Monday, December 28, 2009

Feliz Navidad!

Christmas has come and gone with lightning speed this year. I know, how trite saying that time flew by , but there is something to the concept of time-compression as you age. As a child, the pre-Christmas anticipation, holiday traditions, parties, and Christmas vacation lasted forever. So did the toys. Things didn't break unless your brothers blew them up or dismantled them. I had a Thumbelina doll that was my prize possession until my brothers refashioned her with pieces from their erector set. Their curious (deviant) minds matched Sid's from Toy Story.

Why do we put all this pressure on ourselves during the holidays? We logged in seven parties/get-togethers in December, two being at our house. The first party we hosted was a blast! My brother Tom suggested that we throw in a few of our closest friends to our traditional Christmas mix this year. So glad we did - our "tailgate with Christmas music" included holiday spirits and munchies and lots of laughter. It was a terrific tension releaser. We even had our own Father Ziggy come to the party, who blessed the house and all. Our second party was a bit more subdued, but admittedly I was tired. Three parties in less than a week can be rough. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.

One of my favorite gifts was a "Mexican Spanish" phrase book from my son Alex. Yes, it's back to Spanish Land now that the stockings have been hung and emptied, presents wrapped and unwrapped, cookies baked and eaten (6 dozen consumed by my dog Buddy). Getting a sneak peak at my lessons empowered me to revisit Rosetta, ever patiently waiting for my return.

A good review of numbers, in fact so much review that it was mind numbing. Give me some verbs! Where are the verbs? I want to do something! Finally I picked up estudio (studying) and ensenardo (teaching). People were teaching and studying chino, and árabe and inglés and español.

Right now, my daughter and her girlfriend are watching Julie/Julia - my new Christmas DVD. I can't concentrate on my blog - this movie was, after all , the inspiration for this project.
Plus tarde - that's French for "later!"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Our Lady of Guadalupe's Feastday

The day finally arrived after months of preparation. Not that I was exactly certain what I was preparing for. Yes, I knew it was Our Lady's feast day. I had even read a book about the history of the miraculous event which occurred on December 12, 1531 in Mexico, when Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego, an Aztec Indian. She gave him a message of hope and love for the country with a request to build a chapel in her honor. When the local bishop doubted Juan's story and requested a sign from Our Lady, flowers suddenly appeared in the barren land to be sent as proof. When Juan unfurled his tilma (cloak) to give these flowers to the bishop, an imprint of Our Lady miraculously appeared on his tilma. After that, the Mexicans were converted to Christianity, and turned away from their previous Aztec gods, gods that they believed required human sacrifices in order to avert natural disasters, illness or famine. A good move on Our Lady's part, in my opinion.

I knew that the Latino community came out en masse to celebrate her feast day, but I was not prepared for the extent of the support. In my defense, for the last decade on December 12 I was always at the mall working and had no idea what was happening beyond the confines of the Santa booth. When we practiced these last 12 Sundays, I was only given a glimpse of what a big part we'd play in the celebration.

We 12 dancers were the matachines. We performed at the pre-sunrise service. I got there at 5 am, only to find a packed church - no seats available, people in the side aisles three deep, a virtual sea of brown hair. Others had arrived as early as 3 am for earlier parts of the service. Did I mention our costumes? How I had felt rather fea in mine, mainly because of my own self-consciousness in wearing a short skirt and a poncho top that didn't completely cover my middle-age midsection. Oh yea, and the headdress with feathers. I hope I haven't lost you, but this is a costume to typify what the Indians wore back in the 1500's before Macy's was around. Ann told me, "Don't worry about it. Offer it up as a prayer and be humble like Mary." Funny too, how you don't feel so stupid when everyone in your group is dressed identically to you. Then it's okay!

Let's see, my last real dance performance in front of a crowd was in high school in 1976. It was a dance contest, and my friend Mike and I danced to Barbara Ann by the Beach Boys. We practiced everyday after school in my living room to the song on our hi-fi record player. The night of the dance, we donned our '50s costumes (me in a skirt and blouse and bobby socks, with hair back in a ponytail; he with cuffed jeans, white t-shirt and an afro - it was the '70s after all). We cut the rug, or gym floor to be exact, swirling and dipping and jumping and jiving. We remembered our steps, and best of all he didn't drop me when we were doing some aerial moves. We won first place that night, and until yesterday, that was the pinnacle of my dancing career.

We stood as a group at the back of the church, maracas in hand, waiting for the beat of the drum by Julio to signal us to start. We danced up to the side of the main altar where there was a huge picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe suspended over a make-shift mountain and waterfall surrounded by countless bouquets of roses and other flowers. We knelt and said a silent prayer. Mine was for my son Alex, the football player, and his destiny post-graduation. One of the dances involves "painting a cross" on the floor, which is tricky even if you went slow, which we didn't as the drum beckoned us to go at break-neck speed. Okay, it wasn't that fast, but I'm not in high school anymore. The morning performance went quickly, and I thought I held up pretty well considering I had three hours sleep.

Ann and I met our husbands for breakfast at the Triple XXX restaurant (nothing like the name implies) and gorged on pancakes, omelets and endless cups of coffee. We were still in costume, sans the headdresses, and got a few good looks. This particular restaurant is known for hosting "Breakfast Club" on Purdue's home football games, where all the students come in to eat after they've been imbibing at the nearby bars since dawn. These students come dressed in costume (I don't quite know why) and it's Halloween every home game. When my kids were little and would see the "drunken sailors" in costume, I'd just tell them it was a big Halloween party for the college kids. Now we looked just like them in our Aztec garb. And football season is over.

At home, I tried to catch up on Christmas cards, waiting for the adrenaline to subside and the exhaustion to kick in. That's another topic I want to briefly explore. People aren't sending Christmas cards anymore, and it really upsets me. Fine, drop ME off your list if you must, but to bag the entire endeavor is a big mistake. I went to the post office to buy my Christmas stamps, and for the first time ever in the past holiday seasons, there was no line. Nobody buying stamps, nobody mailing gifts. Maybe it was a fluke, but the postman told me there was a big drop off last year, probably due to the recession, and it just hasn't recovered. Yes, email is quick, Facebook is fabulous (or so I've been told), but can't you stop long enough to write a Christmas card to someone you only touch base with once a year anyway? Letter writing in general has gone the way of dinosaurs, and I think it's a real shame. I cherish the letters from my grandmother, written in her scrawled handwriting from her travels. Well, I could go on, but this entry is really about Our Lady.

When I finally fell asleep, I was awoken by Alex gently shaking me. "Mom, I got accepted to Purdue in aviation. I just found out." This is not coincidence. Our Lady had her hand in this somehow because aviation is a select program, small because they have to accommodate their students with flight time. It's like getting accepted into dental school, or so I'm led to believe.
My prayers for him were answered.

Later that afternoon, our group reconvened at a Mexican store, and made our way through the town in a procession led by flag carriers and our drummer, and a police escort, and followed by members of the faithful who sang and recited the Rosary in Spanish. This mile plus journey was hands down, the hardest trek for me.

We did the Charlie Horse, the Snake, the Clock, the 16 Point Cross, the 6 Point Cross, the Hopscotch, the hopping and kneeling dance, and my personal favorite, the Drunken Sailor. People came out of their houses to see the procession, photographers were running ahead, snapping our picture, and Julio kept beating that drum. In some ways, it seemed like Ann and I were on the set of an I Love Lucy episode. Lucy and Ethel barging in on one of Ricky's show numbers at the Tropicana. But most of the time, I felt unity with this group of Latino dancers. We had more in common than we had in differences. We were all Catholic, they spoke English, I tried to speak Spanish, but most importantly we were doing something together for a common cause. That's what forged the bond, and isn't doing something together and making memories what creates friendships anyway? A little effort works wonders.

It wasn't the road to Calvary, but it was painful. Jose, one of our leaders, suffered a toe injury. Julio got blisters on his hands from wielding the drumsticks. When I told Ann's husband that my feet were so hot from all the friction, he said he thought he saw sparks on the pavement. My back still hurts, BUT, it was so worth it.

Once we got to the church, we prepared for our final performance. This time, the church was even more packed, lights were dimmed, and smoke from the incense clouded and scented the sanctuary. The mariachi band was in full swing. We just needed dancing spotlights to complete the scene. This was it, the moment we were waiting for. Part of our group went first to the altar with flags, incense, the drum and a horn. The rest of us waited for the cue to advance and we filled the center aisle with our dance for Our Lady. We were in the zone, all thoughts on her and not the hundreds of brown eyes watching us. We were Aztecs, thankful for the hope she gave us in that glimpse of her on Juan's tilma. We put on a grand show for our queen. When we were done, we filed in the front pews to participate in Mass and watch a re-enactment of the apparition that happened 478 years ago to a poor Indian.

