Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dracula's Dash for Hope 2012

Recently Bridge of Love had their annual 5K fundraiser race, Dracula's Dash For Hope. I know its been a while since it happened but I wanted to talk about it.

I went to the race this year only as a volunteer. I really regret not having run the race. I woke up at about 6:00 am, put on my hippie costume and drove down to the race with other volunteers and race participants  We arrived in the dark of the morning and helped set everything up. There were people running around everywhere, marking the course, hanging signs, setting up speakers. I wasn't entirely sure what was happening, but the coordinators had it all under control, and everything came together very nicely.

The kids lining up for their race. I think that the Captain Hook kid
had the coolest costume.
I helped set up and then I was in charge of running the information booth. I lingered near the set up of pictures and pounced on people answering their questions and giving information. I had a lot of fun.

It was nice to see some friends of mine there. I was surprised to see the Lundbergs who were supposed to be out of the country, however, due to a passport problem, they had to stay. I'm not going to lie, I was happy they were there.

The children's race started. Kids all lined up in their really adorable costumes. The gun was fired and they were off. The race was only half a mile but some of those kids were intense and really racing hard. Parents ran alongside and a man in Dracula garb walked the course to make sure no one got lost.

Soon after the 5K race started. Everyone lined up and I was reminded of my high school cross country days. That sinking nervous feeling you get as you stand on the line waiting for the race to start. The gun went off, and the race began.

To be fair, the course was pretty tricky. Wet grass and quite a few hills. There was a lot of competition and it was a lot of fun to watch. Since I was silly and didn't run I had some free time, which I took advantage of by taking a moment to talk to Chad Hymas. Chad Hymas is a motivational speaker and author. I read his book a few months before the race and was delighted to see him there. I had been forewarned about his presence and so I brought my copy of his book, and, like a silly little fan, nervously asked him to sign it for me. Which he was kind enough to do.

I took some pictures, which I've put into the blog. There was a nicer camera and photographer documenting the event, and as soon as I get access to the good photos of the event I'll be sure to post them or put a link so you can see the fun and festivities.

The race ended and prizes were given out. Chad Hymas was at the microphone for all of this. All in all, I had a really great experience, and I'm sure many more did as well.

A successful fundraiser! Which really helped to raise money to support the Romanian orphans. It really makes me so happy to see so many people coming together to help out in the world. People just looking to do something kind for someone who needs it. What a wonderful wonderful thing it is to serve another person.

Monday, November 26, 2012

In Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all! I know its a few days late, but I had to recover from my sugar coma from eating too many pies. This year my mom had to limit my dad to making only 15 pies.

Thanksgiving was a wonderful needed break. I love getting together with the family. This year we had about 30 people come from my Dad's side of the family. I loved seeing people I had not seen in years. We had a fun few days together. I even got a few longboard rides in. The best was Thanksgiving morning when my little sister, Sydney, came along with me on her bike. We had a lot of fun and, except for one bad fall I had, the ride went very well. I loved spending that time with my sister.

Family is a big deal to me. I think that this has come from the ideals and values my parents have taught me and the things that I learn from my faith. Having and creating strong families is a big deal to us. As well as family history work. When all of us kids were in school my mother went back to college and got her degree in Genealogy. She knows so many stories of my ancestors and is great at helping others too.

One story she shares every Thanksgiving time is about John Alden. He was a young man who came over to the Americas on the Mayflower. He married another passenger named Priscilla Mullins. They survived the hardships of settling the land and from their work my family came to live here.  Before we all eat ourselves sick on Thanksgiving feast she tells us about the hard times the early pioneers had. The first winter was so bad that they had to cut back to severe rations. Each person only got five kernels of corn a day! In remembrance my mom always puts five kernels of candy corn by each of our plates.

This is a good reminder of the many blessings we have. I look at my life, my experiences, my relationships, my things and I see a bounty bestowed on me. It makes me feel a gratitude towards God and my family. Then I think of the words of the song, "Because I Have Been Given Much, I Too Must Give" and I feel a responsibility to share what I have with others.

I'm grateful for so many things. Life really is a wonderful and beautiful thing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wet Leaves and Dog Poop

Skadi: Norse Goddess of Winter,
who enjoys skiing,
spear hunting, and ruining
 my life in Provo Utah as well. 
Slushy, snowy, icy cold weather. That's what I've had recently. This poor weather has really hurt my training for my trip. I've been swimming to exercise instead of running and longboarding, which I enjoy, but its not as nice as riding my longboard. appeared that someone had appeased the Provo Gods of Winter for a day and we were blessed with a sunny warm day. I thought to myself, "I think I should go for a ride."

