Merry Christmas

¡Feliz Navidad!

I wish you true peace and joy this Christmas as you consider the many gifts God has given you, and the wonder that our King set aside his throne to make his dwelling among us. 


writing about your life

When can you call yourself a writer?

Ever since first or second grade, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I devoured books as a child. I got in trouble for reading. My punishments were often, "Go to your room - and NO READING." I loved being transported to another world and escaping reality. I would often woke up with words in my head that I didn't remember learning, so I would have to look them up. The crafting of sentences and stories, the whimsical turns of phrases, the idioms and similes - all of it appealed to me.

I remember writing tons of short stories on my own time in third grade. I had this colony of imaginary friends called the Jhonsons (yes, the spelling is correct - it's pronounced with a somewhat British accent?). Some of the main characters included Baby Jhonson, Baby Supreme Jhonson, Jhonny Jhon Jhonson, Baby Neetle Pea, Mincho, Ma Olson, Baby Olson, Baby Spit Spot, and Professor Ordinary. They were a tight-knit community of wacky personalities. Their arch enemies were the Johnsons (pronounced with more of a midwest accent?) The Johnsons were always trying to sabotage them. For example, one time, they dumped the contents of a trash can onto Baby Spit Spot's front porch. Naturally, B.S.S. suffered from a fainting spell and ended up in the hospital. All the Jhonsons came together to clean up his house while he was gone.

Anyway, the point of all that is to say that in third grade, I think I was a writer. Mainly because I actually wrote.

Fast forward to high school, and my free time became limited. The more activities that filled my life, the less I wrote. College came along, and I added jobs, a social life, and a challenging credit load, and my writing for fun was down to zero. I could no longer call myself a writer.

The desire to write, however, has never left me, which is probably the reason this blog exists. I often feel a bit narcissistic writing anything about myself, which almost prevented me from blogging at all.

In addition to the blog, I've always wanted to record my family's story if not to publish then at least for posterity. That's why when I saw the book Writing About Your Life by William Zinsser at the library, I knew I had to give it a read.

I'm so glad I did! In the very first chapter, these quotes really stood out to me:

"Whatever we call the form - autobiography, memoir, personal history, family history - writing about one's life is a powerful human need"
"Your head is full of memories longing to be written down. But your head is also full of doubts. Can you bring it off? And even if you do bring it off, will anybody care? Who gave you permission to think your story will interest the rest of us?
Well I give you permission. All writers are embarked on a quest of some kind, and you're entitled to go on yours."  
The book is written in the form of Zinsser's own memoir. Every so often he pauses to let you in on his decision-making process and the technical aspects of writing your personal history. He gives practical advice that could actually be implemented into your lifestyle. Writing a memoir (or even just your blog!) actually seems doable.

I felt a renewed zest to make time for reading and writing each day in order to improve my craft. I want to be able to call myself a writer again, and the only way to do that is to write!

If you are looking for writing motivation and practical advice in the form of amusing anecdotes, I would highly recommend this book.

Happy reading and writing!


conversations with your baby

Baby Pip is 6 months old. She has a personality, amusing facial expressions, and can interact with those around her. Whenever she sees a food or beverage, she grunts like a caveman and reaches for it. When she sees me cry or get mad (usually at the dog), she narrows her eyes and gets an impish smile. I'm truly enjoying my days at home with her, especially when I can make her laugh, or when I can get her to take a nap in my arms.

However, as any parent or person who spends time with young children can attest, I sometimes feel downright silly when I talk to her. As interactive as she is, I sometimes wonder if my attempts to teach her shapes, colors, numbers, the alphabet, or songs are fruitless. Is she retaining any of this information? Am I being a typical first time parent who thinks I need to teach my baby all kinds of ridiculous things?

According to this article, no! Babies are just trying to make sense of the world around them, and at 6 months are even starting to understand that the words we say are associated with the things and people around them.

Reading that study gave me the extra boost of energy I needed this week to continue reading bright board books, singing her Spanish songs, or even following her gaze and telling her the name of the thing she is looking at. Sometimes I feel awfully self-aware and ridiculous when I do those things, imagining scores of experienced parents laughing at my attempts to educate a 6 month old about the world around her. Probably, though, that's just human nature to second guess ourselves when we are undertaking a new job.

But the brain research is there. Babies probably understand way more than we give them credit for. So for now, I'll keep telling her that la nieve es blanca, and el perro ladra. We'll keep counting to diez, zehn, or dix during diaper changes. I'll keep exclaiming that her cereal es rico!  and how ese Pablo es tonto. I'll explain how those blocks are cuadrados and that toy is círculo. 

Pip is going to learn about the world around her whether I teach it to her or not. I don't have to get carried away with it (I don't make her listen to Mozart or force her to watch Baby Einstein videos), and there are definitely times I allow her to play by herself (within my line of sight) and discover things on her own. However, the more I talk to her, and respond when she vocalizes, the more she is going to understand. I am by no means in a race to have her reach milestones early, and I really could not care less about how she compares with other babies. I guess I'm just excited to share the beauty of our world and my love for the Spanish language with her. She really is by far my favorite student after all.


traveling with baby

What a whirlwind weekend!

5 of the 6 sisters, my mom, and some friends convened in Chicago this weekend to celebrate my sister Liz's last few weeks as a single lady.

The bachelorette weekend almost didn't happen for a few of us, as our Saturday flight was cancelled on Friday evening due to wintery weather. Disappointed, but not to be defeated, we worked with the wonderful customer service representatives from Southwest Airlines to get on an earlier flight, and all was well with the world again.

Besides the U.S. I have traveled to 9 countries (10 if you count a layover in Iceland), so I have plenty of experience flying. I am one of those people who adores airports and everything they represent. I have a deep reverence for them, and whenever I drive past one, I have a moment of silence to reflect on all the possible destinations I could choose, should I need to flee the country on short notice.

But this was my very first time flying with Baby Pip. One could not ask for a better travel companion (besides my wonderful sister Maggie who helped haul diaper bags and bottles and the like). I wore the baby in the Moby wrap, which made traipsing across the airport and going through security an absolute breeze. Not to mention that every worker we came in contact with at the airport was so helpful and many of them even made Pip laugh!

My #1 recommendation for next time you fly is to get a baby to bring along. If you don't have one of your own, perhaps you could borrow a friend's. I have never gotten such royal treatment as I did when traveling with a baby. Skipping lines, extra help through security, smiles, attention, helping hands, etc. God must have heard my prayers, because Pip was on her best behavior, too! I made sure to bring bottles on the plane to avoid her ears popping during takeoff and landing - although she didn't even seem to mind the descent sans bottle or  pacifier! I didn't experience any screaming baby horror stories this time around…although who knows what our next flight will bring!

Honestly, I didn't even bring toys along for her to play with (minimalist packer right here…), which turned out fine because there was so much for her to take in. People watching is a favorite of hers, along with looking out the window at the scenery and watching a colonial woman churn butter on the wing of the plane. I'm sure as she gets older, more distractions will be necessary to keep her occupied, but at 6 months old she seems perfectly content to creep on other passengers and rake her nails across my face as hard as she can. Also, her newest hobby is shrieking with joy as loud as she can, so she made sure to share that with the fellow passengers as we disembarked the plane.