I grabbed the hand of one of my new friends, Glenis, and whispered to her, "This is one of the best days of my life."

Friday, December 11, 2009

T minus 5.5 hours

I should be in bed. Asleep. Renewing and rejuvenating myself in preparation for the big day, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe tomorrow morning at 5 am. Instead, I'm wired and spending time tapping on Antonio, mi computadora.

Several things I've discovered about myself over the years: 1) I'm a night person. A night person that waits til the 11th hour to do the things I need to do. 2) I'm a project person. Doing anything indefinitely stiffens me into paralysis. 3) I jump into things that sound exciting, perhaps without proper research or forethought. My motto is Ready, Fire, Aim!

I'm a little nervous about this dancing gig with my fellow Latinos tomorrow morning. Mostly nervous that I won't wake up. Or will wake up and look so scary that I turn people away from the faith. Or will faint from cold or exhaustion or stroke as I'm dancing away through the streets in mid-December. Okay, that's not a real fear, but it could happen.

Back when I was the Santa/Easter Bunny photo set manager at the mall and would run into an emergency situation of having to drum up a person to throw in a suit at the last minute, I recruited my friends to help me with the promise of, "You'll have fun, it's easy, you'll do fine, it's only for a couple hours, what a neat experience!" etc. Having seen myself in the mirror yesterday with my OLG outfit (sorry, but not flattering on my figure), I felt the boomerang of fate winging back my way and smacking me good. "Lucy, what have you gotten us into?"

Before I retire tonight, I am putting this all into Mary's hands. Please help me get me through the day in a way that is pleasing to you. My intentions are great, and this day's for you!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Perfect Season

Okay, so I just wrote a magazine article about a Perfect Winter. (My real thoughts were to spend it in Jamaica in a beach house complete with cook and maid. I know it exists because my daughter Chelsea spent her honeymoon there in that manner.) Anyway, my Perfect Winter story highlighted the perfect martini, the perfect fire, the perfect holiday dessert, the perfect bath, the perfect cup of tea. You get the idea. Now I can write a recipe for the Perfect Season.

Here it is:
65 athletic young men
Experienced and caring coaching staff
Involved and supportive families
High expectation
Hope and dreams
Hard work

Pick your 65 athletes at a young age and condition them with good physical training. The best mix is young men who have known each other for years: learning, playing and praying together.
Stir in a great coaching staff that has believes in these boys and recognizes their potential and brings out their best, on and off the field. Add a mess of spirited, involved families who support the boys 24/7 and love them. Mix in high expectations - added early on for best results. Leaven with hopes and encourage them to follow their dreams. Build on a strong faith in God who gave gifts of talent and expects them back in his honor. Lastly, add the hard work. Because work wins.

The Central Catholic Knights played their hearts out in a 52-0 shutout at Lucas Oil Stadium last Friday making it a perfect 15 - 0 season. The Fountain Central Mustangs were a good team, but weren't prepared for the soldiers that appeared that day to claim their title. One newspaper reporter said they had "team speed," indicating that it wasn't just a few jazzy running backs that scored points - our whole team ran like a swarm of bees around a beehive resolved to win.

Gotta go in a second to pay my respects to Jesus at the chapel tonight. So many things to talk to Him about. Yes, my guadalupeproject and the upcoming feastday - yikes!, but also about how my son and his team were transformed into champions this year. Thanks be to God.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lotsa Thanks to Give

Usually I dread Thanksgiving. The devotion of an entire day to stuffing yourself silly then sitting in front of mind-numbing television until you pass out. Elements that make the guys in our family LOVE Thanksgiving. The cleaning and cooking don't rank high on my list either, especially when you don't have the proper time to do either really well. High expectations of the best Thanksgiving ever fall flat when you're exhausted and a bit resentful of the whole ordeal.

Well, that has been the story the last dozen years, at any rate, because Thanksgiving was sandwiched in between the Night before Turkey and Black Friday. In my previous decade as a district manager of Santa Claus photo sets, Thanksgiving was the calm before the storm, and there was never enough time to enjoy it, let alone be thankful. People get crazy when they are stressed out during the holidays, and often Santa and the elves bore the brunt of it. I'd arrive at Thanksgiving dinner frazzled, not wanting to talk with anyone, and certainly not take their picture, and beelined it to the libation station to soothe my nerves.

I also felt guilty because Thanksgiving falls so close to my daughter's birthday and we could never celebrate it properly. Always on a different day, with something slapped together at the last moment because I usually had to work on her birthday. One year she invited her friends to the mall with our intention to see Santa, eat lunch and shop. I ended up having to work and she went without me. That stunk. Although I loved my Santa gig, I changed jobs in May 2008 and now have Thanksgiving, Black Friday and the whole whopping weekend off. I don't know what to do with myself. I'm offering thanks for the time with my family.

The second thing I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving is this incredible run in football. We are going to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to play the for the state title the day after Thanksgiving! While I'm writing this, I'm listening to a replay of last Friday night's Semi-State game. We drove over two hours to play a very good team who made it to the semi-state last year. Butterflies don't describe the feeling I had in my stomach. More like bats outta hell.

What a game - dry for once, thank God - a beautiful evening with a crescent moon that kept changing colors as it rose over the "H" shaped goalpost. We were wedged in small, rickety bleachers, like ours, amongst our dearest football buddies cheering on our sons. We were dressed in blue and white with a bit of bling. Every game we moms have a new fashion twist. Satisfies our feminine side. The boys delivered to our highest expectations. They were ready for battle and played their best. In many ways, I relate this whole football business to being in a tight military unit. We've had ACL/MCL tears, blood clots, dislocated shoulders, distended elbows, concussions, back injuries, plus your standard bumps and bruises. Yet, they patch up and soldier on. If he's too battered, they send in reinforcements who go at it with just as much intensity. This is not a spectator sport for these guys - it's life or death, to get the mission accomplished. They won 47-13. They are true brothers on and off the field.

Besides getting this far in football, I'm thankful for all of the little perks that have come with this season. I've bonded with fellow football moms and dads - spending Wednesday nights at film and tailgating with them before Friday night games since August. What a wonderful circle of friends that I hope can last after the last ball is thrown and caught. We fellow parents love our kids, and are so excited to see them realize a dream come true. I'm also thankful for my co-workers who have listened to me prattle on about this team. Many of them have elementary school children and are light years away to knowing what it's like to be the parent of a senior - the last hurrah. They think childhood is endless, as I did back then. God bless them.

But most of all, I'm thankful for God. He is my center. His mother, Our Lady, is my guide and mentor. His saints, especially St. Anthony, are my examples on how to live. St. Anthony is also my "main man," as he helps me find everything I lose, which is substantial. With so many things to be grateful for, I'll try to overlook the excessive food and television this Thanksgiving. If you can't beat them, join them!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

STAS (Short-Term Attention Span)

I have a problem. It's called short-term attention span. I'm an all-or-nothing kind of person, and frankly, it's gets in the way sometimes.

Some people are like turtles - slow and steady, plodding along with their aggravating steadfastness, usually winning the race. Damn them. My husband is more or less a turtle. He's as steady as a rock and it takes a lot to get him riled up. He's like the photos of a gal with Botox - sporting the same expression unless it's something really cataclysmic.

I, on the other hand, can sport a multitude of emotions for any occasion. But it's my rabbit-like tendencies of being focused for the short dashes, that is paining me now. We've been into the Guadalupeproject for three months now, and I'm still not fluent in Spanish. It's ticking me off.

Today when I spent time with Rosetta, she's reminding me that I'm not as smart as a fifth grader. Top that off with a conversation that I had with Maria from work yesterday, on how she was unable to complete her education, yet she's bilingual! No Inglés until she came to the United States. Maybe I need to purchase a one-way ticket to Mexico or Spain or Columbia to get the job done right. I am going on a cruise to Mexico next year. Hmm. Possibilities...

Perhaps when the high school football season is over I can refocus on Rosetta. Honestly, every game is do or die now that we're in the Race for the Ring. Friday's game is for the Semi-State Championship, and if all goes well, we're heading to Indy for the State game. I know, I've mentioned this before, but it's the song that keeps repeating in my head and I won't be normal until it's over. My son, Alex, jibed me the other day, saying, "Aren't you glad I give you something to live for on the weekends?" That hurt. Of course I have MANY things to live for - I just can't think of anything else at the moment. By the way, he said that in response to a request I made about how even football stars need to take out the trash.

I am grateful for this blog. This self-imposed writing project. This public announcement on how I'm going to do something that would be easy to stop until next week. Like the diets and the New Year's resolutions and yada yada yada. One of my friends, Brenda, and I joke about how next week will be better, because we're always so swamped with this week. We toy with putting that on our tombstones.

