Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas 2014 in photos

Amanda time!

VCB, red wine, and Amanda. It's tradition.

JW gets magical on Christmas Eve

Caleb and I were SO happy to have our annual awkward Christmas photo get photobombed on two sides.

Luminaries

Woods shenanigans with my bro, as usual

My mom always supports me

Michael is the largest member of our family. 

Christmas 2014

Best. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

For Christmas Eve - Il Signore ti ristora

Il Signore ti ristora, Dios non allontana, il Signore viene ad incontrarti. Viene ad incontrarti.

The Lord restores you, God does not push you away. The Lord comes to meet you. The Lord comes to meet you.

I love mantras. They are simple phrases you repeat over and over again as meditation or prayer. Christians have a tradition of mantras too. Above is one of my favorites. It's in Italian and comes from a place called Taizé ("tih-ssay"), in France. If you also love mantras or contemplative prayer and Jesus, you will love Taizé.  

The chapel at Taizé
I don't think I need to explain why this one is relevant for Christmas Eve. But what might take some explanation is why Christmas makes me think of migrant workers, Ferguson and brick makers in India.

Here is part of a traditional Christmas hymn. If you go to a Christmas Eve service, you might sing this:

"And you, beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow."

Christmas-y, right? Jingle bells. Let me tell you, while sometimes I feel like I have a mentally "crushing load", my daily life is about as far away from that as you can get. I haven't weighed in on here about Ferguson, but I have had some good conversations about it. To me, the actual facts of that evening are important, but regardless of what you think happened, look how it resonated with communities all over the country. It's pretty clear we have a problem. People feel crushed and hurt and rightly angered by discrimination. When President Obama was elected, people said, "Look! We're not a racist country anymore! We have a black president!" And it was a huge step. But it's clear we have a long way to go - because everyone pointed out that the president was black. After we've had two or three or seven black presidents, skin color will not even be worth commenting on.

Il Signore ti ristora.

And let's talk about the men and women who are making our Christmas decorations or picking our crops or packing our meat. They work long hours away from their loved ones and come home sweaty, exhausted, and probably not smelling great. Sounds a lot like a shepherd to me.

"And in the same region, there were migrant workers, from another country, out in a field, picking crops by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear." - Luke 2:8-9 (adapted)

Dios non allontana.

"And you, beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow. Look now for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing. Oh rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing." Do you know what song it is? It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.

There are more slaves in the world now than ever before in history - 29.8 million. That's more people than live in Australia. One organization, International Justice Mission, is working to free enslaved people. In June, they rescued 179 people from a brick-making factory in India. After being rescued, one man said, "Today I believe God is alive, in different shapes and in different people." "Look now for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing."

Il Signore viene ad incontrarti.  

I truly hope you have a joyful Christmas with your family, friends, loved ones. It should be full of laughter, fun, and celebration. And, at some point, may your understanding of Christmas collide with the news to transform both things.

Viene ad incontrarti.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The rules

Do you ever realize that there are certain unwritten, assumed rules you have in your mind for navigating certain situations?

When Caleb and I got married, he joined me on my frequent dog/ house sitting adventures.

(Sidebar: if you need a dog or house sitter, let us know. We can get you some references.)

It's important to take pictures like this with your friends' dogs.
I realized that I have these "rules" I follow when dog sitting, which actually date back to my rules for babysitting. These rules don't have much to do with the actual care of children or pets, but rather are rules governing my behavior as a guest in someone's house while they are not there. I am sure that we all have rules like this, to an extent. Most people don't behave in someone else's house they way they might behave in their own house. (Or maybe I am the only one who sometimes feels the need to put my pajamas on IMMEDIATELY when I walk in the front door... surely not though, right??)

This is Goliath, one of my parents' dogs. When he was alive, I loved watching him. Yes, that is my foot clad in a black Christmas sock in a brown shoe. Don't hate. Just look at the dog. Snuggle bug. 
Given Caleb's surprise when I immediately listed off all the things we must and mustn't do while living in someone else's home, I thought it would be interesting to share them here as well. Note: these rules are the rules I would follow if I didn't know the person well. The more you get to know someone, the more you learn their "rules" and can adjust accordingly.

