Sunday, December 20, 2009

My Great Grandma's Birthday

Today was a very exciting day because it was my great-grandma's 104th birthday. She is a very amazing lady not only because of her age but because she still lives in her home all by herself. In order to celebrate, all my family members and I went over to her house. There were a lot of us because my great-grandmother had 8 children, one of them being my grandpa. Her house is pretty small, so it was a tight squeeze to fit everybody in it but we did. I always enjoy celebrating my great-grandma’s birthday because she has made it to such an old age. Some years we have a big gathering at a community location but this year we didn’t. What amazes me the most about my grandma is that even though she is over one hundred years old her memory is in perfect condition and she remains very independent. She has a button on her wrist she can press if she falls or needs any help but other than that she lives alone. He children that live in town come and visit her every week and my grandpa goes to visit her just about every day. I try to visit her whenever I can because I know each day could be her last.

Every year she remembers my birthday and always sends me a beautiful card with a long hand written message on it. Her cursive she learned when she was a small child is still as beautiful as ever and I always enjoy reading it.
Every year it is a tradition for us to write a song for my great-grandma and sing it to her. We have been doing this since she turned 90 years old. It is usually to the tune of Christmas song because her birthday is near Christmas. This is the song we wrote for her this year (it is to the tune of “Winter Wonderland”-“Sleigh bells ring…” :

Birthday songs
We are singing
Birthday cheer
We are bringing
A beautiful day
We’re so happy to say
Mother is a hundred and four!

She’s a jewel
Of a mother
She’s a Grandma
Like none other
We give her our praise
She blesses our days
Mother is a hundred and four!

She was born before there were computers
She lived half her life without TV
She grew up without an air conditioner
But she survived just fine as you can see

We love you
Your love is boundless
You are wise
Your friends are countless
There’s one thing that’s clear
You’re a treasure most dear
Our mother is one hundred and four!

Here is a link to the song Winter Wonderland. This is the song we used to write my great grandma's song.

Biology: Swine Flu

For the past few months, many people have been freaking out over the dangers of Swine Flu. These people had very good reasons to do so because Swine Flu, which is formally known as H1N1, is a mutation of the 1918 Spanish Flu. The 1918 Spanish Flu was devastating as it took 50 million to 100 million lives around the world. The fear is that Swine Flu will act as the Spanish Flu did. You may be thinking to yourself, Swine flu hasn’t been any worse than the regular flu has been, has it? What scares scientists studying this mutated form of the Spanish Flu is that it still has a lot of potential. The Spanish flu came through in the spring and was rather mild, but then came back in the fall and was absolutely deadly; Swine flu could do just that. Another surprising fact about Swine flu is that is that is does not matter what age you are, it can infect and kill you. With the regular flu, usually the only people to be concerned with complications are infants and the elderly. Swine flu can infect and kill anybody, despite their age, although pregnant women, infants, and the elderly are the group most likely to die from the Swine flu.

Luckily, we have some time to prepare for the potential of this flu. In September, 5 pharmaceutical companies promised to create 250 million doses of the Swine flu vaccine. These vaccinations have been tested and are proven to be safe. After the first week in November, 26 million doses had been distributed. The first of these doses are not open to just anybody. The target groups are: pregnant women, people in close contact with any children under 6 months of age, healthcare and emergency medical services personnel, all people from 6 months to 24 years of age, and anybody from 25 to 64 years of age who have health conditions that could lead to complications with influenza. People 6 months through 18 years of age are a target group because they are in close contact with each other during the school days which increase the likelihood that the disease will spread. Adults 19 years through 24 years of age are at risk because this age group often works, lives and studies in a close proximity to each other according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eventually the entire population will be able to be vaccinated and most hospitals have made the vaccination open for all at this point in time. The best way to prevent the spread of the disease is to make sure that every member of the population possible gets vaccinated and to have sick people stay home from school or work.

This is a link to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Website for H1N1.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Phantom Regiment

Since marching band season is over right now at Kennedy I haven’t had much to say about band. Due to this, I have decided to feature some professional marching bands, also known as drum and bungle corps. The Phantom Regiment is a very prominent drum corp located in Rockford, Illinois. Auditions for this prestigious group are going on now and during the summer they will travel around the United States to compete. The Phantom Regiment drum line is one of the best in the country and at one time was ranked 2nd in the world. I have a friend who plays the tenors that is auditioning for the Phantom Regiment and he has made the call backs so hopefully he will get in!