What the heck? I'm just going to enjoy the ride whether I'm dashing or plodding. The Guadalupeproject will keep me honest.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Golf balls and beach stones

On my kitchen counter I have fashioned my own visual aid about keeping my priorities straight. It's from an email I received a while ago that went something like this:

A teacher had a glass jar on his desk and began filling it with golf balls. He asked his students, "Would you say this jar is full?" "Of course", said the kids, there was no room to put anything else in it. Then he took some pebbles and shook them in the jar, filling in the spaces around the balls. "Now is it full?" the teacher asked. "Most definitely full. There is no more room," replied the students. Next, he pulled out a container of sand and shook it in the jar. Every gap was filled. "Now is it full?" he asked. The students were afraid to answer. "Maybe," they said. Finally he took a can of beer from under his desk, opened it, and poured its contents into the jar. "NOW it's full, " the teacher said.

The golf balls are things of your highest priority. Your family, your relationship to God, your friends, your health. Always put these in your life first.

The pebbles are the other important things in your life. Your work, your responsibilities to your home, your hobbies and extra curricular activities. If you put these first, you won't have room for your most important priorities.

The sand is the minutia of life. The things you do that eat up your time and you don't have much to show for it. Like TV, surfing the Internet for hours, excessive playtime at bars/video games/sporting events, worrying about things you cannot control, cleaning the top of el refrigerador. (These are my ideas of time wasters, BTW.) If you fill your life with these things, there is obviously no room for anything else, and you haven't accomplished much with the life God gave you.

The beer. "Well", says the teacher, "there's always time for beer" (good times). But notice it was the last item added, not the first. Too much of a good thing can get you landed in jail or rehab.

My jar is filled with golf balls and beautiful stones I found on the beach at Lake Michigan. I opted out of the sand and beer, because I want to clearly focus on my priorities. Which, by the way, can change from week to week. When we found out a dear friend of ours was in the hospital in Indianapolis, the jar shifted and he became the priority. The bills can wait, and the dust can settle one more day before it's swept away. Our friend needed us.

Speaking of sweepers, wouldn't you know the last time I used one, it ate the cord and USB port of my new headset. I know you're getting sick of me whining about this, but this is getting ridiculous. So I went back to my oldest one. Before I re-jimmied my computer sound system again, I was literally shouting my answers to Rosetta. Thank God no one else was at home at the time!

One particular phrase that was impossible for me to get across to her was, "Donde vive usted?" (Where do you live?) The only way she would accept my response is when I said it with a loud lisp - the kind you make when you stick out your tongue and hold it while you're talking. "Thonde biba uthed." Like I said, she likes playing with you.

Tuesday night, I spent my hour in the chapel, reading and translating a wonderful little pamphlet on how to meditate in front of the Holy Eucharist. More or less like a tick sheet on what to pray about while you're there. The nice thing about it being in two languages, is that I can truly understand it. [Here's where my daughter would interject how a class taught in English might help...]

Que piensas? (What are you thinking of ?) Poco y poco (little by little). Pray for salud (health), memoria (memory), feliz (happiness).

Ahora bien (well), that's it for now!

Saturday, November 7, 2009


I could use a shot of adrenaline now to get me going, but I sure didn't need any Friday night. We were pumped up. Our boys were playing for the Sectional football title and the song, "I Gotta Feeling" blasted from the stadium speakers as we entered the field.

We screamed and hooped and hollered for two hours, and were exhausted by the end of the game. Determination. That's the one word I have for our team of 66 players. Yes, they have talent and speed and good coaching, but it's their determination that defines their team. One of the boys interviewed for the local paper had warpaint under his eyes with the word "Finish," another had "Our Year." Honey, that's determination.

I thought about the many hours of training that has gone into this great season, now 12-0. This didn't just happen. They sweat buckets for this for years. My own minuscule experience in the weight room and in Body Combat this week were hard! Body Pump left me shaky, yet empowered in a strange way. I can't see myself doing it everyday like the boys do, perhaps because I don't have a big enough reason. They want to win State, I want to lose the batwings.

My dad's 80th birthday is tomorrow. I hope to be as lucky to celebrate life as he's done, with good health and good cheer, and his motto, "Never give up, never give up, never give up." Winston Churchill

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

No one said it was going to be easy

House clean, bills paid, dinner premeditated, clothes washed. Anything else I can do to stall? I finally sat down this manana (which also means morning, as well as tomorrow) to take in a lesson or two with Rosetta, and discovered the headphone was nonfunctionado. What the heck! I burrowed through the instruction manual, and found it as Chinese as the language itself. I am not a computer wizard. In fact I think I dismantled something along the way.

So, I made a call to a very patient, saint-like phone operator at Rosetta's home office. She was Indian and very pleasant and helpful. Long story short, try plugging the microphone headset into a different USB port before you call.

I learned the days of the week: lunes, martes, miercoles, jueves, viernes, sabado y domingo. Funny how they start una semana on a Monday, instead of a Sunday. I also overheard phone conversations, "Con quien cenando usted?" (Who are you eating dinner with?). Perfect picture for the response, as she replied she was eating dinner with su hermana who was giving her an eye roll.

My extra-curricular Spanish dancing lesson took me out of the gym and into the church on Sunday. Lights. Camera. Action. This is really happening. We practiced the dance numbers as they would be performed on Our Lady of Guadalupe's feast day. My spot is dead center of the first group of pews, so there's no place to hide. Luckily, we've practiced the steps often enough that I don't really have to think about it. I hear the beat of the drum and blast of the horn, and my legs just take over. I've concluded that it's practice that makes this all click.

Time to put Spanish back on the front burner and start practicing! How else will I get around in Mexico?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Crossing the Border

While running errands today, I finally stopped into the Mexican grocery store to purchase the Spanish-English phrase book that Maria recommended some time ago. What I didn't realize was that when I opened the door, that I would be crossing the border into Mexico. Seriously. The music, the clientele, the food and all of it's packaging, the books and movies; even the produce looked different. One thing I absolutely LOVE doing when I travel is shopping in foreign grocery stores. I stare at odd things, try to figure them out, taking pictures at times. The last time I was in Paris, I took pictures of their enormous cheese and yogurt displays. They were gorgeous. As I clicked away, people began staring at me. These grocery items are always good to take home as inexpensive souvenirs, and are more meaningful to me than the touristy type of things hawked at street corners.

For only $4.99 you too can learn Basico Inglés. I began leafing through my new book tonight, and saw the English language in a totally different light. We Americans, who take our native tongue for granted, self-righteously expect everyone else we deal with to speak in perfect English. I do firmly believe that people entering our borders should at least attempt to learn English, but I hold myself to the same standard of attempting to learn their language when I cross theirs. It's polite, and the right thing to do.

In some ways, learning English is easier. We have one word for "the," Spanish has four: el, la, los, las. We rarely discriminate between the sexes, especially now in our politically-correct charged era. Who knows what sex the flight attendant is anymore? Also, many new words in Spanish have English origins, like laptop, jeans, computer, television, radio ~ you know, everything that has been invented recently, you just add an "o" or "a" at the end and pronounce it with your best south-of-the-border accent.

Foreigners have to decipher and follow our temperamental rules of spelling and pronunciation and usage in English. I'd rather not revisit my years of grammar and sentence diagramming, but we throw up some serious roadblocks. I read a page from my new phrase book and felt empathy for those trying to understand the meanings behind this string of different, but similar groupings of words: She says that; she does not say that; she said that; she did not say that; she will say that; she will not say that; she might say that; she might not say that; she would say that; she would not say that; she may say that; she may not say that; she is saying that; she is not saying that; she was saying that; she was not saying that.

Too much information. Thank you, but I'm staying in the present. Tense.

My humble hopes are to be able to transact some business with my local grocer/cashier with more ammunition than my point and smile technique. Although, that does work. Esto no es ficcion: esto es verdadero. (This is not fiction, this is true.) ... I think I'll just memorize these handy little phrases and spit them out when necessary.

Hasta luego!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Signing the Commitment Papers

Back when I was a kid, people were sent to the asylum when they had emotional or mental problems. I picture concerned family members meeting with the institution's doctor and signing the commitment papers while the loved, but crazy, one is taken away in a strait jacket. This was way back before any of us had an understanding of mental illness and proper drug treatment. The scene is also probably right from some old Hitchcock movie...

