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.