Donning my shorts and t-shirt, headphones and helmet, board and Big Stick I set off down the street towards my usual Provo River trail. Cruising down the road I reach the river trail and then I start pushing fast. Covering the trail are piles of leaves everywhere. Due to the snow and rain the leaves are sodden and rotting, letting off a decomposing smell. Every time I ride over the leaves my board slows down, also the wheels catch the mud and water and throw it everywhere. Whenever I try to push with my foot or the Stick I have to beware the leaves or else I slip and almost fall off. It was a great workout, lots of fun, but frequently frustrating. 

Wheel Shields by Chase Kaczmarek
I reach home and flip my board over to see it has been caked in mud, mud which has been thrown all over by my spinning wheels. My board is muddy and wet, not a good thing for the maple wood deck. Mud is all over my lower legs. I have a flashback to a similar experience when I was going along the trail and someone hadn't cleaned up after their dog. My quickly spinning wheels run over the stinky "doggy deposit" and I instantly regret not being more attentive. 

Since that day I've been looking into something to prevent this. I was on Rob Thompson's webpage and he mentioned wheel shields. I've looked into that and I found someone who has made that idea a reality. Check them out here. I'm not sure I will ever get them, but I'll think about it. Especially if the weather keeps playing tricks on me like this.

Curse you Provo Weather Gods of Winter and Rain, curse you....

Monday, November 19, 2012

Helmets and Traumatic Brain Injury

This gave me a good laugh.

I'm a big advocate for helmets. I study psychology in school and I learn a lot about brain damage and its impact on us. Helmets are a necessity  They do quite a bit to save your brain and your head. You are your brain, without it you cannot function, so I say, lets all wear helmets!

The main thing that helmets do is they keep a closed head injury from becoming an open head injury. It is obviously preferable to keep your brain inside of your head rather than spread on the pavement. Especially because the consistency of a brain is like pudding, and it will not stay solid for long, but will "melt" out onto the pavement. Wear a helmet, keep your brain inside your head, and keep things from entering your brain.

Even with a closed head injury there is some damage that can be done. Your brain is a very mushy substance that floats in a liquid inside of your skull. When your head hits the pavement it has been accelerating. It hits the ground and stops quite suddenly. Sadly, your floating brain takes longer to stop. It will continue to accelerate until it hits the inside of your skull, this is called the coup. It will then bounce off your skull, move backwards, and then  hit the other side, this is called the contre-coup. Both of these impacts can cause severe damage to your brain known as Tramatic Brain Injury, or TBI.

Coup and Contrecoup
TBI is the leading cause of death and disability for children and adolescents. There are roughly 2,685 deaths a year due to TBI, and at least 37,000 hospitalizations with 435,000 emergency room visits. The most incidence of hospitalization and death occurs from ages 14-18 years old. There are different types of TBI, such as contusions which is bleeding in the brain. Or concussions  which is similar to a contusion but it includes the loss of consciousness. Depending on the severity of these one may develop mild to severe TBI. Loss of many forms of functioning can occur.

Along with concussion and contusion is Axonal Shearing. The inside of your skull is not smooth. My Behavioral Neurobiology teacher gave the good example that it is shaped like a skate park. Ramps, bowls, dips and hills. There are quite a few ridges inside your skull. When your skull rotates quickly and then stops even quicker, like hitting your head on the ground, your brain does not stop rotating and these ridges literally "shear" or tear through your brain matter, causing bleeding and severe neural damage.

Inside the top of your skull. Usually there are no
screws sticking into your head so...ignore those.
Pay attention to the ridges instead.
How does wearing a helmet help to prevent this? Well, most of this damage is cause by your speeding skull being stopped suddenly, while your brain takes a moment longer to slow down. Helmets help lengthen the time it takes to slow your skull down making the deceleration less damaging. As your head hits the ground, the foam in your helmet is crushed by your head. As it crushes it slows your head down gradually, rather than all at once. This causes the damage to be less severe, and can very well save your life, if not your neural functioning. 

This is why you should buy a new helmet if you get into a crash. The foam has been crushed and will not work the same again. It is safer to buy a new helmet. 