However, the commitment paper concept lingered in my head today as I signed up for dos grandes cosas: A YMCA membership (I've been threatening to do that for some time), and deposits for the bribed Spring Break cruise. Mucho dinero, and I'm second-guessing my grand adventure. Most of the time I'm happy to be different, to step out of my comfort zone in order to really experience life. But today, maybe because it's rainy and gloomy, I just wanted to be one of those "same-old, same-olds," that usually bore me to death. You know, the folks that know every TV program and sports team statistic, but heaven forbid actually stepped out of their living rooms to live.

In my house, we nick-named our televisor "Marcia," and our computadora "Antonio." Mi esposo spends his downtime with Marcia, and guess who I'm with. More than I'd like to admit ~ especially when I'm with him at work!

Working with Rosetta requires extra effort that I'm not always up for. It would have been a lot easier to ignore her and spend some quality time with my couch and NCIS tonight. But signing those darn commitment papers today forced me to buck up and log in another lesson. My buddy Joanne is going on the cruise with us, and I told her that she'd better brush up on her Spanish too, because we're going native! God give me the energy and some sunny days!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Road to the Ring

I gotta feeling. Tonight's gonna be a good night. Tonight's gonna be a good, good night....

Those lyrics from the Black Eyed Peas raced through my head all week in anticipation of the BIG GAME my son and his buddies played on Friday night. It was nuts. We (parents) were all whipped up in a frenzy about this shootout between Central Catholic (#1) and Pioneer (#2) in the first round of football sectionals. The boys and their coaches played a cool hand, but every adult I spoke with was crazed.

Mothers compared it to the excitement and nervousness they felt two weeks before their due dates. Fathers would have given away their 401K's and SUV's to be out on that field running alongside their sons. Brothers and sisters were bursting with pride - waiting for the team to vindicate earlier losses in previous seasons. Fans were so pumped up; I was afraid the bleachers would collapse like they did during the Purdue-Wisconsin basketball game in 1947. I sat on the bottom row with my parents and in-laws just in case.

Wednesday of last week was devoted to watching films. Not movies, football films. I'm not talking about my son watching films - Wednesday nights are for the parents. I have learned more from Coach's "football school" than I have in the last 50 years. Not that I really cared before now... Thursday was Pasta Night for the team and coaches. We senior class moms prepared and served enough vittles to feed 80 hungry men. Watch out Fazoli's, you've got competition. Friday of course, was the game. Cooking for the tailgate, cleaning the house for out-of-town family who were coming in. Oh yea, and working. My office mates humored me as I was jumping around and blathering about the BIG GAME. I was like a gal cranked up on too much coffee.

The night was wet, windy and cold. Perfect conditions for football frenzy. I won't go into details, because I don't remember many, but it was as beautiful as any well-choreographed dance or theatre production I've ever seen. Okay, the beginning was a little shaky, but the defense held their ground and stopped a very talented squad from scoring. My son Alex once again sacrificed his shoulder on a terrific tip that prevented a reception. These guys were like a military unit with one goal - to stop the enemy from advancing. Once we had 14 points on the board, I could breathe again. It was surreal when we won 20 - 0 and the student body flooded the field. This was a BIG win, but we still have weeks to go before the season is done, provided we keep winning. Thanksgiving plans are in the air. Who cares about food at a time like this?

Again, what does this have to do with learning Spanish? Only that I kinda promised Alex that he could go on a senior spring break trip to Mexico IF he won that game. Horrible parenting, I know, I know. I can't believe I actually said that. I had reservations about going because of the cost, but friends have convinced me that this will be a once-in-a-lifetime trip to spend with just him (and 20 of his friends and their parents), and a good opportunity to use my Spanish. Ha! I'm hooked. He invested his blood, sweat and tears to go - I guess I can fork out some dinero.

So, the Road to Ring for him has turned into a destination for me as well. More reasons for me to buckle down and learn Spanish, even though it's getting tougher now. Physically as well as mentally. Last night at Our Lady of Guadalupe's dance practice, I experienced the funny feeling that my pants were actually getting looser as I danced. A combination of profusely sweating and feeling every muscle in my legs and hips. This morning I sounded like a bowl of Rice Krispies, snapping, crackling and popping. My fellow Latino dancers are young and lithe, yet have enveloped me into their group with such love and patience, that I can not and will not give up, no matter how much it hurts. I offer up my pain to Our Lady and pray she hears all of our prayers, on and off the field.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Big Woop

Yesterday the local paper published an entry from this blog. They feature a local blogger each week along with his or her photo and a thumbnail sketch about their blog. Of course, it was the entry about me swearing at Rosetta and throwing things because I was frustrated with the (failing) feedback I was getting from the program.

My mom's reaction was, "Were you really swearing, dear?" Yes, mom, but I don't do it often. My husband's reaction was, "Your blog's in the paper. Not your best picture." My daughter's reaction was, "Yeah I know, big woop." I have to laugh; just when you getting a little big for your britches, these guys cut you off at the knees!

Back to my Guadalupeproject, I have sheets of notes piled up next to mi computadora with all kinds of Spanish words and phrases on them. I'm going to transcribe them in my journal tonight so I can hang on to them. Rosetta doesn't come with any textbooks or workbooks, and I can't keep it all in my head. I need Focus Factor and a secretary.

At work, Maria suggested that I buy a simple phrase book that all the Latinos use to decipher English. I'll just use it backwards. Rosetta is still holding out on everyday phrases like Donde está el baño? which I know I'll need to use when I'm in Mexico or Pepe's for that matter. But it's still early, I just started Unit 3 this week...

Everyday at work I meet international students who are mastering English so they can study in the United States. Their bravery is commendable - a new place, a new language, a new culture besides the rigors of getting a college degree. Vacationing abroad is one thing; total immersion is something else. If they can do all that, the least I can do is try to speak their language. But don't expect me to pursue a physics degree in Spanish, because that is not happening!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Spanish Gringo

Today I watched a hilarious video called Spanish Gringos (1995) lent to me by my dad. It was a hybrid of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers for estudiantes de Español (Spanish students). The first scene features this crazy guy in a doctor's ropa and a patient waiting on la mesa (the table) in the doctor's office. He explains that Spanish words sound pretty much how they look, then proceeds to poke at the patient with instruments causing him to say the five basic vowel sounds: a (ah) while he puts a tongue depressor in his mouth; e (eh) when he's checking his ears, i (ee) while he hammers his knee; o (oh) when he thumps his chest; u (eww) while he pinches the guy's neck. Loco medico!

Next this crazy guy ran around his house putting sticky notes on everything: el sofa (sofa), el refrigerador (refrigerator), la estuful (stove), la arbusto (bush), you get the idea. My vocabulary swelled, but it was tricky trying to get it all down as he dashed around la casa. The video was in English, and really for the first time since I've embarked on my Guadalupeproject, some things were actually explained. I'm not knocking learning by inference and intuition, as Rosetta instructs, but an explanation here and there really helps. Like the difference in being told, "because I said so," and "because you'll break you're neck if you do that." Now I entiende!

Take the word está versus es. They both mean the word is. I've used them both, but it was because Rosetta said so. I really didn't know what I was talking about. Surprise. The Spanish Gringo explained that esta' is used when talking about a location or a condition. When we are in that location or condition, you use the word estamos, and when I am, you use the word estoy.
Es means is when describing characteristics and descriptions. Son when two or more people are and somos for when we are doing something, soy for when I am. Really, it was a lot funnier on the video.

My youngest daughter just interjected how learning the difference between the two words is BIG WOOP. Furthermore, I should be taking language classes at our local community center rather than spending my time with Rosetta. Actually, she wishes I would spend this time cooking more in mi cocina. Kids are so selfish. Always thinking about food.

The Spanish Gringo, decked out in a chef's outfit, covered all kinds of comida, cutting up tomatoes and apples and bananas and lettuce and meat and making a big, gross pizza with it. I am going to have to replay this jewel of a tape, and I would highly recommend it to beginning Spanish students, if they can find it and still have a VCR.

Rosetta and I spent time together going over the finer nuances of pronouncing the same words with and without accents. She's tuning my ear, so I might possibly pick up the differences. If not, mispronunciation is always good for a laugh. I remember our tour guide in Italy talking about the beautiful "beetches" in Italy. We had fun with that one. Rosetta actually sent me a new headset, free of all charges, because it broke. It's a dream piece, and she and I are communicating well again. Best friends forever.

I met with Our Lady of Guadalupe dance troupe again tonight, and we practiced some of the steps we'll be doing in front of a packed church in December. One of these numbers involves quickly kneeling down with one, then another leg repeatedly. Not all the way, mind you, but enough to produce a searing sensation down the front of your thigh. Had I mentioned that I'm 50? That squatting/kneeling is something I reserve for only special occasions? I am resigned to beef up my cross-training exercises so I have the stamina and ability to complete this mission. Hola YMCA! Body Combat and Zumba, here I come! My brain and body are being challenged to keep growing, keep moving. And why not? Carpé diem!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A new day dawns

To follow up from yesterday's fiasco with Rosetta, I gathered up my courage to try again to talk the talk. I switched back to my old headset, the one that is broken and may possibly electrocute me, but it worked better than my new one from Radio Shack. So that's going back to the Shack!
My dignity is restored, my score improved to 87% in pronunciation, and I have the strength and confidence to continue.