And now, a few snapshots of our brief time in the windy city.

with auntie molly in the moby

Ultimately it was a fantastic first time flying with baby. I think it was such a success because I had an extra set of hands with me to help lug the extra equipment that accompanies a baby, and because the people at both airports were so incredibly kind and helpful. Pip and I can't wait to travel together many more times in the future, but for now we both look like this:


stream of consciousness - walking the dog in 0° weather

ok here we go! let's get bundled up. first mental and physical hurdle - buttoning 27 snaps on baby's full-body suit. oops! stop rolling over, please, while I try to button you up. oh no! don't cry! I'll do anything. I'll sing Wheels On The Bus at top speed!

wow. how am I winded from wheels on the bus?

onward. time to strap baby into the moby wrap and also, please stop licking my scarf, kid. excellent, you spit your pacifier onto the floor. lemme just bend over with you attached to me and pick that up (out of breath again?) mmmmmk a quick rinse in the sink and voilà. exhale.

crap. I forgot to lay out my hat and gloves on a high surface before wearing the baby. now I have to bend over with her again. and…got it. add the coat, grab a doggie bag, grab the leash, bend over AGAIN to put on the leash. FOR PETE'S SAKE I forgot to put my boots on first. ugh winter boots are so ugly. I can't wait to wear flip flops again. wahhhhh summer.

NO. positive attitude. you decide your mood. you are grateful for the opportunity to wear winter boots?


alright. double check cell phone keys doggy bag dog baby. check check check check check. deep breath, open door.

SON OF A NUTCRACKER it's cold out here. and…yup there it is, the frozen snot and I CAN'T FEEL MY FACE.

think of something positive, anything positive. oh! yes. the cold reminds me that I'm alive. that blast of icy daggers on my skin is a challenge to conquer!

oh! I did not anticipate the hidden ice under the snow on the sidewalk. if I could just step carefully around these patches…screw it I'll just walk on the snow. Pablo! stop pulling on the leash! it's too slippery! poor guy hasn't seen the great outdoors in days. CURSE YOU MINNESOTA.

whew. this baby is getting heavy. it was a lot easier to walk these hills when she was like 10 pounds. but we're doing it! and it's not really so bad out here. psh. windchill of -15. please. child's play. winter can't stop us. we're invincible! we're- BLASTED WRETCH! that wind is swift and painful. a mighty warrior.

maybe we'll just walk to the corner and back. at least the dog got to see the outdoors for more than 20 seconds. he probably hates it as much as I do. I'm sure of it. he probably wants to be snuggled on the couch with hot cocoa - that's probably me, though. but probably his paws are cold. really, it's probably dangerous for us to be out here.

yeah. it's super dangerous. why didn't I think of that before? I'm really just putting the baby and the dog first. we should all just be inside forever and always. even if we are vampires who don't see the light of day because those walking on the sidewalk could peer into our windows and case the joint and come back to steal our things and maybe us, and we have plastic covering the windows now anyway.

why don't we live in one of those states that shuts everything down the minute a snowflake appears? despair. actually, while I'm imagining, why don't we live in a state that doesn't get snowflakes? now we're talking.

and we're back. ok, mental psych-up to take off my glove and get the key out of my jacket pocket. ready? 1, 2, - wait am I going on 3 or after 3? doesn't matter? ok, let's try again. ready, set, go! *theme song from Disney's Hercules running through my head* sweet damn that's a cold doorknob.

arg! that pain in your hands and ears when you come back inside from the cold! and…undo process. strip off hats and gloves, jacket off, undo moby wrap, unleash dog, kick off soggy boots, and…scene.

sweet. it took us 30 minutes to get ready for a 7 minute walk. I probably won't go outside again until spring.

*3 hours later*

cabin fever strikes again.


please don't talk to me, I'm reading

Everyone has their idea of the perfect vacation. Now when I say vacation, I mean a time to relax and escape real life. My dream trips include hiking Machu Picchu and taking a boat from Spain to Morocco.  I crave adventure. But the most relaxing vacation I can imagine is a week on the beach with nothing to do but soak up the sun, swim, and read.

I actually experienced such a vacation at the end of my semester abroad in Ecuador. One week of a novel-a-day laying on a towel in the sand.  No one interrupted my reading time. I didn't really have to talk to anyone.

Since I am no longer on a beach and have actual responsibilities to tend to, uninterrupted reading time is harder to come by. Thus, when I make time to read, it has to be worth my time. As much as I live to read, I have very discerning tastes when it comes to book choice. If it's fiction it has to be well-writen, and if I can't relate to the main character I'm sure not going to finish the book. If it's non-fiction, it must have relevant application to my life. With those qualifications in mind I spend hours perusing the libraries, both virtual and physical to choose the perfect book. (The day I discovered how to borrow books from my Nook was one of the best days of my life.)

With that in mind I would like to start a reading page on this blog. It will be a space where I list and review books I find to be worthwhile, germane, or intriguing. In this way I hope to start a community where one can find recommendations for their next read, and recommend those books they would like to share and discuss with others.

The books I have in mind to discuss so far are

  • Writing About Your Life: A Journey Into the Past  by William Zinsser
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner
  •  The Paris Wife by Paula McLane
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
4 out of 5 of these books are non-fiction. I guess I'm in need of some good fiction to read! 

Any recommendations?


I don't follow directions

alternate title: Nutritional Yeast is NOT the Same as Baker's Yeast. 

But no one likes to hear the word yeast that much. 

Every once and awhile I get a little cocky about something I have absolutely no business being cocky about. Let's take, for instance, my abilities as a "homemaker." (Is that still a thing?)

Since I get to stay home with Pip this year, I fancy myself to be super domestic and knowledgeable on things like "nutrition" and "going green." I have shopped at the local health food coop more than once. My lifestyle is all natural and I am one with mother earth. 

Then mother earth slaps me across the face and says, "No! You are not domestic and nutritious because you don't follow directions."

I suppose it all goes back to my days as a student in elementary school. This is not even a disguised humble brag; it's just a brag: I was smart. I say was in past tense because I think everyone else caught up to me by high school or college. But I started off at the front of the pack. I know this because I read to my kindergarten class when my teacher got a sore throat. I read the Diary of Anne Frank in third grade, and rather enjoyed it! I got to choose my spelling words, so I picked words like antidisestablishmentarianism. Needless to say, I was a know-it-all little hotshot.

So when it came to doing homework assignments, obviously the directions didn't apply to me because I already knew what to do. Those slow kids had to have the work explained to them, but not me. Naturally, I suffered the consequences more than once. My parents would have a serious talk with me.

Parents: Why did you get a B on that test? Didn't you study?
Me: Yeah, I just didn't follow directions on the last section.
Parents: Well that's dumb. You could have gotten an A, but because you rushed through it you didn't do your best.
Me: It's just that the test was really easy so I thought I knew what I was supposed to do.
Parents: We hope you have learned your lesson, young lady.