Group 1: The Food Rules:
1. An initial pantry and refrigerator surveillance is both allowed and important. If they have invited you to eat their food, it's best (for me) to know what there is before I get very hungry and dramatic.
2. If it's not open, don't open it. Mostly applicable for things like wine, bottles of soda, special looking food. Really, alcohol is off limits all the time, unless they otherwise instructed.
3. If it's the last one, don't eat it. Don't finish things.
4. Someone else's restaurant left-overs are not allowed.
5. Cooking is usually fun at someone else's house. Do it!

Group 2: The General Rules:
6. Don't adjust the thermostat.
7. If you or the kids/animals make a mess, clean it up.
8. Leave it better than you found it. Run and unload the dishwasher. Pick up toys.
9. If staying overnight, pay attention to how your bed is made when you arrive. When you leave, make it the same way. If you had permissions to adjust the thermostat, put it back to what it was.

And there you have it! There may be one or two that I missed, but it's more challenging to remember when I'm sitting at my house, where I can do whatever I want!

Do you have rules like this? Are they similar or pretty different? 

Friday, December 5, 2014

My trick for remembering the foreign language you took in high school.

As most of you know, I speak Spanish. Every day.

Windmills of La Mancha, representing Spanish
When people* find this out, and find out that I learned Spanish mostly in school, they are surprised. And a little jealous. A lot of people share regrets about not learning Spanish when they had the opportunity. I empathize, but to be honest, I have never really understood this problem. I did not forget the Spanish I learned in 7th grade. Or in high school. Or in college.

That all changed on Wednesday. You see, in addition to Spanish, I took a year of French in high school. And another year in college. I wanted to keep going, but it just didn't work with my schedule.

I decided to take up French class after hearing a story on the radio (while baking Thanksgiving pies) about some of the benefits of learning other languages. I found out on Tuesday that the placement test I needed to take was on Wednesday. I had to test into the intermediate level in order for it to work with my schedule, but I really had no time to study, other than reviewing my French book. I thought, "THIS IS HOW ALL THOSE PEOPLE FEEL ABOUT FORGETTING SPANISH AND IT'S HORRIBLE. I AM SORRY TO EVERYONE."

I barely spoke French the first time I visited France, but boy, oh boy did I want to learn.
I was nervous, driving to my French test. Then I remembered another story I had heard on Thanksgiving - about studying and remembering. Reading your notes? Not effective for long term memory. You know what is effective? Forcing your brain to retrieve the information over and over again. This helps you create a pathway to the info, rather than storing it in an unretrievable way.

Okay everyone. It's going to make you sound a little crazy, but here is my number one trick for learning/ remembering another language:

Talk to yourself in that language.

Honestly, it doesn't really matter what you say. Count. Introduce yourself. Ask yourself how you are. Think of things you still know, and say them to yourself. Or look up basic phrases and say them to yourself. Laugh if you don't know it and say excuse me!

I talked to myself out loud in French all the way to my test. Here is what I said. "Good evening. My name is Ellen. I like French. I want to study (couldn't remember "learn" so I worked around it) French. I have studied French in "high school" (couldn't remember that) and at the university. I have studied French two years. I am at 71st street. I like 60 (I really like the number sixty in French "soixante"). I work with Madagascar. I do not know, how do you say Madagascar in French? Is it the same? There are are two or three people who speak English. I speak Spanish. I'd like to study French because I'd like to speak to the people in Madagascar. Turn right. Turn left. Go straight. I have told my husband that I need to study French on Wednesday or Thursday because I can't on Monday or Tuesday...."

Suddenly, the pathway started to clear. I was remembering words that I hadn't thought of in years. I was speaking French. About five years ago, I traveled to France from Spain and realized I needed to remember French. I did this as a writing exercise and it was very helpful as well. You realize there are lots of words you want to look up, and that's okay. Don't look them up though. Make a note and keep going.
What language did you study in high school or college? I've never studied Italian, but I think I'd like it.
This is a way to re-link the pathways in your brain. To reconnect. You really do have that high school   Spanish/French/Latin/   stored in your head, you just need to recreate the path to find it.

I recognize that I am somewhat of a linguist. I love this stuff. I have dug out my French memories about once every 3-5 years or so and played with them. Nevertheless, I really do think that this is the secret to learning how to think in another language.... make yourself have an internal conversation in that language. This was true for me when I crossed the line from translating everything to just speaking in Spanish. Try this out. Let me know how it works. Pair it with some language CDs or games like Duolingo and I bet you will be surprised.

*No one is more surprised than native Spanish speakers. "Really???" they say.