Wear a helmet, just do it. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Make a Wish Bram Stoker!

Today Bram Stoker was remembered in a Google Doodle on Google's homepage. This is Stoker's 165th birthday. Bram Stoker is best known for his still-popular novel, Dracula. I love that book. It is masterfully written. I love the format of the book. It doesn't read like a normal book, but is more a collection of journal entries, letters, and newspaper articles, which all combine to tell the story of the Vampire. It is an engaging read, and one that really scares you at times. I would recommend it to anyone. It's no wonder why it is a "classic".

Vlad Tepes,
or Vlad the Impaler
"So Mason," you may ask, "Why are you putting this up on a blog about Romanian Orphans and Longboarding? I fail to see the connection. Why Bram Stoker? Why Dracula's Dash for Hope too?" Well, I do this because the main inspiration for the character of Dracula is none other than Romanian national hero, Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler. Even the name Dracula comes from a Romanian word that means, "The Devil." Transylvania is a region in the central part of Romania. I got to live there for a while. It is a beautiful area of the world, but a little eerie on a foggy winter night.

Vlad was a very bloody ruler who helped to unite Romania. His methods were violent and often involved impaling hundreds of people till they die. The Romanians love him. Why? Not because he was so ruthless, but because he was able to hold the country together and keep the Turks from conquering. There is an anecdote that the Turks sent an army to scout out Romania before the larger force arrived. When the main part of the Turkish army reached the borders of Romania they found their scouts...but not in the condition they expected. Every soldier in the scout army was impaled on a pole and their bodies lined the road that led to Romania. The anecdote says that the Turkish Sultan was so disgusted and horrified that he vomited, and then turned his army around, leaving Romania alone.

Stories about Vlad are fascinating, macabre, and at times they can be far-fetched. My favorite, however, is Bram Stoker's story. Thanks Bram, I appreciate what you've done for us all in giving us the gift of your book.

Now...the question, do vampires exist? Were they really killed. Here are two thoughts for you to think about. In order to kill a vampire one must drive a wooden stake through their heart and chop off their head. SPOILER ALERT: In the book, Dracula is hastily "killed" with a Bowie knife to the heart, and a kukuri knife to chop off his head. This is close, but where is the wooden stake? Did it work? I believe that this is the question that led to the Dracula sequel, written by Bram's descendant Dacre Stoker. I've never read it, so tell me what you think.

Bram Stoker
Another evidence for vampires, is someone I met in Romania. We used to teach free English classes to people in the cities in which we lived. On lady we taught was about six foot three inches tall, and apparently a judo champion, very intimidating  She always wore black, with a turtleneck or a high collar. Sometimes dressed like a pirate, knee high boots and frilly sleeves with a vest. Her son was a really nice kid who was also really tall, thin and had a "goth" look. We could never tell how old she was, 29 or 50. One time we asked the class what they all did for work. Her answer, she is a real estate agent for a Count who lives in a castle in Transylvania  Sound like Jonathan Harker to anyone else. Vampire? Well, I'm not saying yes, but I'm not saying no.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Wear A Helmet

There is an attitude that bothers me quite a bit. In the culture of bike riding, skateboarding, longboarding, etc, kids think that is is not cool to wear a helmet. That is looks dumb. I'm not going to lie, but the instant I see someone riding without a helmet I assume they are a person of sub-par intelligence. If they had any shred of smarts, and their mind was an asset to them, surely they would want to protect their brain. If they don't want to protect their brain I guess its not that important to them, which means their brain must not be that high-functioning or helpful. AKA they're dumb. 

I hope I haven't put it too strongly, but when you buy a board, or a bike, a scooter, or a motorcycle you should buy a helmet at the same time. 

I study psychology in school and we look at a lot of different brain damage. When I hear someone tell me they won't wear a helmet because it will make them look stupid, I tell them they will look more stupid when they suffer Traumatic Brain Injury and have to live life as a vegetable. I'm pretty passionate about wearing helmets, and I plan on posting much more on it later. Until then, here is a friendly message from the Brain Injury Association

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Psychology of Service: The Wishing Tree

Just one more of these and then I'm back to writing shorter posts I promise.

To wrap up my ideas, for now at least, on why we serve other people I have a parable for you to read. The important part of the story is last third of it, concerning the crippled boy, but I've included all of it in order to give the proper context and to allow better understanding.