I didn't.

I think the consequences were not drastic enough for me to take the lesson to heart. If there are any children reading this, just skip the next sentence. Apparently grades in elementary school don't have any bearing on life at all.  There, I said it. So what if I got a B in science class in 5th grade even though I was capable of an A? What effect has that had on my life? None. None, I tell you. Unfortunately this means I kept not following directions throughout my whole life.

There was that time I thought parchment paper and wax paper were the same thing.

Or that time I had to pay a $200 fee to leave Ecuador because I thought my 90 day tourist visa started over if I left the country and came back in.

I rush through things, thinking I know better. Directions are beneath me, and there are too many details that I can't be bothered with. As an adult this is coming back to bite me in the butt.

Anyway, back to being a domestic failure. So because I'm all nutritional and one with mother earth, I decided I would start making bread from scratch. I don't want my family eating all of those added chemicals and preservatives! (I kid you not, there is a half-eaten donut on the table right now. So…) 

So I stopped by the health food coop yesterday to pick up yeast. As I perused the baking aisle, the kindly hippie who was stocking shelves offered to help me. Sure! Where's the yeast, Cosmic Stardust? (By the way, my hippie name is Ryvre Sunburst). He guides me over the the bulk shopping section and naturally I act like I have done this a thousand times, so he walks away. I am left to decipher the many types of yeast before me. I choose nutritional yeast, because it sounds nutritional. I'm confident that all yeasts are basically the same thing, because they all have the word yeast in them. (Say yeast one more time.)

Today was the day I would start my granola lifestyle. I followed the recipe to the letter, determined that this homemade bread would not be another one of my flaky fiascos. I left the hunk of dough to rise, and busied myself with laundry and walking the dog and playing knock all the toys over with the baby. When my timer went off after two hours, I anxiously took a peek at my dough, excited to see how much it had risen.

Despair. It was still just a lump of dough. I took to the internet to discover that no, all yeasts are not created equal. Nutritional yeast is apparently just used for seasoning on popcorn? Well, not to be deterred, I thought that if I baked the bread it might be misshapen, but still somehow delicious? (Because that always works out for me.)

No. It was an ugly lump that was gooey on the inside. And not good gooey, like in a warm brownie. Bad gooey. No one wants gooey bread.

So I guess I still haven't learned my lesson. That lesson is this: pay attention to directions. And follow them. Or else have gooey bread.

The end.


3 spanish podcasts to try

Podcasts are such an easy and passive way to practice a second (or third!) language. When my husband and I were planning a short weekend in Paris, I was very motivated to learn enough basic French to be polite and make small talk. I turned to podcasts on iTunes because they were free, easy to transport, and I could listen to them anywhere. I was a novice in French, so it was important for me to choose a podcast that taught me phrase by phrase, or word by word. In Spanish, however, I am advanced, so I would choose a podcast entirely in Spanish, most likely one that is meant for native speakers.

No matter what level of language you are at, from novice to advanced, you will be able to find a podcast to fit your needs. All it takes is a little bit of research to choose the correct podcast for your level, some down time to listen (try your commute to work, or when you are getting ready in the morning), and voilà, you are becoming more proficient in the language of your choice!

Here are some Spanish podcasts I have found that can work for different levels of proficiency:

Coffee Break Spanish | Radio Lingua Network 

Coffee Break Spanish is a great option if you are just starting out with the language, or you are taking a trip to a Spanish-speaking country and would love to learn a few basic phrases. As the title suggests, it is meant to be a short lesson that can be completed during a coffee break at work. You are guided by Mark, who is quite the linguist! The lessons are numbered, so you can work your way through them. Once you have completed the numbered lessons, there is a third season called Show Time Spanish which is more challenging, and meant to be the next level of Spanish (intermediate learners).

Pros: easy to understand, fairly short (15-25 minutes), often times humorous and fun, there is a student learning along with you, good explanation of grammar

Cons: not taught by a native speaker (although, most high school and college Spanish classes are not taught by a native speaker, either! Mark really does a great job, so this isn't really a con), if you want to review anything you have to pay for the Season Pass which comes with supplements and more explanations. When I did Coffee Break French I found myself listening to episodes several times in order to nail down a phrase or concept.

News in Slow Spanish

Maybe you took a few semesters of Spanish in high school or college and you feel like Coffee Break Spanish is moving a little slow for you. You might consider News in Slow Spanish. You are guided by a native speaker who speaks slowly and clearly for language learners. You have the benefit of an authentic accent and phrasing without the stress of trying to understand a rapid conversation. The content is relevant, as it covers what is going on in the world that week.

Pros: easy to understand, short segments on grammar that was incorporated in that week's reading, an interactive website where you can learn more about what you just listened to, lessons are numbered, content is relevant

Cons: can be a little slow for someone looking for a challenge, one must pay for additional resources on the website

Cuentos a la Luz de la Luna

Cuentos a la Luz de la Luna (stories by the light of the moon) is an authentic resource - by Spanish-speakers for Spanish-speakers. This makes it a good podcast to listen to if you already have a background with the Spanish language, and wish to increase your comprehension of native speakers. It can also help you to learn new vocabulary in context. When the weather was still warm here in Minnesota, I would set my phone on the stroller and play these stories out loud when we went for walks. It never hurts for the baby to be exposed to native speakers, and I enjoy the added challenge of understanding Spanish at a conversational pace.

Pros: about 20 minutes long, the stories are usually funny, narrated by a native speaker

Cons: can be difficult to understand at times, no explanation of new vocabulary or grammar since it is an authentic resource, meant for children, so if you're not into the whole story telling thing, this may not be up your alley.

Those are just 3 of the incredible resources available to someone looking to learn or maintain Spanish as a second language. It is essential that we continue our education into adulthood to keep our brains growing and sharp. Podcasts provide a great way to improve our minds a little bit each day.

winter blues

Well, they arrived much earlier than I thought they would this year.

The winter blues, that is.

The past two days have been in the single digit (Fahrenheit) temperatures, with wind chills well below zero.

There is a reason my alter ego is a beach bum. I never feel more alive than when the sun is drenching my skin in warmth. I love having the option to go barefoot. The simple pleasure of a Cuba Libre on the patio is really all I can ask for out of life.

Unfortunately, I live in Minnesota. And with Minnesota come violent and prolonged winters. They start out innocently enough. First come the autumn chills. Everyone is delighted at the chance to pull on a cozy sweater after that sweltering and humid summer. The mosquitoes are gone, and that breeze sure feels great! But then that first frost of the year sneaks in like an unwelcome houseguest. People are willing to forgive it, though, because the days are still pretty mild and the sun is out and the holidays are coming up. January, February, March, and sometimes April arrive with a fury bringing subzero temperatures and mounds of snow at just the right times to avoid an actual snow day, but to create havoc on the morning commute.

But it's only early December, and already we're experiencing subzero temperatures. It's already that instant headache, snot freezing, painful cold that makes a person want to curse good and loud.

And it never fails to give me the blues.