I can't quit now anyway, I want to decipher the words they sing during my Zumba dance classes.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Rosetta, you're killing me

You know how you're cruising along, thinking you're making progress, then BLAM! Go to Jail, do not pass Go, pay $200. I want to reach through my computadora and strangle Rosetta.

Maybe it's not entirely her fault, but I have to blame someone. My nifty air traffic controller-like headset broke a couple weeks ago. Something on the earpiece broke causing it to slip off my ear. There were also some exposed wires that worried me ~ I don't fancy the idea of being electrocuted. So, I splurged and bought a new set at Radio Shack this weekend.

What was once a mindless repetition of Spanish sounds and words has become a frustrating act of futility. I was *dinged* a billion times when saying simple words I have said correctly only yesterday! I became so self-conscious, I couldn't do anything right. Like when you repeat something over and over that it doesn't make sense anymore. El perro esta debajo de la cama (The dog is under the bed) said repeatedly is simply mind-numbing. I scored a 51% on that speaking activity, and for a gal who was an honor student in high school, this is just humiliating. I swore a lot today, words that also got *dinged* for mispronunciation.

Perhaps it's worked into the software - that what was once bad, but acceptable, pronunciation is now tweaked in more advanced lessons so that only perfect imitation is acceptable. Maybe it's my new headset. Most likely. Or maybe I've lost my accent. I can understand why people want to give up on languages when they hit a roadblock. Is this really worth it?

I remember going to France with a friend and she ordered a croissant from our attractive, yet haughty waitress. The waitress screwed up her face as if thinking, "what in the world can this woman be talking about? It sounds foul!" I stepped in and repeated cwassan all nasally, and the waitress finally understood. It shook my friend so much, that she did not utter another word en française the entire trip. Most people in France were not like that. Most of them appreciated our efforts in speaking their language, then replied to us in English. So, we have a little accent problem, Rosetta. Get over it!

After slamming things around the house and more swearing, I'm trying to convince myself it's worth the effort. After all, I did spring for the program, which wasn't cheap. I am committed to Our Lady of Guadalupe dance troupe. And I have a personal commitment to this blog. Am I going to write about quitting? How, when the going got tough I gave up? That a little difficulty made me roll over in despair? That would be a fine example to my children!

I called Rosetta to get a headset replacement, and she was most accommodating. I told her of the technical malfunction with the Shack headpiece, and how I was on the verge of desperation. She promised to deliver a new one in a week or so.

So, the slogging continues.....

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Speed bump ahead

Learning Spanish is like anything else. If you don't use it, you lose it. Just watch any Jeopardy episode or Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader, and you'll pound your fists with frustration: I knew this! Where did all that information go? Let alone peek at your high schooler's or college kid's textbooks if you dare. That calculus is frightening! Biochemistry - I used to know something about that because I passed the course - it's on my transcript. The mind is like a metal sieve with big holes, only the really important stuff stays in. The rest is runoff.

I returned to Rosetta, a bit sheepish because I had neglected her, again, for a week or so. First thing she does is throw a pop quiz at me. A review from previous weeks. Like I still remember that! I turns out I did okay, but, the nerve! Then we go over some finer points in pronunciation: ve - "bay," vo - "bo," que - "kay." Why can't we keep a "v" a "v" and a "b" a "b"? Oh well, who can I complain to - move on Jane...

Today's lesson was about more clothing. un sueter (sweater), una corbata (tie), calcetines (socks), traje (suit), and jeans (you guessed it, jeans). Then we add some new colors. No big deal, right? Wrong. You try saying marron (brown) or naranja (orange). I got dinged so many times that I was getting mad. I need oral surgery to pronounce those words. Next, hair colors. We started with the phrase, "Somos canosos," with a picture of two old guys laughing. I had just learned that the color gray is gris, so I surmised that canosos meant old or laughing. But, a quick consultation with my dictionary said it meant gray-haired. Rosetta likes playing with you. I don't blame her - I'd be having fun with the foreigners if were her too. Pelirrojas (red heads) and rubias (blondes) were featured in the next pictures, fondling su bonita pelo.

Here's where I hit the wall. Too much information. You've got to be fresh while doing this and allow enough time. Otherwise, it's going to end up like biochemistry facts - down the drain.
Hasta manana, Rosetta!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dancing with the stars

Okay, my life has taken on this crazy twist, not that I wasn't crazy before my Guadalupeproject. This whole dancing thing is something else. Honestly, tonight when I was with my 12 fellow Latino dancers and friend Ann, it felt like a rehearsal for Dancing with the Stars. Not that I was ever really into that, but I know Marie Osmond fainted or fell or something, and part of me fears that's going to be me. I do have this funky little heart palpatation thing occasionally, and tonight it fluttered a bit when we doing the "Charlie Horse" dance (I'm not making this up) up and down the gym floor. I told Ann about it, and said if I have to, I'm just going to lay down until it's normal again. She said, "No problem, we'll just dance around you."

I love being around these young kids. I say kids, but they're all 18 - 25ish, and could be my kid. What enthusiasm, faith and dedication they have for this program to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe. This isn't disco dancing, or worse, that young adults their age are doing now. This is hard, sweaty, heart-thumping, lung-stretching dancing. Perhaps, I should temper that comment that I'm sweating at any rate. I've realized that if I'm to cut the mustard for the long dance through town, in the dead of winter, no less, that I need to cross-train for endurance.

Tonight I learned that the "Drunken Sailor" dance is really the "Drunken Man." (Same thing in my book.) We also learned a new step involving a hop and a spin that is something you might see in figure skating. Everyone seems to be catching on so fast, like they were born with it, and probably were. I'm keeping up, but I am sore tonight!

Finished my magazine article today, so I can wrap my mind around Rosetta again. It's funny how throughout the day, Spanish words will pop into my head for no reason. Abuelo! Puerta! Roja! I am being subliminally brain-washed! Thank goodness - I needed to clean out those cobwebs!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Free spirits

Last Wednesday I attended my first freelance networking luncheon with some local writers. We are all different, but have one thing in common: we're free spirits. Okay, okay, many of us also have "day jobs, " at least for the present; but there is still that spirit of freedom, that level of self-motivation of writing and scrapping for writing jobs that differentiates us from your average bear.

The closest thing I've had to this level of camaraderie was at the Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop in Dayton two years ago. Loved it. What a kick start in the pants. We were laughing so hard that we didn't realize how much we were learning. Kind of how great teachers operate...
I'm going back in April with my writer buddy Joanne because it's such a great environment to be in ~ people doing or dreaming about what you're doing or dreaming about. I have an inspirational magnet on my refrigerator by Henry David Thoreau: Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined.

My son Alex, number three on the family totem pole, is pursuing such a dream as we speak. His football team is ranked #1 in Division A (really small) schools. He's a senior and has been playing football with the same kids since fourth grade. By the time they were 6th graders, they had not lost one game in three years. In each year of high school, they have come so close to winning the sectional or regional championships, it's heart-wrenching. We're all feeling like this is the year. It's Remember the Titans, Hoosiers and Top Gun all wrapped up into one. What makes this team so special, is that they all pull for each other, love each other, fill in for each other when needed, and leave their egos at the door. Many of these guys could have played for larger city or county teams because they're talented enough, but chose to stay together in their small Catholic school. There's 66 guys on the team, over half of all the boys in high school! We've got spirit, yes we do!

Why am I blathering on about football, when this is supposed to be about my adventures in Spanish? I'm not sure, but I was so touched on Friday during Senior Night when those big lugs walked us parents across the football field at half-time. My heart swelled with such pride that I tripped and broke my long-stemmed rose in front of everyone. Oh well. Knowing that winning is ever present in their every action just carries the crowd in a big wave. As parents, I believe in giving our kids a vision, opportunities to succeed (that are within our power to give), and loving encouragement. It's up to them to run with the ball. And I love to see them run!

I did have a Spanish conversation with Maria from my office this week. We had all these big wig donors coming in for the dedication of our newly remodeled advising wing, so we needed Maria to take extra care in cleaning around our newly "staged" office space. Honestly, I felt like we were on HGTV.

