no hay mal...

The mother of all winters. 49 days at or below zero. Piles of snow taller than people. Polar vortex after polar vortex. Blizzards, deep freezes, and slippery road conditions. Welcome to the Minnesota winter experience.

If you Google "how to survive a Minnesota winter," or "things to do in Minnesota during winter," you will find encouragement to continue to enjoy the outdoor activities so popular in this great state. Hiking, snow shoeing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and skiing. I have had to refrain from throwing my laptop across the living room at the discovery of these suggestions, as anyone with a small child at home can relate to. Not only would it be impractical to bring a child along on (most of) these adventures, but incredibly dangerous given the weather we have had thus far.

I would be hopeful that spring is coming as the advent of March approaches, but then I hearken back to the previous winter, during which I genuinely thought I would be giving birth during a snowstorm. My due date was June 3rd. Yes. Snowstorms through the month of May made outdoor "spring" sports near impossible. It doesn't give me much hope that the White Witch's spell will end any time soon.

I'm sounding pretty bitter at this point, aren't I? If you could hear me read these paragraphs aloud, though, you would realize that I'm saying them with an incredulous grin at the absurdity of it all. You would hear me chuckle about last year's winter extending all the way into the summer months. You know, taking it all in stride because I'm a Midwesterner, of German and British and Scandinavian stock. But you would also detect the crazy eyes, and you would probably hear my laugh turn slightly maniacal, driven to the brink of insanity by being shut indoors for days on end.

So anyway, the point of this is not to get anyone to feel sorry for me; Minnesota is not the only state surviving this vindictive winter. It is not to ask for advice on how to get through it, because we all do that the same way - one day at a time. It is simply to observe that there is some good to come out of this ridiculous season of my life. There is a saying in Spanish: no hay mal que por bien no venga. There is no bad from which good does not come.

So, in the same way I encourage my young volleyball players to learn from their losses instead of being sad about them, in the same way I appreciate paying for college myself because it helped me learn to be frugal and manage money, I think there is some good and some wisdom to come from this punishing cold.

We are going to appreciate this summer. A lot. Because, dang it, we worked for it.

We are going to spend every waking moment outdoors. We are going to have drinks on patios, and hike, and explore, and eat ice cream, and sit on a bench and take in the sun. And we are going to love every second of that humidity and heat. I am going to buy a pair of $2.50 flip flops from Old Navy and wear them until they have conformed to my feet. And then I will kick off those cheap sandals and feel the blades of grass in between my toes. And it shall be glorious.

You should have seen the people here in the Twin Cities when we had an almost 40° day a few weeks back. Picture the people of Munchkinland after the Wicked Witch of the West was killed. That was us. Doing heel clicks and skipping and patting our neighbors on the back with a wink and a smile.

If 40° can do that to us, imagine what 70° will feel like.

No hay mal que por bien no venga. We can't have the good without the bad. We can't have the sun without the dark. We can't have the warm without the cold. The good will come.

no hay mal que por bien no venga


lifelong learner

Many young adults entering college share a similar concern - they have no idea what they want to do with their lives. They figure they have time to figure it out. General education classes fill their schedule for the first few semesters, and so these confused semi-adults search their souls for a job they will love, that will pay them an adequate salary, and that will be available to them upon graduation. That is a tall order, so many find themselves in a quandary when it comes time to declare a major. Do I choose what I love, or what is practical?

I was not one of those people.

From the moment I returned from my first mission trip to Mexico, I was certain I wanted to incorporate the Spanish language into my career. The natural choice seemed to be becoming a high school Spanish teacher. There would always be a need for that position, it was something I enjoyed, and as for adequate pay, well, I never was the high rolling type anyway. I was confident in my career choice and incredibly focused on attaining my goal.

A huge draw for me was that I would always be surrounded by learning, and figured I would be getting paid to study the language and culture about which I was passionate. What I didn't count on was that knowledge of your content area is only about 20% of a high school teacher's job. Add in lesson planning, correcting, searching for authentic resources and comprehensible input that was relevant to the students, emailing parents, discipline, making powerpoint presentations, and coaching responsibilities, and my dreams of thumbing through Neruda in my spare time were shattered.

On the bright side, my grammar has certainly improved. I am much more accurate in my use of direct and indirect object pronouns. I have the rules for por/para, ser/estar, and preterite/imperfect down pat. Irregular present tense verbs? If there were a Jeopardy category for that, I would take the entire row. But expanding vocabulary, diving into rich literature, and discussing profound ideas in a foreign language was a distant memory.

That always made me somewhat wistful, and I would even go so far as to question my profession during those long nights of correcting before quarter or semester grades were due. I was reminded time and again that I was kind of doing what I loved, but I often found myself wishing I could get paid to study and practice Spanish rather than teach it to indifferent teenagers.