Too often I write off 7 months of the year as {nothing happening these months, just sitting inside looking up plane tickets to somewhere warm and being lazy on the sofa}.This year, though, I am determined to fight it. I choose how I feel. I choose my mood. I choose my reaction. And this year, I choose to experience, and live it, and be present in it. Instead of waiting for life to begin anew in spring, I choose to be an active participant in life this winter.

But how will I got about doing that? I'll admit, these past 2 days have been tough. I am home with a 6 month old and yellow lab, while my husband is at work. It's easy to feel cooped up and even trapped. Instead, here is how I am deciding to deal with the extreme cold:

  • knowing that life goes on. In Canada, Siberia, Scandanavia, Iceland, etc, the weather is even more extreme than in Minnesota. Life does not stop for cold weather. People still go grocery shopping and have social visits and go to work. It just takes a little more preparation and a lot more layers.
  • looking at the cold as a challenge. I have never been one to shy away from a challenge. Maybe if I look at conquering the cold the same way I view a demanding workout, I will enjoy overcoming the physical discomfort. Maybe?
  • coffee.
  • paradigm shift. Last year, I remember praying for a snow day. Not because I didn't enjoy my job - I loved my job. But it's always nice to have a day to catch up on correcting papers, snuggle on the couch, watch movies, and take the dog outside to run around in the snow. Now I have that opportunity every day. I can use my days to be productive, but also to take it slow and enjoy the little moments. This life is exactly what I hoped for. 
  • get rid of the victim mentality. It is so strange to me that the only area of my life where I play the victim card is winter weather. That stops now. Everything in life is a choice. Of course we don't always choose what happens to us, but we choose how to deal with it. I am not trapped. I have options. 
  • be social. I need to feel the camaraderie of others battling this harsh winter weather. 
  • healthy food and exercise. I will not eat all the donuts. I will work out. I will drink tons of water. I will not use the weather as an excuse to feel sorry for myself, lay on the couch, and eat more chocolate. Easier said than done, am I right?
  • planning a trip. Ok, this is a little bit of an escapist exercise, but it does put me in a better mood when I can at least imagine sipping wine on a sun-drenched plaza in South America.
  • the great outdoors. When it gets below zero, I do have to think of the safety and comfort of a six-month-old, but on the days where it's just uncomfortably cold as opposed to dangerously cold, we can bundle up and explore the surrounding areas. Minnesota has some beautiful landscapes, hiking trails, and state parks just waiting to be explored. 
  • coffee.

Alright winter, do your worst! It cannot possibly be worse than last year (snowstorms through the first week in May) and this time I am ready for you. 

How do you deal with undesirable weather? 


a letter from pregnancy past

Before I found out I was pregnant, I never knew there were so many theories and unwritten rules to follow as an expecting mom. Did our parents do this much research before having babies? Maybe it wasn’t as popular to research, manage, and customize every aspect of our lives. Maybe they just had children, then called the real grown-ups (their parents) when they had questions. I quickly found out when I got pregnant that parenting in today’s world, much like eating, exercising, and managing money, is no longer governed by tradition and common sense, but rather by camps of sparring scientists, gurus, and research which one must read to truly know how to parent (eat, exercise, manage money) the right way. 

Then there was the required reading (and you thought you were done with homework when you graduated college). There is no shortage of resources available to expecting parents. Books about pregnancy, books about giving birth, books about sleep schedules and behavior and eating schedules. Blogs, articles, brochures and pamphlets raise myriad questions, all the while advising that stress is bad for the baby. What can I eat? What can’t I eat? Can I play volleyball? Am I allowed to jump or do sit ups? Is coffee ok? What if the only thing that sounds good first trimester is McDonalds french fries? Why does every food burn my esophagus an hour after eating? Is anything safe? Should I just live in a bubble? The conflicting opinions and research is enough to paralyze any new parent from making any decisions at all, just to avoid the judgment of other parents. 

For someone who hates details as much as me, this could be looked at as a form of torture. I personally couldn’t deal with all the worry and stress on top of the physical ailments that come with early pregnancy, so my approach was simply “it’s fine unless the doctor said no.” I figured, if babies have been surviving and thriving for centuries without all this research and these online mommy-to-be forums, then why should I worry about it? I trust my doctor and my common sense enough to tell me when something is not safe. 

Oddly enough, now that the whole thing is over with, I sometimes look back on those times fondly. I find myself browsing maternity clothes online. I recall the feeling of those little kicks from baby Pip. Well, Past Emily knew this day would come, so she took it upon herself to write a letter to Future Emily. **(Obligatory side note: I do know that the ability to have children is a blessing from God, and am incredibly grateful I had the opportunity to go through it. This is just a lighthearted look back at some of the physical and mental challenges of pregnancy).**  (Also, I am not pregnant again. Just reminiscing). 

Dear non-pregnant me,

Now that you are thin again,without a precious little one growing inside you, you may be fondly reminiscing about that magical time in your life. You may even be considering beginning that journey again. Well, friend, I am here to remind you of exactly what pregnancy was like.

Remember throwing up every morning for 2 months straight? You would wake up, stomach lurching like a wicked hangover without the party. “Try keeping some crackers on their nightstand!” they said. “It’ll help!” Nay. It will not. Post-vomit, you would spend the next 3 hours in a woozy stupor, head on your desk with the occasional trip to the restroom to dry-heave. Your students were concerned, but didn’t even know you were pregnant. So you didn’t even get special treatment.

Remember those blinding headaches? They really complemented the nausea. 

Remember when nothing sounded appetizing except cereal, toast, and fast food?

16 weeks

Remember first trimester exhaustion? 2 p.m. would hit and standing up felt like a chore. Passing out papers was your Everest. If only you could summon up the strength to take a lap of the room before collapsing back into your rolling chair, you considered it a victory.  

Remember when you thought you couldn’t bear it any longer? It was then that second trimester dawned like the first spring day after a Minnesota winter. Angels sang and a feast was prepared to celebrate your first day sans morning sickness. 

Remember when the word of your joyous news was finally out? People beamed when they saw you. Sure, they didn’t make eye contact with you until they scanned your midsection for any sign of a baby bump, but they were so happy for you! That miniature baby bump and ever-so-slight face bloat that made you look like you were indulging in one too many holiday dessert spreads.  You soaked it up, reveling in the attention and the fact that you could still fit in your regular clothes. 

Remember around 20 weeks when you found out the gender of your baby? That first ultrasound was probably one of the most awe-inspiring moments of your life. You got your first glimpse of that beautiful human being growing inside you. You didn’t even mind how uncomfortable your somehow constantly full bladder was making you. 

Also, remember how you thought your bump was HUGE at that time? Ha. 

24 weeks

Remember the moment you realized those once-flowing tops and dresses that you thought would last your entire pregnancy just didn’t hang quite right on a growing baby bump? You didn’t count on the awkward pulling and the accidental midriff, did you? It was then that you broke down and ordered your first round of maternity clothes online. 

Remember the day third trimester hit, and you realized you were reprising semester one? Only this time you were much bigger and your wardrobe options had shrunk significantly. Nausea? Not nearly as bad, sure. But if you didn’t eat first thing upon awakening, it would not be a pleasant morning. Exhaustion? Welcome back, old friend. 