The pre-season is made up of several different camps instead of the simply one week band camp we have in high school. The first camp started on December 4th and ended on December 6th so it was pretty short. The object of this camp was to audition and try and secure a spot in the regiment. The second camp is scheduled for January 8th through January 10th. The third camp, later in the month, is scheduled from January 5th through the 7th. These camps continue throughout the months up until early May. At the end of May, the regiment travels to Texas to have major rehearsals as the performance season draws near. Throughout May and June the different sections of the regiment continue to prepare and rehearse for the season. Most of the people not rehearsing in Texas have their rehearsals/camps in Rockford, Illinois. The show season finally starts on June 21st when the regiment performs in Charleston, West Virginia. They have a total of about 31 shows throughout their competition season. They end the season with their last show in West Chester, Pennsylvania on August 8th. After this though, the season is not completely over because there are still the DCI World Championships to compete in.

The Phantom Regiment was originally under the name of the Rangers and their all girl color guard was therefore named the Rangerettes. This name did not last long though, and before their first competition they had changed it to the name that they still hold today, The Phantom Regiment. The all girl color guard became the Phantomettes. They started their career out as just average competitors. They were newly created and still had not established themselves yet. Unfortunately, around 1965 a fire wiped out the instruments and materials that were essential to the drum corp and they were forced to abandon the season due to a lack of money. The Phantom Regiment has made amazing advances since then and now they compete annually for the drum and bungle corps world championship.

Here is a performance of the pre show and opener of the 2008 show Spartacus.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Soccer Championships

<---This is the symbol for the Real Madrid Soccer Team.

As of recently, the list of who will be playing in each category for the soccer championships has been posted. I still don’t totally understand the way the championships work because I just started paying attention to soccer when I went to Spain over the summer. In Spain, soccer is as big if not bigger than football. Spaniards as well as the rest of Europe are extremely patriotic to their teams. My favorite team is Real Madrid. I don’t really know why I picked them as my favorite team, other than their jersey was the cheapest one I could find in Spain so I bought it. Don’t get me wrong, they are a famous and very popular team; I think the jersey was cheap because it was purple. After that I just decided that they would be the team I would root for.

There are 8 different categories of teams. They are labeled as Group A, Group B, Group C so and so forth ending at Group H. The groups are put together based on their performance over the season. I think Group A is the best performing teams. It would make sense because Sevilla didn’t have a very good season this year and they are ranked in Group G. One thing that stands out in my memory is a protest that occurred while I was in Spain, over the new coach of the Sevilla team who the supporters disliked; probably because of their bad season. To get back on topic, each team will play another team in their group. The teams in each group are about the same ability level. Real Madrid is in Group C and I think they are at the top of their group ability wise. Manchester United is in Group B, Sevilla is in Group G, and Barcelona is in Group F; those are mainly the only soccer teams I have heard of. Sevilla would probably be my second favorite soccer team just because of the protest I witnessed. I don’t really have any good reason for liking the teams I like other than I have some sort of connection to them. I also like Barcelona and I also bought one of their soccer jerseys when I was in Spain. Also, when I went to Barcelona I went to their soccer stadium; I didn’t take a tour of it or anything but it was cool to be there. Anyway, these soccer games are kind of like the Olympics for soccer because the best teams from all around the world compete. I think some of the games have already started and I know they continue through a good part of 2010. Sorry I wasn’t very informative on the subject, although I’m trying to learn more as the season progresses.

Here's a link for the Group Listings and other information

This is a video of Real Madrid playing Atletico Madrid(another team in Madrid) earlier this year.


The very heated debate of whether vaccines can cause autism in newborns is ongoing. Millions of dollars have been spent testing this theory and it has almost always been shot down. Why do people, mainly mothers of autistic children, still believe that these vaccines are to blame? The main reason is that up until 2001, most MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccines contained mercury. The mercury was located in an additive called thimerosal which has now been removed from all vaccines. Even though the mercury has been removed from the vaccine, parents are still concerned about the vaccinations. The main reason being is that most autism cases are diagnosed when an infant is around 18 months of age which is also around the time that an infant receives a large amount of their vaccines. Over and over studies have shown that there is no linkage between the two.