There are elements to the whole story that I like, and parts that I don't quite agree with. To be certain it deals with more topics than just service. However the overarching meaning, the larger take away message of service and love is what I really like from this message and what I hope you take away as well.

This was a speech given by Purushottam Lal at Brigham Young University. I heard it for the first time from my History of Psychology Professor, Dr. Reber. It really made me think a lot and I hope it touches you in the same way it did me.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, the Wishing Tree:

“So there was another parable I had been told to explain this problem that faced us all the time, and this was a parable of the wish-fulfilling tree. That is magnificent. In fact, I will have to end with that because I’ll have nothing more to say.
“An uncle goes to the city and he comes back to his village where his nephews and nieces are playing with toys and sticks and stones and pieces of string—simple, trivial, ordinary things—and he tells them, “Look, you fools, this is no way to play. Don’t you know that there’s a wish-fulfilling tree right outside your cottage? All you have to do is go to the tree and stand there under the tree and start wishing and the tree will give you exactly what you want. All you have to do is go there and ask for it.”
“And these children are very smart like all kids nowadays and know that’s not true because, after all, you don’t get what you want. You have to work very hard to get what you want. And even if you work hard, someone else is working harder and he gets it first. And besides, some others have connections. They really get it first. So they don’t believe him and he goes away.

“As soon as he goes away, guess what they do? They rush to the tree and start wishing. (This is a tree whose roots are in the sky and whose fruits are in earth. It’s the tree in the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 15.) And they start wishing. And of course we know what kids wish for: sweets, candy. And you know what kids get—stomachaches. (What did you think they would get?) The trouble is that the tree will give you exactly what you want and with it, its opposite. Guaranteed. Nothing in this world comes single; everything comes with its built-in opposite. (Don’t ask me why; I didn’t make the world. I’m just suffering as much as anyone else, believe me.)
“And so what else do they want? They want toys. And what do they get? Boredom. And they want bigger toys. They get bigger boredom. Bigger and better toys. Bigger and better boredom. Mattel toys. Swell boredom. There’s no getting out of that. The tree will give you exactly what you want, guaranteed, with its built-in opposite. Don’t forget that. That’s part of the game.
“So the kids grow older. They’re suffering and they don’t know what’s happening. Now they’re called what I was in 1947—a young adult. (How nice. Fancy phrases. Overgrown kids.) They stand under the tree. (There’s nowhere else to stand. That’s where we all are. Where will you go? The tree is everywhere.) And now, of course, they don’t want kid stuff, not toys and sweets. They want other things—the four fruits that hang from the tree: sex, fame, money, and power. These are the four fruits; there’s nothing else available. Nothing else. (If there is, please let me know, because as a Hindu that’s what I was told.) All you have to do is reach out, grab them, and you’ve got them. Reach out, grab it, you’ve got it—and you’ve had it—because the tree will give you the opposite too. Guaranteed. The tragedy of life is not that you don’t get what you want. The tragedy of life is that you get exactly what you want—and with it, its opposite. You dream it, you wish it, you think it, you do it, you grab it, you’ve got it—and you’ve had it—because the tree will give you the opposite too. Guaranteed. That’s the real tragedy of life—that you discover too late the curse of getting exactly what you want. You dream it, you wish it, you think it, you do it, you grab it, you’ve got it—and you’ve had it. There’s no getting out of this. And here I was, looking for a job, and I was being told this parable. So the kids suffer and they agonize. They don’t know why they agonize.
“Now they grow old. That’s all you can do under the tree. Now there’s another fancy name for them. Senior citizens. They’re under the tree waiting to be carried to the funeral pyre where they’ll be burned to the proper Hindu crisp. And now they are terribly worried. There’s not much time left. They huddle in groups and one group says, “Oh, it’s a hell of a world.” Fools, they’ve learned nothing from life. And there’s a second group which says, “You know, we have the answer. We made the wrong wishes. This time we’ll go and make the right wish.” Bigger fools. They’ve learned nothing at all. And there’s a third group which huddles and says, “If that’s the way the world is, I want to die. What’s the use living?” “All right,” says the tree. “You want to die? Take it.” And with death comes its opposite, rebirth. Oh my goodness, there’s no escape. Or is there?