When I found out I was pregnant, I spent a long time trying to decide what my work and stay-at-home balance would be. I came so close to attempting to balance teaching part time. When I finally settled on staying at home and resigning my job, I felt completely at peace with my decision. I started to get excited about raising a bilingual baby, and made great plans for what kind of mother I would be.

Most days staying at home are beautiful, exhausting, boring, and thrilling. But as the winter passed, and the number of days cooped up inside increased, the boredom and cabin fever began to overtake my positive outlook. I needed something to pick me up. Something that was not cookies and Netflix, because apparently, that is not a productive or beneficial habit.

I am attempting to return to my passion of studying language. In my spare time, I am starting to listen to interesting podcasts in Spanish, and I have been searching for blogs to read en español. It's time to start rereading my Spanish literature from college, and finding new books at the library. On the days I push myself to learn new vocabulary or listen for conjunctions that take the subjunctive in the podcast I listen to, I feel empowered and positive. I am refreshed, and a better wife and mother when those duties call. It's easier to sit on the floor and play blocks with Pippa when I have taken care of my intellectual needs instead of binging on Scandal episodes. (But how great is that show?)

The podcast I am currently listening to is called Nuevos Pasos, a Mexican podcast about all things motherhood and babies ages 0-3. They even had a recent one about language acquisition! If learning language is your passion, find a podcast in your language of choice about a topic you love, whether that's travel, cooking, or politics. Just scroll to the bottom of iTunes, and click on the picture of the American flag. You can change it to the country of your choice to find podcasts made for and by native speakers. Much more beneficial and challenging than podcasts directed at someone learning the language.

If learning language isn't your thing, find what stimulates your brain, and take the time to study it almost every day. Listen to books on cd or podcasts during your commute, read a book for 20 minutes before bed, or try a hands-on approach like cooking a new meal or learning how to repair your own car. Whatever it is that makes you tick, find it and cultivate your mind. You will feel more confident and refreshed to face your work.

What do you do to be a lifelong learner?

Also, any suggestions for Spanish podcasts or blogs to follow?


play games with baby in spanish

No matter what language you speak to your baby, there arrive moments when you pause and think, 'what do I even say to this wonderful child?' For example, if one lives in a state touched by the polar vortex, and one stays at home with one's child, and one cannot leave the confines of the apartment for days on end, one tends to run out of things to say. When you reach the point where you have labeled everything in the house, and have decided to hide her favorite singing toy teapot because you can't bear to hear "one little teapot ready for some tea, two little cups, one for you and me!" one more time, you need an arsenal of games to make your cherub grin and giggle.

If you happen to speak your native language with baby, it's easy to recall a nursery rhyme or game from your own childhood, or ones you used with siblings. There exists a cultural gap when you speak your second language with your child - you don't have any of that background on which you would normally rely for interacting with your little one.

Luckily, we live in an age where an internet connection and a little bit of research can help fill that cultural gap! Here are three games I spent some time researching en español:

This Little Piggy

éste dedito se compró un huevito                         this little piggy bought an egg
éste lo puso a hervir                                              this one put it to boil
éste rompió la cáscara                                          this one broke the shell
Éste le echó la sal                                                 this one put the salt on it 
éste más chiquitito se lo comió                             this little one ate it
found at facemama.com

another version goes like this:

Este cerdito fue al mercado,                                  this little piggy went to market
éste compró la carne,                                            this one bought the meat
éste la llevó a casa,                                               this one took it home
éste la cocinó                                                        this one cooked it
Y el más pequeñito, ¡todita                                   and the littlest one ate the whole thing!
todita se la comió! 



I found a few versions of this in a Word Reference Forum. There are several variations based on what region you are from. Most of the time, I just use "¿Dónde está Mamá? ¡Picabu!"  But other options include:

"Cucú....acá taaaa! (as in acá está)"

"¿Dónde está/ dónde ta? ¡Acá ta!"

"¡Cu cú...tras!"

I was relieved that parents use baby talk in Spanish, too, like using ta instead of está. Adorable!

Patty Cake

A popular version of our clapping game "patty cake" or "pat-a-cake" is Palmas, Palmitas

"Palmas palmitas
que viene papá.

Palmas palmitas 
que en casa ya está.

Tortitas al niño, tortitas traerá.

Palmas palmitas 
que viene papá".


This Baby Center version was the best one i could find. Almost every other video I looked up on youtube was super creepy. There are definitely a few variations out there, such as tortillas.

Now I hope you will excuse me, as I have some memorizing to do!


an acquired taste

Coffee is an acquired taste. As a young adult, I often wondered why one would bother acquiring a taste for something. If I don't like something the first time, why would I keep trying to like it?

If I dared to take a sip of my father's coffee as a youth, I would recoil in disgust, marveling that adults would actually drink, even enjoy, this bitter beverage. In my mind, I placed coffee in the same category as vegetables and tuna - the avoid-at-all-costs category - and left it there for years to come.