Remember the day you broke down and cried in your classroom? (Don’t worry, it was during your free period). You were already feeling self-conscious of your ever-changing and expanding waistline, and no one would let you forget it. “You’re going to get bigger?” “You have how many weeks left?” “You’re never going to make it to your due date!” Up until that week you were proud of your little baby bump. You felt cute-pregnant. No more. 

Oh, and remember that day you cried in the store because it was the fifth clothing shop you went into that didn’t carry maternity clothes. Seriously, what did women do before the internet? How did people find affordable and cute maternity clothes? I mean, you lived in a suburb of a huge metro, yet you could only find 2 stores that carried maternity clothes. And you were outraged at the thought of paying $24 for a plain v-neck t-shirt that sold for $12 in non-maternity. Oh the humanity! What griefs and trials we bear!

39 weeks

But then, remember the simple joys of relaxing on the couch at night, feeling a symphony of baby kicks, hiccups, and rolls? How you laughed when she would bob her head up against your right ribcage, almost as if she were pushing off with her little toes to let you know she was there! Remember how the dog would snuggle up against your big old belly? If only he knew he was in for a rude awakening when he would no longer be the center of attention. 

Remember how wonderfully people treated you? They rolled out the red carpet, allowing you to skip the line to the bathroom, demanding that you sit and relax even though you knew you were perfectly capable of completing whatever task you were doing. 

Remember how totally worth it all of that was when you finally got to meet little Pip? Definitely worth it. 


Past Emily


family history

This post is in honor of my late grandmother, who passed away this past weekend. Nana lived an incredible life and taught her children and grandchildren so many important lessons about what our true priorities in life should be. I am very grateful I had the opportunity to interview her several years ago about her childhood in London during and after WWII. Here is my take on her story of meeting my grandfather. 

You don’t often think of your grandmother playing hard-to-get. I always assume the dating world was much more civilized back then. There was no playing games, no awkward moments, no scandal. I know how naive that sounds. As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Surely human beings have been playing games, misreading cues, and causing scandal since Adam and Eve fell into sin! At the same time, though, when your proper English grandmother tells you she made your grandfather chase her a little bit, it comes as a juicy and shocking surprise. “Nana!” my sisters and I gushed with delight and mock horror when she relayed the beginnings of what was to become our family.

He was a dashing young yeoman from Wisconsin, stationed in London post-World War II. She had been a little girl in London during the War, who had experienced the mandatory evacuation to Wales, the terror of a bomb dropped across the street from her flat, and the camaraderie the people of London shared during wartime. The setting of their first meeting was the day of her brother’s wedding at a drinking club.

Her brother, Phil, had just left for his honeymoon with his new wife. It was only 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and my grandmother Maureen was all dressed up with nowhere to go. Ladies, I think we can all relate to the dread of wasting a new outfit and perfect makeup and hair. Someone has to see it! Fortunately, her friend Eileen was supposed to meet up with her then-boyfriend Jerry at a drinking club, and invited Maureen and some other friends along. It took some convincing, but Maureen’s strict father finally acquiesced and allowed her to go. The new dress would not be in vain!

Once the group arrived at the club, they chose a half-circle booth, and settled in to order. Eileen recognized some Americans she knew, who proceeded to join their table. One gentleman, who (spoiler alert!) turned out to be my grandpa Herb, approached Maureen.

“Would you mind moving over?” 

Indignant, she replied, “Yes I do mind!” as she proceeded to slide in to allow the rude fellow to take a seat. 

“You can buy me a drink.” Bold, Herb. Bold.

“I don’t buy anyone a drink,” Maureen said. It seemed they were not off to a good start. 

According to my Nana, Herb proceeded to ‘talk to her’ the rest of the evening. The way she describes it, it sounds like she couldn’t wait to get out of there and never see this guy again in her life. Then he dropped a bombshell (metaphorically of course.)

“Would you like to go out sometime?” he asked.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to.” Hm. Why didn’t I ever think to try this blunt approach when getting hit on in bars?
Undeterred, Herb continued, “Well, how about Tuesday?”

        “I’m washing my hair Tuesday.” What? How did she get away with using “washing my hair” as an excuse to get out of a whole evening? And how can I apply this to my life?

They proceeded to go through each day of the week, Maureen presumably using more gems for excuses such as, “Wednesday? Oh, on Wednesday I have to iron my socks,” or “Thursday? I wish I could, but it turns out I’m brushing my teeth.” 

Apparently he wore her down, though, because she eventually agreed to a date. They decided to meet at the cinema one afternoon, and Maureen was almost positive he would stand her up. She told herself if he wasn’t there she would just hop right on the next bus and head home. But when she arrived at the Odeon Cinema, there stood Herb dressed in civilian clothes, and if historical fiction movies are telling me the truth, I’m sure he had a bouquet of flowers in his hands, and she was wearing red lipstick. 

Well, one date led to another, and soon the two were seeing each other several times a week. In our day we call this, “we’re not putting a label on anything.” This went on for 8 months. This casual dating didn’t inspire much confidence in Maureen, and she made plans to break it off. 

Now I’m not sure if it really happened this way, but this is how I imagine the scene per my Nana’s description.:

Maureen makes plans with Herb at a neutral location to end the relationship, because it was ‘going nowhere.’ They sit down to a spot of tea and probably crumpets, because it’s London, and Maureen clears her throat emphatically. 

“I don’t think this is going to work. I don’t think we should see each other anymore.” She proceeds to wait dramatically for the heartbreak that will inevitably ensue. 

Herb’s response: “Oh. Will you marry me?

So that was that. Proof that men don’t listen to what women are saying, and that women can be wrong, contrary to popular belief. 

Four months later, in August of 1955, Herbert Otto and Maureen Barnfather were united in holy matrimony. I guess it’s lucky my grandpa Herb was so darn stubborn, and also a bad listener. 


teaching your child Spanish as a non-native speaker

When I found out I was pregnant, I was clueless about a lot of baby-related things. Sleep schedules, stroller selection, and cloth diapering systems made my eyes glaze over like when my sister used to explain calculus to me. One of the few things I was sure about, though, was that I wanted to teach my baby Spanish. As a Spanish teacher, I figured it would be a natural extension of the job I was already doing. I had already poured hours of research into being a creative and knowledgeable Spanish teacher, and I wanted to put that preparation to good use.

Naturally, I turned to Google for additional information. Now, maybe my googling skills are subpar, but if not, the amount of material on the internet specifically for non-native speakers teaching their children a second language is shockingly dismal. There is a bounty of information for 2 native speakers of a minority language living in the majority culture. The resources for one parent one language are ubiquitous. But very few materials exist for a proficient, albeit non-native, speaker to teach their children a second language.