I think the main reason parents are so attached to the fact that the vaccines could be harming their children is because it is all they have to hold onto. If it isn’t vaccines that are causing autism, then why does one in every 91 children have some form of autism in the United States? Parents are desperate to find the answers and they don’t have anything else to go off of. One other possible cause, which we studied in my biology class, was that it is being caused by deficiencies in vitamin D. A striking number of children in the United States have been found to have deficiencies in vitamin D. Vitamin D is what allows calcium to be absorbed in the bones. It is found in many milk products and most importantly in the sun. The only problem is that sunscreen blocks the absorption of vitamin D. Each day, children and adults need a mere 10 minutes out in the sun without sunscreen. This is not long enough to damage the skin and yet all that is needed for a healthy child. The next question asked is, why do scientists link vitamin D deficiency and autism? Although research is still being conducted, so far it is shown that babies who are in the womb mostly during the summer time are less likely to develop autism. This is because their mothers are outside and soaking up the sun. In contrast, babies who are mostly in the womb during the winter time have more of a chance of developing autism. Mothers are most likely to get less amounts of vitamin D during this time period because of the lack of sun. At the time babies are in the womb, it is such a critical growing time for their brains that a deficiency in a vitamin this important can have devastating effects.

Here is a website that talks about research and the links between autism and vitamin D deficiency.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Snow Day!

This week was a pretty slow paced week because we had not one, not two, but three snow days. Our first snow day was on Tuesday and I was not expecting it at all. We got the call that school was cancelled around 5:30 in the morning. I was excited but kind of confused because I knew the snow wasn’t supposed to start falling until later in the day; I expected an early out but by no means a cancellation of school. I didn’t really do much on Tuesday and Wednesday besides watch TV and facebook. So on Thursday I decided that I needed to get out of the house. I went to my friend Mildred's house and we went sledding in her backyard which has a small hill. The real reason I enjoy sledding at her house is that behind her backyard is nothing but woods, although a few houses are beginning to take our area over.

I think we have pretty much deemed this territory ours because every winter since we were in elementary school we have gone into the woods and explored. I wouldn’t call us modern day versions of Lewis and Clark, but were pretty close. The woods are full of hills but it is kind of dangerous because as you are going down you have to dodge the trees. This makes the sledding a bit more exciting. It was going good until our exploring started and we reached this small river. Most of it was solid ice so we thought it would be fun to go ice skating on it; without the skates of course. Unfortunately, I hit an area of the ice that was anything but solid and fell right through. As I attempted to get out I realized that my boots were suctioned into the mud and that all the ice around me I was trying to grab was also breaking. All while my friends are laughing around me. Looking back I can laugh, but at the time being submerged in freezing cold water when it was below zero was not fun. The worst part was the 2 mile uphill trek we had to make back to Mildred's house. When I got back I was freezing. I took my boots of and my feet were bright red, purple, and puffy. I’m just thankful I didn’t have to amputate anything. Nevertheless, I would put it in the books as one of the most exciting snow days I’ve had even though I had a narrow escape with death.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Volunteering at the Christmas Party

I am just using this picture until the person who has the actual picture I want has time to upload it onto her computer.

As of recently I was accepted into National Honor Society which means I now much start my expedition to obtain 6 hours of community service. I thought that was a very small requirement but I guess the less the better. Today I got about 4 and ½ hours by volunteering at AEGON for the children’s Christmas party. I volunteered at it last year because my dad works at AEGON so I guess you could say I would have done it regardless of the fact that I needed volunteer hours. My friend Susie (name has been changed to protect her identity) and her brother did it with me so that also made it a bit more fun.

I had to arrive at AEGON around 11:30 today because they served us pizza. I’m not going to lie, half the reason I did this volunteer project was for the free pizza. After that we were assigned our areas we would be working at for the day. Susie, her brother, and I worked at the Reindeer Ring Toss. We made Susie’s brother do most the work will we sat and handed out the prizes. It was pretty fun for the first half, but it got annoying when the children could not decide what prize they wanted. Most of them treated their choice as one of the biggest decisions of their lives. Despite how annoying their slowness became, after a while the party died down because most of the kids went home. During this time period Susie and I ate about 10 cookies each due to our boredom.

