving and sending loving thoughts. Practice 15-45 minutes, one to five times per week for eight weeks.

 

Happiness practice #6: Self-Compassionate Letter

Identify something about yourself that makes you feel ashamed, insecure, or not good enough. It could be something related to your personality, behavior, abilities, relationships, or any other part of your life. Once you identify something, write it down and describe how it makes you feel. The next step is to write a letter to yourself expressing compassion, understanding, and acceptance for the part of yourself that you dislike.

Happiness practice #7: Best Possible Self

Take a moment to imagine your life in the future. What is the best possible life you can imagine? Consider all of the relevant areas of your life, such as your career, academic work, relationships, hobbies, and/or health. What would happen in these areas of your life in your best possible future? For the next 15 minutes, write continuously about what you imagine this best possible future to be.  How optimistic are you about the future and the creation of your best possible self?  Take the Optimism Test.  Is your work an issue? Take the Work-Life Questionnaire and find out your work-life satisfaction.

Happiness practice #8: Gratitude letter

Call to mind someone who did something for you for which you are extremely grateful but to whom you never expressed your deep gratitude.  Write a letter to this person. Deliver your letter in person if possible.  Read the letter to this person.  I read my gratitude letter to my mother.  She said it made her year.  

Happiness practice #9: Gratitude Journal

Write down up to five things for which you feel grateful. The physical record is important—don’t just do this exercise in your head. Do this for at least 15 minutes per day, at least once per week for at least two weeks. Studies suggest that writing in a gratitude journal three times per week might actually have a greater impact on our happiness than journaling every day.  How grateful are you?  Take the Gratitude Survey that measures your appreciation about the past. Join Thnx and sign up for the 10-Day Intensive, or 21-Day Gratitude Challenge.

Happiness practice #10: Awe Walk

This one is so simple but so powerful.  Try to do this as much as possible. Go for a walk. Turn off your cell phone. During your walk, try to approach what you see with fresh eyes, imagining that you’re seeing it for the first time.  Appreciate your surroundings.

There you have it!  Ten scientifically proven ways to make yourself happier.  Should you wish to know the reasons why these practices will make you happier,  go ahead and take the course.  It’s free, so what have you got to lose?

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About the Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course

Enroll in the Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course

Herbal Academy just created yet another wonderful online course that I completed this month, earning me yet another little badge for my student dashboard. I’m so proud of me! This course was entitled Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management and had tons of useful information on the topic.  

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Stress is something we all experience at one time or another, for short periods of time (work deadlines) or longer periods of time (being a caretaker for a chronically ill loved one).  This course emphasized the importance of holistic care in treating the whole body and mind and, in this case, using herbs in order to become well after being subjected to periods of stress.  Can you see why I loved this class?

The course was divided into 3 units. Unit 1 presented information about how stress affects the body both physically and emotionally. Financial problems, time constraints, social interactions, cultural stressors (poverty, oppression, marginalization), natural disasters, traumatic events, excessive screen time, air, noise or light pollution, and infections are all stressors and activate that “flight or fight” survival mode. Being in a stressful “flight or fight” mode changes the rhythm of your heartbeat, inhibits proper digestion, alters breathing patterns, and raises blood sugar, none of which are conducive to a healthy body long term.  

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Unit 2 was full of suggestions on changing your diet in order to reduce the effects of stress on the body.  (See Food as Medicine) I was surprised to see how strong the gut-brain connection really is.  Adding prebiotic (whole grains such as wheat and rye, legumes, alliums like onions, garlic and leeks, bananas, asparagus, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, dandelion, burdock roots) and probiotic (yogurt and milk kefir, fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi, cultured pickles, miso and other fermented soy products like tempeh, and fermented drinks like kombucha and water kefir) foods to your diet will certainly help you reach a more balanced state of wellness. (See also Gut Health Super Bundle, Garlic Tea, and Herbal Fermentation) Making food from scratch, including bitters in your diet, ensuring proper hydration, taking the time to enjoy your meal without distractions, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar and artificial sweeteners are also great suggestions for improving gut health.  The course included several printouts highlighting trace nutrients the body needs to reduce or eliminate the physical and emotional effects of stress.