My goal is to find like-minded parents and more resources on this topic. The information is out there, but it will take some digging. Ever since Pip and I started this journey, I have been on the hunt for practical and relevant ways to incorporate Spanish into our daily routine. Here is what I have found and learned so far:

  1. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. I love reading up on new topics and skills, but sometimes I get a bit lost in the research. At some point, I have to remind myself to just jump in and test it myself, even if that means I don't have a perfect game plan. I would much rather teach my child some Spanish than none at all because I took so much time to figure out how that I eventually gave up.
  2. Sing, Sing, Sing! On Spanglish Baby I found a list of great children's songs and cds in the tiendita. I picked one to buy on iTunes, and have immersed myself in committing those songs to memory. I sing them to Pip in the car, during diaper changes, in the bath, while we are waiting at doctor appointments, and on walks. She has grown particularly fond of Hola Don Pepito. It makes her laugh every time she hears it. She also loves Pin Pon, Que Llueva, and Arroz Con Leche. 
  3. Read aloud. I was really lucky and had a book-themed baby shower, so I received a few children's books in Spanish as gifts. I also had a few on hand from my teaching days. The good news is that most libraries have a small Spanish section where you can find board books and children's books to avoid spending tons of money and growing your collection of "stuff." Not only will you get a lot of repetition of new vocabulary words, colors, numbers, alphabet, and animal, but you will get to practice your pronunciation, too!
  4. Learn baby talk in Spanish. I think it's safe to say that in my college study abroad experiences I learned little to no baby-related vocabulary. I definitely had to turn to the forums on Word Reference to find words for pacifier, crib, high chair, etc. The challenge here is that many words are colloquial, or change from family to family. I just picked the most academic word, or the one I would be most comfortable using in public. 
  5. Ask questions. Especially during babyhood, it's not important to use really complex language structures. I don't use those structures in English with Pip, so why would I in Spanish? Just learn how to ask a few questions you will use all the time: Are you hungry? Are you tired? All done? How are you? What do you want?
  6. Narrate. When you go for walks or are out in public, point out objects, buildings, or animals and talk about the color, size, and number. Keep it simple. Tell them how they are feeling. If Pip is smiling, I just say "Estás muy feliz." If she's near tears, "Estás triste," and so on. 
  7. Find native speakers in your area. This is a tough one. You may be really lucky to live in an area where native speakers are plentiful. If that's the case, see if there is a play group, a mom's group, story time at the library, a Bible study, etc. Check MeetUp or look on bulletin boards at the local library. 

I am by no means an expert, and I am always looking for more resources, tips, and ways to incorporate more Spanish whenever I can. It does take some discipline, but all things worth doing do!

Do you have any experience using Spanish with a baby? What did I miss?

what is…time?

When I was young, my parents called me Lightning. The epithet was meant to be ironic; I was anything but swift as a child. It was not my athleticism they referred to, but rather my deliberate manner. I could not be rushed. Everything would be done in its own time.

I still maintain a propensity for leisure, but alas! I am a polychronic person living in a monochronic culture. I am expected to be on time, even early! Deadlines are absolute, and no one wants to hear my reasoning or excuses for being 10 minutes late. Even if they did, I'm not sure 'getting lost in my own thoughts' or 'I ran into a friend!' would be counted as passable reasoning. As a responsible adult, it is important for me to comply with my culture's view on time.

There is no right or wrong way to view time. It is a personal and cultural preference. Some view time as a valuable commodity to be spent, saved, killed, or wasted. Others don't think much about time at all, but rather focus on relationships and big-picture objectives. I have found it beneficial to be aware of what my own view on time is, in order to avoid misunderstandings and to compensate when it comes to job interviews, work or school deadlines, and transportation schedules.

No matter how one views time, I am of the opinion that we could all be less urgent. Urgency should be saved for emergency situations where time is of the essence. When you think of yourself as urgent, how does that look? I picture myself as being short with other people, failing to notice the beauty and blessings around me, clenching my teeth, tense shoulders, and an overall aura of unapproachability. It is physically and emotionally uncomfortable, and I never feel good about myself after urgent interactions with others.

When I find myself behaving this way, I try to picture a time in my life where time and pressure were the last things on my mind. I picture myself having a refreshing margarita after class on a sunny Friday afternoon in Quito, playing cards and chatting with new friends. I recall the salty air and long leisurely days of my honeymoon in Mexico. Those were moments when I was taking it all in, appreciating the details and relationships of my life.

Not every moment, not every job, not every lifestyle is conducive to ease and repose. But we always have the decision to act like we're on a beach vacation. Good mood, big smile, relaxed shoulders.

At some point during the school year, the clock in my classroom stopped working. When the students would ask halfway through class what time it was, I always responded, "What is…time?" Some laughed at the abstract question; others were, I'm sure, infuriated. I guess I never told them the time because I was so engaged in the lesson, and wanted the students to experience that same flow. To enjoy the class. To appreciate the opportunity to learn.

Anyway…I guess I'm late a lot of the time. I'm polychronic, I get lost in what I'm doing, I let interruptions distract me. Having to bundle a 6 month old for a Minnesota winter isn't helping me get out of the house "on time", either. It's something I know I have to work on.

Just know that if we plan on having coffee together at some point, I won't expect you to be "on time." Just don't expect me to be, either.


using music to improve your spanish

Music has always been an effective mnemonic device for memorization and learning. Think back to your toddler and kindergarten days. If your parent or teacher wanted to impart some knowledge or rule, they would sing. The alphabet, nursery rhymes, children's television shows, and even advertising use this strategy.

As a Spanish teacher, I tried to use music at least once a week to enforce whatever vocabulary or grammar we were using at the time for several reasons:

  1. songs are fun
  2. songs incorporate vernacular
  3. songs are authentic resources
In my search for songs to use on my students I would often find songs I myself enjoyed. Reading through the lyrics allowed me to learn new words, sentence structures, and idioms. Singing songs out loud in my car helped me work on pronunciation and also provided entertainment for those surrounding me. 

Here are a few tips for finding music to improve your own Spanish:
  • create a Spanish station on Pandora, iTunes radio, or Spotify. Write down the songs that you enjoy, and look up the lyrics
  • browse the iTunes Latin store for the top songs and albums
  • look up your favorite artists on YouTube. Many of them have a YouTube channel with their official videos
  • follow a favorite artist on Twitter
  • browse the audio section of your local library for latin artists
Once you have amassed a small collection of Spanish songs or procured a CD or two…
  • listen to songs on repeat. Over and over. Play them in your car, while you are getting ready in the morning, while you work out, while you do homework or browse the internet. Remember when you were a preteen and were "obsessed" with a certain artist or song? Remember how you could recite the lyrics to any given song from their album? Do that. You may find yourself googling some idiomatic phrases that don't seem to make much sense, but that means you're learning!
  • look up the lyrics. Aren't you thankful we have the internet, and we don't have to look at the little booklet in the CD cover?
  • Complete a song or two on Lyrics Training. In the top right corner of the screen choose the Spanish language. 
  • use Word Reference to look up new vocabulary words. It's better than Google Translate because it gives sample sentences showing how to use the word. There are also forums that help explain vernacular if you scroll down. 
  • sing in the shower. Practice recalling the words from memory without listening to the song.
  • if you are grammatically inclined, pore over the lyrics and try to figure out verb tenses. Are there any irregulars? Why did the songwriter choose preterite instead of imperfect? Is the subjunctive mood used in the song? Why?
  • buy a karaoke machine and throw a Spanish Karaoke night. Just kidding. But if you do that, invite me, ok?
Personal Favorites:
  • Shakira (Songs I love: Gitana)
  • Jesse y Joy (Songs I love: Electricidad, ¿Con Quién Se Queda el Perro?, La De La Mala Suerte, Una en un Millón) This brother/sister duo from Mexico is great because they are super easy to understand, and their songs are catchy. 
  • Juanes (Songs I love: Luna, Minas Piedras, A Dios le Pido, La Camisa Negra, Fotografia… oh who are we kidding? I love them all. Except Difícil. It's a little whiny). A popular Colombian singer, almost anyone who has taken Spanish at some point in their lives is probably familiar with ol' Juanes. 
  • Fanny Lu (Songs I love: No Te Pido Flores, Celos, Tú No Eres Para Mí.) 
  • Luis Fonsi (Songs I love: Me Gustas Tú)
  • Sie7e (Songs I love: Tengo Tu Love) I think this may be my all-time favorite song in Spanish. Check out the music video. It's everything I want my life to be. 
Music is easily one of the most enjoyable ways to practice speaking and listening in any language. It can be active or passive learning, depending on how much time you have at your disposal. If learning or maintaining the Spanish language is important to you, I would encourage you to give these strategies a try.