“Yes, there is, because the parable doesn’t end here. Parables don’t end like that. There’s the drop of honey and the lota of water. And there is a lame boy, a cripple, who also ran to the tree with his companions, but he was pushed aside. He fell down and he couldn’t get up easily; so when he got up, he found his friends under the tree wishing away. He crawled back into the hut and he waited. He said, “I’ll wait. There’ll be some time under the tree when it will be vacant. I’ll go then and make my wish.” (Now I don’t know what cripples want. Whatever they want is what he would wish for.) So he waited, looking out of the window. He saw his companions under the tree. Young children asking for sweets and getting stomachaches and suffering. He saw them asking for toys and getting boredom and suffering. He saw them as young adults grabbing sex, fame, money, and power. He saw them suffering, he saw them getting the opposite, he saw them agonizing and not knowing why they were agonizing, and he saw them dividing into three groups, one group saying, “It’s a hell of a world,” another group saying, “We made the wrong wishes,” and a third group saying, “I want to die,” but getting reborn. And in one dazzling, illuminating spectacle he saw this whole thing and stood there, marveling at the spectacle of the universe—these are the words now, very carefully used when the story is told again and again by village storytellers, by mothers, by others, whoever tells it, “marveling at the spectacle of the universe”—at the cosmic swindle of life, at the divine comedy (well, tragicomedy). There was a gush of compassion in his heart for his companions under the tree. And in that gush of compassion, he forgot to wish. He forgot to wish and the tree couldn’t touch him. He was free. (And it wasn’t the British who gave us that freedom. That was a freedom I learned from my mother.) The tree couldn’t touch him.
“He had not done the good act, which is very easy to do: you must make up your mind to be good, and what you’ll get is heaven, and heaven is a punishment for good deeds because the Hindu heaven is temporary and you’re born again. He had not done the bad act, which is also very easy to do: just be selfish all the time, and you’ll get hell and then you’re born again—it’s a temporary hell. He had not done the absurd act. (We don’t even think of it; we leave it to the French. They are very expert in that kind of thing. The Hindu mind is not so subtle.) He had done what is known as the pure act. The act—well, I won’t define it. That act cuts through karma, cuts through maya, cuts through the tree at the root, and gets what? If freedom could be had by just punching a few buttons—if you knew the coordinates of freedom—would it be freedom anymore? He’s free, let’s put it that way.
“And of course, the question always is, “But how is it possible? What kind of thing is this pure act that you talk about, this nonwishing gush-of-compassion act?” And inevitably the storyteller says, “Don’t ask me. Ask any mother why she puts the baby on the dry side of the bed at night and puts herself on the wet side, joyfully. Is it because she wants the baby to look after her twenty years later? Could be a very calculated act. Is it because it’s instinctive? Could be. Let’s ask a psychologist. Is it because she’s irrational? Could be. Is it because she gets a Freudian kick out of it? Could be. Ask her and she’ll say, ‘Would you mind not wasting my time? You go to college and find out. Meanwhile, let me look after the baby, please.’ She just does it. And the others try to find out what’s going on.”
A rupee note
“That’s one way the storyteller explains it. The other explanation he gives is to ask the people, “Does any one of you have a rupee note?” (A rupee note is hardly ten cents.) Everyone has it and they produce it. He says, “Now you can do four things with it. One, you give it to charity, you do good to someone, you put your name to it—you do for yourself, too—you’ll get heaven. Serves you right—you’ll be born again. You can take the rupee note and spend it all on yourself, act as if you live in a vacuum and no one else exists in the world, you’ll get hell. Serves you right—you’ll be born again, and given another chance to do better. You can do the absurd act. (The French have found that out.) You can take the rupee note, tear it into little bits, and put it into the trash can. It’s your life; you’re free any time to take it. Or you can do the pure act, too. You can take the rupee note and give it in charity and, like the mother who puts the baby on the dry side of the bed and puts herself on the wet side at night joyfully, like the boy who stood there marveling at the cosmic spectacle of the universe, you, in a gush of compassion, give it; and though you want to add your name to it, you, in that gush of compassion, forget to add your name to it and by doing so you have done the pure act.
“Ah, but don’t remember to forget or the tree will get you.
And that’s all the literature of belief that I know.”

(Purushottam Lal, “The Hindu Experience: An Examination of Folklore and Sacred Texts,” in Literature of Belief: Sacred Scripture and Religious Experience, ed. Neal E. Lambert (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1981), 89–108.)