Maria was happy to help because she likes all of us. I gleaned this nugget from her Spanish sentences about trabajo and buenos ustedes and there was something else that involved spinning that I didn't quite catch. The fact of the matter was that I really understood most of what she was saying, with only a month of Español under my belt. Weird, but nice. Rosetta is certainly holding up her end of the bargain. I just need to keep my eye on the goal to succeed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Amelia Bedelia does Spain

Amelia Bedelia is one of my favorite storybook characters, probably because I can relate with her. She is a lovable screw-up, misinterpreting directions by following their literal meanings and causing havoc in the household where she works. But, in the end, she makes a wonderful dessert that wins their hearts, and saves her from unemployment.

I was interested in reading this in Spanish, just to see what trouble she'd get herself into in a Spanish house. Not that I can read the whole book yet, but I get the gist. The first job on her to-do list was cambia la cama (change the bed). "Donde la pondre?" penso Amelia. So she moves it all around the room, nearly blocking la puerta. Next, she was instructed to busco el periódico (look for the newspaper), so she turns the house upside down looking for it. It's outside near the doorstep, still unfound. Next on the list was dale una vuelta al perro. I'm still mystified with that request, even after consulting my dictionary - I know it has something to do with a dog. I'm thinking it means take the dog for a walk, but all Amelia did was pick it up off the couch and turn it around.

Meanwhile, Amelia whips up un pastel de merengue y limon (lemon merinque pie), because as she admits, "Yo hago muy buenos pasteles." (I make good pies.) Once again, she avoids getting fired.

There's a terrific Spanish section in our children's library that I'm exploring. The best thing about children's books are all their pictures and easy words. I'm feeling the pride that my kids felt when they mastered their first Doctor Seuss books.

Work at the university is LOCO! We're smack in the middle of spring registration, causing all the students to take a break from the classrooms and bars to visit our advising office. As I mentioned before, we are quite international and at the end of the day I feel like I've been day-trading in China. I also have a big story due for a magazine about the Perfect Winter. The thermometer just dropped to 56 degrees, helping me get into the mood. I still marvel at Julie Powell (Julie/Julia) who managed to work fulltime, then cook a gourmet meal and write about it every day. Rosetta will have wait a couple days before I can spend time with her again. Until then, hasta luego! (See you later!)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Nice to Meet You!

Finally, after 27 days with Rosetta, I have learned some handy phrases. Not that I'm complaining - it's been vital to understand my colors and numbers and such, but I'm a social person who would prefer to initiate a conversation with my fellow Spanish dancer with "Hola, como te llamas?" rather than point to her lovely black shoes and remark "Bueno zapatos negros!"

In any other language crash course I've explored to make foreign traveling easier, they always start out with introductions and descriptions of where you're from and where you'd like to go.
De donde son ustades? (Where are you from?) Ustedes son de Colombia. (I'm from Columbia.)
Sadly, I don't have a clear concept where Columbia is located, but at least now I could tell someone if I had to. The word for live is viver - and all its derivatives, vive, vivo, vivinos, etc.
This is can be confusing to the beginning language learner. All verb conjugations spill out quite naturally out of Rosetta's mouth, but it takes you a while to catch on to what is actually being said. More importantly, what you're expected to say when given the opportunity. Sometimes I get tripped up in my Franco-Italiano Spanglish, pronouncing en nasally like the French do, or spitting out Como se chiamo? in Italian, which sounds suspiciously like Como te llamo? What is your name? and means the same thing.

After swapping names, you politely respond, "Ecantado de concerte," Nice to meet you. We haven't yet got into how we're feeling but I'm sure we will soon, and the pictures should be hilarious, if Rosetta stays true to su colores. I can only imagine the picture of el niño looking sick to his stomach, or la mujer looking desperate for a drink after a long day. We'll see.

What still amazes me is how Rosetta hasn't uttered one word of English these last weeks, and we're friends; I understand her completely. It's like traveling abroad and communicating by body language. This is so important on many levels for me. 1) My mind is still able to absorb new and foreign information at age 50 with success, 2) Given the motivation, one can communicate with anyone else, regardless of language, 3) There is hope for world peace, or at least detante, if people just take the time to try to understand others. This may seem a little soppy, but throughout my life I have met and become friends with folks from Eygpt, Italy, France, Peru, and those of different races and religions in the US. I get energized from all these folks and their different cultures and perspectives. God must have really had fun creating all of us so differently, only to see if we were smart enough to build puentes between us all.

My dad, nearly 80 years old, is in Mexico with the Lion's Club as I write, building those bridges, fitting eyeglasses on people so they can see more clearly. He started learning Spanish 10 years ago and is thrilled to use it in such a meaningful manner. My dad is my hero - tackling new things with such enthusiasm and optimism, and using his knowledge to help others in his community and beyond our borders. While others lament growing old, my dad is embracing life and squeezing it for all its worth. May Our Lady of Guadalupe bless him and his mission in Mexico. With any luck, I'll be following his footprints.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Spanish Dancers

Last Sunday I went to the first of my 12 dancing lessons to prepare for the upcoming Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, celebrated on December 12.

I wasn't really sure what to expect - so I kept my mind open and my mouth closed. At least until I had to beg them to slow down and start over, slowly, so my retarded 50-year old brain and body could catch on to the new steps. They, meaning the handful of Latinos from St. B. parish and my Anglo friend Ann; the steps meaning the Indian-type shuffle we were doing to the beat of a huge Congo drum.

I have never been to Our Lady's Feastday celebration before, but Ann tells me it's quite a wonderful and spiritual experience. We meet at, get this, 4 am at the church, then dance our way through the streets in town. There's a Mass that we perform at, and something about a Mexican restaurant. You can tell I'm still a bit confused about the order of the day. I guess my mind just locked up when it heard 4 am. Reputedly, the church will be full of Latino parishioners who really get into this feastday. I had more or less of a milquetoast Catholic upbringing, with no dancing involved. This ought to be interesting.

But, I signed on the dotted line, and I'm in this. There is a basic dance that all the other (15) dances spin off from. We learned four on Sunday. Two had something to do with the figure of the cross, either tapped out or "painted" with your foot. The third was named something like a "drunken sailor," and involved hopping and weaving. That one looks like a lot of fun, and you cover the most ground when you dance. Good for those long miles through town. I am getting exercise, another of my goals this year, and having a good time in the process. Sure beats an exercise machine!

As far as my Spanish goes, I was able to discern, to my horror, that we'd be wearing some type of ankle bracelet while we dance. I was afraid it would have bells and alert people when I misstepped. But, I was assured they'd be wooden and not too noisy. I have a long way to go to actually follow their fast conversations, but am confident the fog will lift now and again. I also learned that our parish priest from Mexico didn't learn any English in school. He learned it from my friend, Rosetta.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Wrath of a Scorned Woman

I worked with Rosetta again tonight, albeit somewhat reluctantly. I've been so busy with other writing projects, work and household tasks, that I've neglected her a bit. And we all know the wrath of a scorned woman....

She flew through so many new words in Core Lesson 2 that my head started to spin. I couldn't wait to complete it and take a breather. It was a very nice lesson, really, learning all about rooms in su casa or apartamento: una sala de estar (living room), un baño (bathroom), un dormitorio (bedroom), un comedor (living room); and things you'd find in them: sillas (chairs), mesas (tables), camas (beds), un frigadera (sink), un inodora (toilet). Easy for you to say.

Then we put things that we already know like gatos y perros y tasas y niñas en (in), sobre (0n) or debajo (under) the chairs, tables, cars, etc. It really does make sense and the pictures are pretty funny - and well done, if I may add. I would LOVE to be in a Rosetta photo shoot. "Now, stand up under the car while it's jacked up - and smile!" "Put the dog on the car and the cat in the hat!" El perro sobre le carro y el gato en la sombrero.

Next we covered one of my favorite topics - kissing (besa) and hugging (abraza). We did it with madre and padre and abuelo (grandpa) and abuela (grandma) and hermanas and hermanos and bebés and amigas and amigos and esposa and esposo. You get the picture. Lots of quiero going around.

As I'm amazing mi esposo with all of these newly learned tidbits, he says, "We speak English in this house." See what I'm dealing with. He did have to agree that it was easier to navigate in France with my somewhat limited, but functional French. When I told him how useful this will be when we go to Mexico, he raised another eyebrow. "Mexico? When are we going there?"

I don't know quite yet, but when we do, we'll be ready.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Story of Real Immersion

Over Labor Day Weekend, our family always goes to the same cottage at Lake Michigan. It's been a ritual for the past 32 years, and I've only missed one due to my honeymoon. The cottage never, I mean never changes, unless you count a painted room every 20 years or so. It's owned by a friend of my mother's, and she graciously rents it out over Labor Day week to my folks. The entire tribe gathers together on the Sunday before Labor Day for a big reunion for both sides of my family, and it's probably my favorite weekend of the year.