In addition to dietary recommendations, lifestyle alterations can really make a difference to your health.  Adding practices, like mindful breathing, yoga, and Tai Chi have been shown to reduce stress.  Here, try one now.

Other things you can do to improve your health generally involve spending more time in nature and bettering your social support system.  I don’t mean more friends on Facebook, but improving the quality of your relationships.  I’ll talk more about these in an upcoming post on the Happiness Course I finished recently.

Unit 2 also had a good introduction to aromatherapy and essential oils as they relate to stress and self-care including a list of herbs shown to be most effective for a variety of stress-induced ailments.  Lavender tops the list in several categories. The course provided recipes for several aromatherapy herbal blends to try out.

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After addressing safety issues and possible drug interactions, Unit 3 outlined three types of herbs most beneficial for stress-reduction application: nervines, adaptogens, and sedatives.  Nervines are herbs that influence the nervous system in some way. Chamomile and lemon balm are nervines. Adaptogens, also known as Qi tonics or Rasayana, are herbs that assist natural adaptive responses to stress.  Licorice is an adaptogen.  Sedatives are herbs that can sedate the central and peripheral nervous systems. Hops and valerian are sedatives. There was also a section on how to make infusions, decoctions, tinctures, and tea blends using the 17 herbs highlighted.

The more I delve into herbal lore, the more I realize how much I have yet to learn.  Once upon a time, herbal remedies, medicines, and tonics were carefully preserved generation after generation. These days, it’s so easy to rely on pharmaceuticals when illness strikes and the continuity of natural healing has been lost.  What I really appreciated most about this course was that using herbs for wellness wasn’t presented as a miracle cure-all, rather incorporating herbs is only one aspect of healthy living.  The lifestyle that many live is not conducive to optimal wellness. Perhaps it’s time to take a moment and find balance.

Partial Lesson Excerpt – Herbal Academy Course on Stress Management Course

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The Challenges of Living in Poverty in Mexico

After my Herbal Material Medica and Permacultural courses were finished, I signed up to audit the MIT sponsored online course entitled The Challenges of Global Poverty.  The text for the course was entitled Poor Economics by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo who were also the instructors.  While I’m not by any means an economist or statistician, I knew enough about statistics to know when something was statistically significant or not but not enough to figure out the more complicated equations.  I managed to slide by with a 75 final grade.

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I did learn quite a bit about living in poverty and as a consequence, I was able to look at my life here in rural Mexico with new eyes.  Most of the samples in the class were from rural India, but it was amazing how similar the culture of poverty is throughout the world.

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Here are some of the things I learned and how that information relates to my life here in Mexico:

Many poor are unable to obtain traditional credit or open bank accounts. As a consequence, complicated processes are invented to set aside money needed for future expenses. One method of saving is known as a tanda in this part of Mexico.  A tanda is a group of people that contribute a set amount of money each week or pay check or whatever the time frame has been determined.  Each member is assigned a number.  One member receives all the money each pay period. (See A room of her own–furnishings) It allows the participants to ensure that the money needed for a particular item is available when that expenditure is due.

Personas que deben (People who owe money)

Mentioned in class was the institution of money lenders.  In India, repayment is enforced through public shame and the possibility of sending a eunuch to show his genitals to the delinquent borrower (a form of intimidation).  While Mexico is not known for its eunuchs, shame is a big motivator here as well.  Often lists of people who owe money are posted outside establishments for the entire community to see. 

Many villages in India have a sort of informal lending between families which allows those in need to receive money or assistance with the understanding that it will be paid back in the future. In Mexico, the madrina/padrino (godparents) tradition is a version of this informal lending.  When a family is planning a major event like a baptism, wedding, graduation, quinceanera, etc.,  a variety of extended family or community members are asked to take on the role of godparent.  The so honored are financially responsible for a particular aspect of the event, napkins, shoes, seating rental, mass, etc. This is done with the understanding that at some time in the future, such expense will be repaid by the recipient family in the form of another madrina/padrino setup. (See Chambelan at the church, Chambelan at the party, Secondary Graduation)

Mexico, like India, has a high number of micro businesses.  Often these businesses are run by women.  These are self-limiting businesses.  Time spent on the business is often scheduled around other obligations such as child care or meal preparation.  A larger investment in the business is not feasible because the business is limited by its product or demand.  So each day, the business owner earns just enough to get by, never more. (See Failing at your own Business)

The course mentioned the excellent health care in Mexico.  Perhaps it is excellent in comparison to India, however from personal experience, the health care in Mexico, while affordable, is not magnificent.  (See All Around the Health Care Bush, Mexico’s Seguro Popular) Health care impacts the poor the most since a major illness and/or death of a family member often eliminates any savings the family may have accumulated.  (See Mass and Burial Mexican Style)There is also a tendency to request injections or pills from doctors so doctors prescribe them whether they are needed or not.  Again, very similar to Mexican customs.