Who are your favorite artists that sing in Spanish? Are there any favorite songs I missed?


why discipline is freedom (or why INFJs need budgets)

I don't know why, but I love personality assessments. I think they help me gain insight into why I am the way I am. I have never taken the official Myers -Briggs Type Indicator, but I have taken plenty of shortened versions online. Every single time I have come up with the same result: INFJ. One of the traits of INFJs is a lack of interest in details and minutia. I strongly identify with that - and if you don't believe me ask my mother about my wedding-planning involvement. (Hint: little to none). 

I think that might be why the beach life calls to me. I always imagine it as a simple life where I rarely have to wear shoes and can enjoy the simple pleasures. 

Through trial and error, however, I have discovered a profound truth of life: details matter. 

This is unfortunate for me. 

But here's the good news. If you pay attention to the details, and if you remain disciplined, it leads to a life of freedom. When I follow the budget and balance the checkbook, I feel free to spend the money I have allotted for food or clothes. If I don't follow the budget, I feel guilty about every extra dollar I spend on non-necessities. 

When I set goals for each day - the top 5 most important things I want to do that day - I feel free to relax over a cup of coffee in the morning. When the things I want to accomplish remain in a jumbled cloud in my mind, I tend to feel tense throughout the day, like I am forgetting something. 

The same logic applies to working out, eating healthy meals, and reading the Bible. 

By paying attention to a few important details up front, my life feels as laid back and carefree as any beach vacation later on. 

Being disciplined can seem boring and regimented to many people. I sometimes worry that if I pay attention to details and stay disciplined, then how can I be spontaneous and laid back? The way I have reconciled it in my mind is that discipline does not mean rigidity. In fact, being disciplined allows me to splurge, cheat, and be spontaneous. If I have faithfully kept to a budget in order to pay down student loans, then I have the financial freedom to travel if the urge strikes. If I have faithfully eaten clean, healthy meals, then a rare pizza night or ice cream sundae is no big deal. 

(by the way, whenever I need a reminder to stick to my goals, I read or listen to a little bit of Zig Ziglar - the guy is a genius on this very topic)

Although some days it goes against every fiber of my being, I strive to remain disciplined only because I crave freedom from details so very much. 


YOLO stresses me out

Recently I have seen a rise in articles, compelling essays, and inspirational pictures on Pinterest imploring the reader to be more present in the moment, live every day to the fullest, and don't EVER TAKE A SECOND FOR GRANTED.

Frankly, that sounds exhausting.

Listen, I am all for having adventures, making conscious decisions to enjoy the life you have chosen, and appreciating the people around you. But can anyone (should anyone?) be that intensely "on" every moment of every day? Sometimes it feels like we are being beat over the head with YOLO. You only get to live once! Are you present this morning while you change diapers? Enjoying that stack of papers to correct? You can still have a positive attitude about unpleasant things and sad situations without necessarily enjoying every minute of it.

Maybe instead of asking: am I enjoying every moment of my precious life?, but rather: how am I using my precious life to praise God and serve others? Every moment of serving God and others is not pleasant. In fact, we are promised the opposite of that.

I have jumped off a bridge in Ecuador (much to my mother's dismay). I have ridden horses through the mountains, zip lined in Costa Rica, frolicked through fields in Siberia, sat on the banks of the Seine in Paris with my husband taking swigs from a bottle of wine. I have stood in two hemispheres at once, had beer in a biergarten in Germany, sipped café in Bogotá, slept under the stars on a beach in Mexico, and rappelled down waterfalls in the jungles of Ecuador. I have been indescribably blessed to be able to do all of that before the age of 25. But what to I have to show for all of these experiences? A few good stories, pictures, memories. All blessings from God.

Probably, though, the less story-worthy moments are the more important ones. The larger missions I had the opportunity to help serve when in Mexico and Russia. Guiding the group of high school students I got to chaperon in Costa Rica and Germany. In essence, the experiences that are not about me and my life are the ones I should be striving for.

Let's focus on how we can use our gifts to serve God and others to the fullest. That would be a life worth remembering.



It seems like our generation has an aversion to "growing up." For some reason, we hold lack of responsibility in high esteem. Maybe past generations felt the same way, but our generation has social media, and thus a larger platform to proclaim our disdain for all things adult. Budgets? Gross! Going to bed early in order to be well rested? I'm so lame! We seem to live in a prolonged state of adolesence because our culture tells us that our 20s are a time to "discover ourselves." Whatever that means.

Anyway, my point here is not to bash our culture or even the longing most of us twenty somethings have for freedom from responsibility. I feel it, too! Although I'm married with a 5 month-old and a dog, the thought of buying a house terrifies me and makes me want to go live on a boat. Sail the high seas and never look back.

My point, actually, is to remind myself that being an adult is awesome, even though adults have to balance their checkbooks and change diapers and not ignore the check engine light in the car. There were so many things past me couldn't wait to do when I grew up. There are so many things past me didn't even know about! Adulthood has its perks, folks! Here are my top 10 perks of adulthood:

  1. You can buy any cereal you want. Even the sugary ones. Even the ones that are actually cookies disguised as cereal.
  2. No curfew. Except the self-imposed ones because of work. But really, if you want to stay out all night, you can! You just have to suffer the consequences the next day. 
  3. You are rarely forced to eat foods that are repulsive to you. 
  4. Happy hour.
  5. Within reason, you can do whatever you want. You don't have to ask permission to go hang out at a friend's house.
  6. Candy. I remember thinking when I was about seven or eight that it would be so great to make my own money, because then I could buy as much candy as I wanted. Don't think I'm not taking advantage of that power now that I have my own bank account.
  7. You can live and work wherever you want. 
  8. The simple pleasure of enjoying a glass of wine, beer, with dinner.
  9. Probably no one says as you're walking out the door: "Oh. You're wearing that? Are you sure?"
  10. Binge watching television. The only repercussions are that when you finally get off the couch you feel like a vampire and also dead inside, but at least your mom or dad won't come home and yell at you. When my sisters and I were younger, but old enough to stay home alone, my mom would go to work in summer and leave a chore list behind. Usually folding the laundry was on that list. We would put that one off until the last minute, gather in my parents' room (because that's where laundry is folded) and watch The Price is Right until we saw Mom pulling into the driveway. Then it was operation Pious Children. Everyone knew the drill. TV off. Neat piles of folded clothes on the bed. Act like the rest of the chores took you all morning. #confessions
I'm somewhat embarrassed that exactly 1/2 of the list has to do with food and beverage. But really, what it comes down to is that as adults we can basically do what we want, when we want. Hopefully our parents raised us well, and we know that natural consequences for our actions exist, but we can choose to experience those consequences if we want! 