What makes it so special to me, besides the beautiful lake and beach, is that it's a way to measure our lives against this modest, unchanging backdrop. It has seen me through college, through boyfriends, through my marriage and all my babies. It has hosted so many relatives, many who have passed away over the years, but I can still see them in the kitchen, in the downstairs eating area circled around the food in prayer, playing horseshoes, and screaming at the television when Notre Dame scores a touchdown. I miss them all.

When we gather at the beach, it's always quite a spectacle. Blankets and chairs and umbrellas sprawled out in between the coolers. It's a private beach and we're one of the few renting families, so we have to behave, lest we get narked on by one of the uptight property owners. Over the years, my folks have made friends, and peace, with all of the neighbors. So far, so good. After a day of sun and food, the die-hards stay for a night-time campfire on the beach. This year, my brother Brian rigged up his own fire-color-changing contraption. It was copper tubing and a garden hose "pipe bomb" as he fondly referred to it as. I was quite nervous as he threw it in the campfire, but sure enough, we had beautiful blue and green flames, the envy of nearby campfires. Just yesterday, I spoke with a lady from a fireplace store, and she told me those things are actually legit. Other years, Brian has brought fireworks to the beach, and my nervousness stems from the time his bottle rockets exploded our gas lantern and starting shooting our direction causing us to hit the dirt to avoid bodily harm. That was probably my favorite evening, although I'm not anxious for a repeat performance.

Back to my Guadalupeproject, I admit I took some time off - no computer, no CD player. But, I did speak to Diego, my cousin's Erin's husband who was raised in Peru, South America. They met while she was teaching in Hawaii. Diego and Erin have two beautiful children, growing up bilingual in the Midwest. It's wonderful sight and sound to have them in our family. So, my lesson for the weekend was that I'm on the right track. I see how these little girls are learning English from their mom, Spanish from their dad. They seem to differentiate the languages with little trouble. However, Diego did tell me that his daughter said something Spanish to a dark haired American, who didn't respond; repeated in in English with no response, then told her dad, "He has no language."

I can only hope to immerse myself in Spanish as well as my new cousin has become immersed in our culture.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Milestone Lesson

The milestone lesson from Unit 4 in Rosetta runs like a slow film strip. First you see a picture of una mujer and su perro making their way through los arboles. She comes upon a young couple camping. And *ding* you have to guess what they're going to say to each other!

I had to repeat this exercise 3x because my mind went to a complete and solid blank when the bell *dinged* for a response. So, I resorted to furiously writing down some of the more common things you might say to someone - especially in a camping situation.

Qué esta haciendo? What are you doing?
Qué es esto? What is it?
Qué tienen ustedes? What do you have?
Yo tengo pan. I have bread.
El perro esta comiendo. The dog is eating.

The last remark got a big laugh from the couple when the girl said it. I think I'll try that one at my next cocktail party.

The big news is that I completed Unit 1 in less than two weeks. The light is beginning to flicker on in my head, but I know it's going to be a while before I can fire off, " Qué esta haciendo?" and not think of my favorite Mexican restaurant back home.

Other neat revelations: su means his, her, its, one's, and their. Pretty nifty - one stop shopping for every personal pronoun. That's why Hispanics get her and his mixed up in English all the time! Well, I'm sure they get plenty of laughs from us gringos slaughtering their native tongue as well. Also, hijo means son, hija means daughter, esposo means husband, esposa means wife, madre means mother and padre means father. Here's the tricky part - unos padres means parents. How would you describe your family if it included a birth father and a step-father? Dos padres? I'm confused. Please realize Rosetta is just flashing pictures with people pointing at each other, so it's up to you to translate.

I asked Maria at the office how you would tell someone at the hospital where I volunteer, how to say, "Hope you feel better." She said, "Espero y se sinta mejor." I haven't gotten that far with Rosetta yet, but I'm sure that will be included in the next milestone lesson. *Ding!*

Monday, September 14, 2009

Shopping in the Fast Lane

Sometimes I need to take a break from Rosetta and bury myself in a good book - like my Idiot Spanish - to figure out where Rosetta is taking me on this Spanish adventure. That's one of her downfalls; she goes at such a fast clip, teaching me things in context with multiple choices to choose, that I get duped into thinking I KNOW the stuff - only to realize later, "I have no idea what just happened!" Like when you're driving along in your car, singing away, and a semi comes veering across your path and you instinctively veer away, run into a ditch and spill your café on your pantalones. What just happened?

The written words in Idiot Spanish reinforce what I learn. I need to visualize/stare at words sometimes before they really sink in. Rosetta doesn't give you much stare time. Then again, Rosetta makes learning more digestible than learning chapters of foreign grammar - yuck!

Yesterday we went over different kinds of clothing: el abrigo (overcoat/jacket), los zapatos (shoes), los pantelones (pants), una falda (skirt). I never before realized that a sombrero was the word for all different types of hats - not just the big floppy ones that Mexicans wear during their siestas. Who would know? La ropa (clothing) doesn't show up until page 190 in Idiot Spanish, so really I am way ahead of the game. And although Rosetta goes quickly, you can get off the bus at any time, catch your breath and look over the map before you jump on again.

The dancing practices for the Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast Day start next week. My friend Ann says there will be 16 dances to learn, and we're the only two gringos among a group of seasoned Hispanic dancers! OMG! What have I gotten myself into? It's beginning to turn into one of those I Love Lucy episodes where Lucy and Ethel find themselves performing in disguise in order to meet a famous movie star, like William Holden or Cary Grant. I'm convinced something good will come of this; but there's just no telling what capers we'll get ourselves into along the way.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Spanish is a sexy language

As Rosetta is taking me by the hand to Spanish-land, I realize we're not in Oz anymore. You can't just have a regular noun. It has to have a sexy designation. La bicicleta is a feminine noun, like only girls ride them. Or el carro is a masculine noun - like cars are for just for men. How about el vestido? It means dress and is masculine. What's wrong with that picture? French and Italian have sexy nouns too. I guess that's why they're called the Romance Languages...

I just got caught up to date recording my pre-blog, ie. handwritten journal, entries that began August 15, right after I saw the Julie/Julia movie which inspired this whole enterprise. Surprisingly enough, I'm still excited about learning Spanish, and have made a lot of headway. If people would just start talking r e a l l y s l o w, and use preschool Spanish, I'd be right there with them.

The blog setup on September 1 was the handiwork of my talented and beautiful daughter, Chelsea. It's not a really difficult thing to do, but those savvy Twenty Somethings have no fear on the computer. I have still yet to figure out many aspects of this medium, like how to put the correct accent marks on my Spanish words - perhaps somebody smart in that area will volunteer the information.

About the blog, everyone I have told so far is either supportive, amazed or amused. All except my mother, whose reaction was, "Now, why would you want to do something like that for? Is this going to be public?!!" I know I'm on the right track when my mom objects to my crazy ideas; it's just her over-protective nature. But since that announcement, we've been flinging Spanish words back and forth to each other, because it's a little like visiting a foreign country and we both love to travel.

When we hung up el teléfono, my dad wished me, "Adios mi hija," pronounced eeha, and without seeing the written word, I figured out that it meant Goodbye my daughter. Some might say that it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out, but frankly, I was proud of myself.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rosetta es una tireless maestra

Rosetta is flying through colors and numbers and nouns like café coffee, pan bread, agua water - you know, important words you can't live without. In a way, it's like your childhood has been revisited, in Spanish, in fast forward. What took you a year in preschool to grasp, is now taught in a couple units. Rosetta is not for sissies.

She's also a tireless teacher, insisting you get it right before you move on. Gosh, wouldn't that be a concept for success in the American educational system... Anyway, I couldn't for the life of me pronounce the word blanco correctly. Speaking into my air traffic controller-like headset/microphone get-up, I'd say blanco, (beep), blaanco (beep), blanKO (beep), blanco! (beep), BLANCO (beep), shit (beep). When I screw up, it makes me feel self-conscious, so American. Then I take a deep breath, imagine myself on some beach in Cozumel watching a white horse run by, "Oye, el caballo blanco!" (bling!).

There's also a CD set to listen to in the car as a review of your computer lessons. It's amazing how much I'm actually understanding in this new language. Now if only my XM Radio station, Caliente, would play slow songs with the words "Le pasta es verde," (The grass is green) "y la luna es blanca," (and the moon is white), I'd know what the heck they were singing about.