I found it interesting that India has a version of curanderos as well.  Since actual medical professionals are beyond the limited means of the poor, sick family members are often brought for prayers and herbal treatments. (See La Curandera).  

The poor find it difficult to save money for several reasons.  One reason is that women, who tend to try to save more often, frequently find their money being appropriated, whether with permission or not, by male family members.  Men are more likely to spend the money on impulse buys and non-essential goods, like alcohol and tobacco.  No comment from the peanut gallery on this startling scientific find on gender bias and spending habits.  

Because of this appropriation of funds and the difficulty of self-denial, cash is often converted into physical goods. Gold jewelry is a common investment that is easily liquidated when the need arises.  Here in Mexico, the US dollar, considered more stable than the pesos, is another way people save.  When the dollar is low, people buy it from the casas de cambio (money exchange places) and then try to time the resale to a period when the peso is low.  Of course, jewelry and cash can be stolen as well. Sometimes the investment is in livestock, although this sort of purchase carries the additional risks of illness or death. And still the very determined can make off with goats lifted over a 6-foot wall. (See Good Fences make Good Neighbors–unless your neighbors steal them,  Where oh where have they gone?)  

The poor sometimes choose to invest in building material instead.  La Yacata is a silent testimony to the hopes and dreams of the poor.  Half-finished homes, foundations poured, rooms open to the sky, just waiting for another small windfall of cash.  (See Building a dream, constructing a life)

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With all these negatives to saving, many poor would rather spend the money while it’s available instead of trying to save towards some future goal.  This is a predominant cultural norm in this area of Mexico and it’s hard to argue against it.  Every month there seems to be a festival or other event where you can spend money. (See Mexican Holidays)  Every business and home have a TV to while away the slow hours.  Homes with no indoor plumbing have 2 or 3 cell phones per family.  The idea is life is hard, might as well enjoy what there is to be had.

Neither the course nor the text provided any real solutions to overcoming poverty.  In fact, there was sort of a general shrugging of shoulders and dismissal–well, we’ll always have the poor.  It was interesting to learn that once an individual or family falls to a certain income level, they are trapped in poverty and it takes an incredible amount of effort (and good luck) to rise to an income level where real progress can be made. For the most part, the poor just don’t have the social contacts, knowledge or investment opportunities to pull themselves up by their bootstraps into wealth.

One of the biggest factors in global poverty was found to be institutional corruption.  In this, there was less hopelessness expressed by the authors.  Small things, such as adding a picture to voting ballots, changed the outcomes and thus the structure.  However, I’m not so sure how much change really can be brought about.  Institutional corruption is pervasive.  It not only encompasses the political arena, but also health care, the environment, and education. (See Mexican educational reform and political wrangling, Politicking, Local Elections)  Those that are affected most are the poor.  Their water is polluted because of corruption.  Their children are not well-educated because of corruption.  Their health suffers and they are unable to receive proper medical attention because of corruption.

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In fact, one study highlighted in the course demonstrated that the type of colonization an area was subjected to affected the living conditions of the people hundreds of years later.  Mexico was unfortunately conquered by the Spaniards who were bound and determined to extract every last bit of wealth from its soil.  The subsequent governing body set up by the Spaniards was established with plunder, not social good, in mind. Thus it remains down to this day. (See Women in Mexican History–La Malinche)

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to cover all 12 weeks of the course in one blog post. These are the points that stood out to me having first-hand experience in my poverty-stricken life here in Mexico.  All in all, it was just a tad depressing. Not to be deterred,  I’ve signed up for a new course–The Science of Happiness. It certainly promises to be a lighter topic!

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