 Yes, some parts of adulthood suck. It would be awesome to be able to drink juice boxes and play capture the flag in the backyard all day without a care in the world. But now, we get to drink boxed wine and watch 7 hours in a row of The Office on Netflix. Even better.


i'll be happy when

By now I have read enough positive thinking literature to know that it is a fallacy to believe I will be happy when something I am looking forward to occurs or when I achieve or obtain something I desire. For example, I am setting myself up for disappointment if I tell myself I will be happy when I buy a new lens for my camera. I will be happy when I expand my wardrobe. I will be happy when I lose those last 5 pounds. I will be happy when the weather is warmer.

Sure, I might experience a surge of enjoyment in some of these circumstances. I will probably derive at least temporary pleasure from them. But it is unwise and incorrect to believe that we must wait for the perfect circumstance to experience happiness. If we believe the onus is on situation or condition to provide happiness for us, we relieve ourselves of personal responsibility.

Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians (4:11-13), "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." Paul knew the secret to happiness was not the perfect conditions, but rather the attitude. The perspective that everything we have is a gift of God - and an undeserved one at that - breeds contentment and happiness. It is our decision to wake up each morning thankful for what we have, to be cheerful and charitable in our interactions with others.

Despite this head knowledge, practice is quite another thing entirely. Being happy is hard work! And it's always the little things that get to us. I almost find it easier to put on a brave face when the big things go wrong. It's when I'm already 10 minutes late and I can't find a pair of matching socks that my patience goes out the window. It takes discipline and presence of mind to take a deep breath, put on a smile, and go calmly about your task when things are going awry.

I'm working on it. I'm getting better at it. Several times a day I need to realign. Shoulders relaxed, jaw unclenched, cleansing breath, smile. Oddly enough, I am finding that other people are delight to be around when I work on being a delight to be around.

Here's my challenge to you. Find your personal "I'll be happy when…" statement. We all have one. I do not long for more possessions. I don't think life will suddenly be perfect when I lose the last of the baby weight. Mine is: I'll be happy when I'm not so busy. Boy, do I hate when I feel that commitments, serving others, or social obligations are encroaching on my introvert recharging time. I value time over possession. Experience over things. Thusly, I always imagine that if I have a certain amount of free time, I will suddenly evolve into a zen and joyful being.


It is precisely in the busy moments that I must choose a positive attitude.

Once you have identified your own peculiar "I'll be happy when…" statement, you can then begin the process of overcoming it.

Don't be happy when. Be happy now - through God who gives you strength.


spanish outside the classroom

One of my favorite assignments to give my high school Spanish classes was Exploring Spanish Outside the Classroom. They got to choose activities of varying difficulty with corresponding point values, then write up a summary paragraph detailing what they learned from the experience and listing new vocabulary words. The point of the assignment is for the students to see why Spanish is relevant to their lives - what's the big deal? Why are we doing this? If students can't see relevance, why would they waste their time learning it?

Clearly I was not the first Spanish teacher to come up with this assignment. Almost all world language classrooms have some variation of this assignment. And why not? It works. It get the students excited about their language. It includes culture and community. And it's kind of fun!

Now that I have decided to educate my daughter and am no longer in the high school classroom, I am constantly looking for ways to incorporate Spanish into our daily routine. I am actually really struggling with baby talk in Spanish. I mean, I could discuss the merits of magical realism, or summarize Pinochet's regime - making sure to throw in plenty of pluperfect subjunctive- but I'm not sure Pip would care that much. Instead, I am lamenting my profound lack of diaper vocabulary in Spanish.

I have concluded that while I am familiarizing Pip with the Spanish language, I would have to do my own "Spanish Outside the Classroom" assignment to maintain proficiency and acquire new vocabulary. The following is an overview of the methods and media I use to that end. In future posts, I will detail specific examples and delve into the pros and cons of each.

  1. Music           I like to listen to the Spanish pop station on Pandora, iTunes Radio, or Spotify to discover new music. For old standbys, I turn to my Spanish playlist on iTunes that includes plenty of Juanes, Jesse y Joy, Paulina Rubio, Sie7e, Carlos Vives, Fanny Lu, Shakira, and Camila. Music is a great way to learn new vocab, and especially to hear vernacular turns of phrase. 
  2. Movies/TV Did you know you can change the language of some TV shows on Netflix? Under Watch Instantly, click Subtitles and Captions, then change the language to Spanish. You are left with a whole list of American shows and movies to watch en español. From Hercules to Arrested Development, there is quite a variety! Don't forget about foreign flicks like Motorcycle Diaries and La Misma Luna to get some culture as well!
  3. Books          If you happen to find yourself with some spare time, peruse the Spanish section at your local library. Start with YA fiction and work your way up to Isabel Allende. I can't tell you how many new words I have discovered reading aloud baby board books like the Hungry Caterpillar in Spanish. I advise my students to begin with a book they have already read in English so they already know the plot and can focus on the new words. 
  4. Podcasts      For the busy commuter, podcasts are an easy way to passively learn some new phrases. I find these to be especially helpful if you are traveling to a country for a short amount of time. Coffee Break French prepared me to order food, tell my cab driver where to go, and ask for directions when we visited Paris. Similar Spanish podcasts exist, and can be played while you commute, walk on the treadmill, or take the dog for an evening stroll. Just be prepared for some sidelong glances when you repeat "I would like a large coffee," in your language of choice in public. The best part is that podcasts are free to download on iTunes!
  5. Internet       Change your Facebook, Twitter, email, or cell phone to Spanish. Pay attention to the words for "new message" or "retweet." Follow Spanish-speaking athletes, singers, politicians, or writers on Twitter or Instagram. Connect to CNN en Español or other Spanish news sites. 

The truth is, you don't need a fancy Rosetta Stone program or hours of free time to learn or maintain proficiency in another language. All it takes is being intentional about how you use your free time, commute, and screen time during the day. Obviously if we all had unlimited time and funds we would just immerse ourselves in the country of our choice and live the language. But most of us have chosen paths in life where our time and attention is demanded of us. If learning another language is important to you (and it should be!), you will find a way to do it. It does not have to be difficult or expensive; it is merely a commitment and a concerted effort.