At one point a cute little family came through the line to play the game with their kids. They were a Chinese family and it was so cute because they were speaking Chinese to their kids and then their kids would speak English to us. It reminded me the amount of difficulty I have learning Spanish and only depressed me because I realized a 5 year old Chinese girl picked up English faster than I could pick up Spanish. I am not saying this in a racist sort of way I just want to point out my sorry attempt at learning a second language seems inferior to what this girl has done at the mere age of 5.

Thankfully, at 4 o’clock the party ended. As much fun as I had had playing with the prizes I was glad to be done. We still had to clean up but that didn’t take more than 30 minutes. Before cleaning up though, Susie and I went to go sit on Santa’s lap. It is a tradition for us (a fairly recent one) to go and sit on Santa’s lap after we are done volunteering. We have a picture of it, which I will be able to post to this blog once I get it put on the computer.

Catholicism in Spain

The first thing that I think of when I think about Spain is beautiful cathedrals with ancient architecture. Most of this architecture was influenced by the major religions in Spain. The most widely practiced religion in Spain is Catholicism. Starting in the 1400’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella declared that all Spaniards were required to be Roman Catholic. At this time, there were a large number of Jewish people and Muslims living in Spain. This was a cruel time period in history and therefore the Jews and the Muslims were forced to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. Even though they were forced to leave the country, they were around long enough before this ruling and after it to affect many of much of the Spanish architecture. Now, the Jews and the Muslims are able to live in peace in Spain. Today the headquarters of the Catholic Church are located in Toledo; no this is not Toledo, Iowa but rather Toledo, Spain. Toledo more specifically is found in the province of Castilla La Mancha, located almost in the center of the country. If the name Toledo sounds familiar, it is probably because Toledo is known around the world for its fancy jewelry and expensive swords. Toledo is a very important city to most Spaniards because 97% of their population is Roman Catholic.

Although the Catholic religion is very prominent in Spain, it is not the official religion of Spain because Spain has a secular government. Even though it cannot be the official language of Spain, it receives special privileges including money from the government which the other religions in Spain don’t receive. Each year, many Catholics from around the world make a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Northwestern Spain to visit a cathedral where a saint is believed to have been buried.

One of the most famous Catholic cathedrals in Spain is found in the heart of Catholic Spain, Toledo. A lot of the architecture of this cathedral was influenced by the Gothic cathedrals of France. This is a huge cathedral standing 295 feet high. It was built from 1380-1440 which was around the time the Jews and Muslims were being expelled from Spain and other parts of Europe. The Transfiguration is a famous carving found in this cathedral. There isn’t much information about this carving that I found but I thought it was interesting because it was the title of the first essay we read by Annie Dillard.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Winter Pep Assembly

Today was the pep assembly for the winter term. I was looking forward to it because it meant that classes would be shorter; which I always enjoy. For the pep assembly, I had to sit with the band, instead of with the junior class. Don’t get me wrong, I like sitting with the band and playing, but I think it would be nice every once in a while to get to sit with my class and do the cheers. Nevertheless, I had a fun time in the band section. We don’t actually do that much playing. In the end, we end up having played the fight song twice and that’s just about it. This pep assembly was different though because our director had recently gotten us new pep band music. She decided that we would play one of our new songs today. The new song that she chose was Thriller by Michael Jackson. We have only rehearsed the song once, so it didn’t actually sound that great but it was fun because people could recognize the song. We also have two other new songs: “I Saw Her Standing There,” by The Beatles, and “Zombie Nation,” by a band of which I don’t know their name. We have only rehearsed The Beatles song once and we still haven’t gotten the Zombie Nation song. I’m sure that most of you know the Beatles song off the top of your head but the Zombie Nation song is a little less known. I know you would recognize it if you heard it though because it is played at almost all of the football games over the loud speakers; that is how our director got the idea to purchase the music. Due to this, I am more excited than usual for basketball pep band. Next week we have two pep bands, one on Tuesday and one on Friday. I am going to both of them and I hope that we get to play the new songs. We have a total of 12 pep bands this season, 6 of which we are required to play at; I signed up for all 12 not only because I think band is fun, but because I will get into the basketball game for free.

This is seemingly random, but getting the new pep band music was not a simple matter of just buying it. One day, it took a group of us about an hour to take all of the old music out of the pep band folders and organize it. As I was doing this, I realized it would only be a matter of time before we had to put all the new music in; this would presumably take another hour.

This is one of the songs that we are playing for pepband. It is called Zombie Nation.