From the library, I borrowed several Spanish books: The Idiot's Guide to Learning Spanish (for obvious reasons), Buenos Noches Luna, Good Night Moon, and Amelia Bedelia. I'll need a dictionary for the last one because Amelia gets into all sorts of trouble by doing things literally, like "dust the furniture," and she literally pours dust on it. That one will be interesting to learn some double entendres. I looked for our own Amelia and Good Night Moon books, now stowed away for future grandchildren, as our youngest is almost 16. Buenos Noches Luna was actually pretty easy to read, as I had memorized the English version with so many repeated readings throughout the years. It made me nostalgic for all those happy hours spent reading to our four children. I am so grateful for all the stories that have been stuffed into our heads.

I feel like I'm cracking a secret code. When I asked my husband if he could tell my brain was growing, he said, "Yep, smoke is coming out your ears." Sometimes it feels like that!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Crash course in the Chapel

Since 2001, I have been a frequent visitor to the Catholic hospital chapel which stays open 24/7 for Perpetual Adoration of the Eucharist. Believe me, it took years for me to grasp the concept, but I am a firm believer that Jesus is truly present there, and there's no better place to pray. Evidently, I'm not the only one who thinks this, because there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, that have frequented the chapel. For me, it's a sacred, quiet place to pray, reflect and read spiritual books. Sometimes, during my adoration hour, I'm the only one there, and that's kind of neat. Just me and Jesus. Young parents, just imagine an hour of complete and total silence. That alone is enough to entice a visit!

The chapel is also a wonderful place to visit when you want to shoot off a prayer to God for the healing of a loved one, for a peaceful parting, for a new job, a happier marriage, or whatever your need. It's also a place to record the blessings God brought to your life as a result of prayers of adoration.

In was in this such book of blessings that I got my next Spanish lesson, because there are many Spanish-speaking chapel-goers:
  • Jesus, yo confio en Ti .... Jesus, I trust in You
  • Gracias Dios por nuestro familia revaida de nuevo... Thank you God for my family coming back to you.

Okay, I'm pinch-hitting here. I think that's what it means. Haven't actually gotten a dictionary yet, but it sounds good. Also words I learned in context by going through a Spanish children's Bible story book:

antiguo = old; nuevo = new; todos = all; antes = before; naciera = birth; con = with; mundo = world; pueblo = village; estrellas = stars; noche = night; dia = day; arboles = trees; flores = flowers; despues = then; creo = created; felices = happy; pecado = sin; hijo = son; donde = where; el Niño Dios = Baby Jesus; rezar = pray.

Maybe praying in Spanish will help!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

She's been here all along

You know how sometimes you're looking for something, and there it is, staring you right in the face. I'm always looking for my cell phone; often reverting to calling myself from my home phone, only to discover el celular two feet away from me.

That's how it feels with this project, especially Our Lady of Guadalupe's involvement. Years ago, my mother gave me a medal and necklace that my grandmother got in Mexico. It's engraved from a 1939 20-centavo coin, and has the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, complete with streaming rays. My uncle worked in the US Embassy in Mexico City, and grandma must of picked it up on her visit there. I wear it because it reminds me of her.

Also, several years ago, I went to a church fundraiser, and bought a collector's plate of Our Lady, thinking, "Hey, this matches my necklace!" She's been hanging in my cucina for years, watching my every move as I live mostly in the kitchen when home. And then just the other day, I really looked at a candle in my bedroom. No way, it's got her picture on it. It's one of those tall candles like the ones you find in church that burn forever. I found it in the ethnic aisle of our grocery.

To top it off, my friend Ann has become involved with the Hispanic community in her parish, and dances on OLG's feastday, December 12. It's a really big deal - an all day event, which I will keep you posted on, as she and I will be the only gringos in the dance troupe.

Back to Rosetta. I settled in and learned more about maneja un corre driving a car, and manzanas y leche y pan, apples and milk and bread. Did I mention that Rosetta speaks exclusively in Spanish? The only English she uttered was in setting up the program. So, when I make a mistake, please bare with me, because I'm dealing with a foreigner here in a foreign land.

It's really a very natural way to learn, though. Point and click, see it and say it. Remember those See and Say toys with the big yellow wheel? You point to the dog and it says perro and would bark ~ well, that would be the Spanish version. Rosetta doesn't bark, but when you get the answer correct, she plays a string of notes from a harp. When you screw up, it's more of a thudding ding sound.

After un tasa de café, I'm ready to dig into to another lesson. Learning is so much easier and more fun when you actually WANT to learn. If only I could pound that concept into my children's heads as they start another school year...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Why again am I doing this?

Funny you should ask. Used to be that when a person undertook the rigors of learning a new language, it was because they HAD to - in my case to fulfill college prep requirements. Or, so as to better navigate while traveling abroad. Or, in extreme cases of over-achievement, to become a translator for the United Nations. That was back in the 70's. I took French because it sounded glamorous, and would keep the rest of my family guessing as to what I was really saying.

French is a terrific language; it's just that nobody here speaks it. Thankfully, I had two occasions to visit France, so it wasn't all for naught. Plus, I made a lovely friend of my teacher, Lenaick, who helped me brush up after a 30-year hiatus.

Spanish is another monkey altogether. Everything I learned to perfect my pronunciation in French has been tossed out the window, so my listening ear, (which isn't so hot in English anymore), is thoroughly confused in Spanish. Hay meaning there is or there are, sounds like "eye." So, I'm grappling with Hay una mesa, thinking it means I am a table, which I'm not. The word for and is y and pronounced "ee." In French, and was et and sounded like "eh." So, although I've had experience with languages, it's really back to Square One.

That's where Rosetta comes in. You've heard the ads, "Learn a new language like you did your first language! Please order today for your free Language Demo CD!!!"

Well, I called them, and some operator practically badgered me into getting the whole series. All I wanted was the free Demo CD. Her rationale was that I already knew which language to study, so the demo would be a waste of my time, and her shipping. Later, on TV, I saw another ad for Rosetta, and it did look good. So, I navigated their website, and lo and behold I could get it at a discount! It's not cheap, but if I was going to do this thing, I needed the interaction/immersion that Rosetta promised, and has delivered.

I work with Maria in my office. Well, not really with, per se, but she comes in about the time we're leaving to clean up after us slobby office workers. She's Mexican and delightful. She's my only Hispanic friend at this point, and she is going to help me, as we help her with her English. She didn't know what darling meant, "Ees this a good thing?" "Yes, Maria, it means sweetheart," which she translated as corazon dulce. In order to do this, I need all the friends I can find.

Rosetta was easy to set up, even for someone who HATES to read directions of any kind. It's crazy - it comes with a headset and microphone, so I feel like an air traffic controller. Then, I'm speaking outloud, next to my family watching television, in loud imperfect stumblings. Come means eat, bebe means drink. A new meaning for "Come, baby". What do the Hispanic girls think when someone is trying to pick them up at a bar? Well, I guess they intended to buy them a drink anyway...

For the life of me, I couldn't pronounce hombre. I said it over and over until my son, Sean, grabbed the microphone and said "umbray," then all was good. Lesson One was done with no bloodshed - I actually scored well for a first-timer. It's honestly like playing a video game, like PacMan, that is easy to do. But one lesson was plenty. It's kind of like skiing. You have to stop before you get really tired, or you're libel to break your leg.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The first post

This blog was conceived last month after listening to the Julie/Julia Project book on tape, and watching the movie starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. The real heroine of the story is Julie Powell; a young actress/writer wannabee who loved her husband and cooking, and wanted more out of life than where her government job was leading her.

It got me thinking. Where am I going? How can I make a difference? I'm older than Julie, but still young enough to dream. And knowing myself, I would do best with a project - one that had a beginning and an ending, a set regime, and a reward at the end. My project needed to include writing (hence the blog) learning something new (Spanish), and having a meaningful purpose that could help others. It also needed to involve a faith journey. I dedicate this project to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mother of the Americas. Starting from scratch at age 50 should provide its own entertainment.

I've been a freelance writer since 2001, having first worked for a weekly newspaper. Since then, I've written for local magazines and university publications, and done a lot of gratis work for my church and sorority. My main source of income is being a very small cog in a Big Ten university, meeting and greeting students bent on getting a management degree. Love them. Probably because they are the ages of my children, and they deserve a little mothering and love away from home. Many of these students are international. We're talking LOTS of Asians, Indians, and Europeans. It is truly the United Nations in our lobby on a busy day. My job is to calm them down, set up appointments with their advisers, and send them on their merry way - usually to the Registrar or the International Student Services Office.

Here's why I picked learning Spanish.
  1. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the United States.
  2. There is a huge Mexican contingency in our area - and I don't have a clue what they're saying.
  3. Many members of our church speak Spanish, and I'd like to connect with them, especially those in the hospital where I volunteer.
  4. The Spanish speaking population is not going away.
  5. Learning Spanish sounds more fun than doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku as an anti-Alzheimer's activity.

Gotta go to work now, but stay tuned for tales of Rosetta and how she is changing my life.