My relationship with the bean took a step forward in the summer of 2006. The setting- Iskitim, Siberia, Russia. My closest friend in all the world, April, and I were teaching Vacation Bible School at a mission church for three weeks. The people of Iskitim were not well-off, but rarely have I come across a more generous and welcoming people. They offered us food from their garden, plenty of tea, and the dreaded cup of joe. I ate and drank many things on that trip out of politeness that I didn't care for - caviar, more cold soups than I could keep track of, kvass - a fermented bread drink with floaties (a technical culinary term). Suddenly, a simple, albeit bitter, cup of coffee didn't seem so objectionable.

Fast forward to Quito, Ecuador, the scene of my Spanish Immersion Program in the summer of 2008. April and I were staying with a gracious old married couple, Ernesto and Maria. Maria took such care to prepare nutritious meals for us. Every afternoon when we returned from our classes at the Academia, she would ask the same question, "Quieres una frutita?" (Do you want some fruit?). She would summon us for meals by calling, "Abril! Ehghkmkhg! A comer!" (April! Ehghkmkhg! Time to eat!) We are fairly sure she didn't know my name. And each morning a lovely meal of fresh bread, fruit, and Nescafé awaited us at the table. Now older, wiser, and still trying to be polite, I would down that cup of instant coffee with a small shudder.

While I still was not smitten with the acrid taste, something about the morning routine, the daily cup, stuck with me.

Once stateside, a college graduate, and a new teacher, I discovered the delight of flavored creamers. Their ability to at once take the edge off the bitterness and add a hint of hazelnut, cream, or vanilla suddenly turned the beverage from palatable to downright enjoyable. (In the back of my mind I will always be somewhat embarrassed that I'll never take my coffee black. Except in dire situations such as when the alternative is powdered creamer.) Coffee became something to look forward to each morning.

Now that I have (almost) acquired the taste, I feel that it was worth the time and effort for the pleasant routine and rich flavors in return. In fact, many wonderful things on this earth require time and effort for adjustment. Besides coffee, my list includes wine, spicy food, fresh fish, yoga, quinoa, foreign languages + customs, and some types of music.

I love the feeling of branching out and trying something new, even if it takes a few tries to truly enjoy it. The new experience in and of itself is gratifying, and makes me feel alive! Now the question is, what taste to acquire next? What are your acquired tastes?

Also, Here is an interesting article that says that acquired tastes are basically tricking your brain into liking something until you actually do like it. Fascinating!


10 thoughts I have when I speak my second language to my child

Speaking a second language isn't always easy. You are constantly second guessing your word choices, and wondering if you phrased something like you would in your first language instead of using the correct idiom. You speak more deliberately, and you often have to plan out what you will say, especially if it's a complex thought or odd grammatical structure.

Because of this, committing to speaking your second language to your child comes with it's own set of challenges. Here are some strange thoughts I have throughout the day when I talk to my 8 month old in Spanish that would never cross my mind when speaking to her in English.

1. Am I using all the verb tenses enough? I haven't used the pluperfect tense in awhile...I should try to sneak that in there...

2. Crap - what on earth is the word for plum? I know I read it in La Oruga Muy Hambriente (the very hungry caterpillar). Is plum spelled with a b at the end? Why did I think it was spelled with a b? Oh...ciruela. Duh.

3. I keep repeating the same phrases to her. Should I be more descriptive? She's only going to know how to say 5 things in Spanish!

4. Are you kidding me? I have to memorize all the names for baby animals now?

5. How do you tickle someone in Spanish....?

6. Which verb would I use when telling her to go get her toy? Conseguir, obtener, traer...? That doesn't sound right. But what do I know?

7. Ugh. Telling her to be gentle is soooooo much more cumbersome in Spanish than in English. ¡Qué pena!

8. Did I even use subjunctive once today? Unacceptable.

9. I wonder if I should be using present or present progressive here...

10. I can't believe how much I just learned from that children's song. Completely serious.


life is life wherever you go

After my first mission trip to Mexico in 2004 I was in the honeymoon phase of culture shock. I connected with the slower pace of life in Sonora and using Spanish to actually communicate with native speakers made me feel alive. Suddenly everything about America was wrong, and I imagined myself living in a tiny house amidst wide open spaces in Mexico, making my tortillas by hand, toiling in the hot sun (which is a plus for me - I love the hot sun), and hanging my laundry out to dry. I imagined having my coffee on the porch watching the sun rise, and kicking back after a long day of hard word, satisfied with my labor. I wanted nothing more than to be a campesino. 

I spent the remainder of my high school and college years dreaming about exotic destinations, and actually getting the chance to travel abroad. By the end of college I had made it to Mexico a second time, Russia twice, Germany, Ecuador, Panama, and Colombia. It wasn't really until the end of my semester in Ecuador that I had truly cycled through the different stages of culture shock. 

Honeymoon, Frustration, Adjustment, and Acceptance. 

The honeymoon phase lasted a long time for me. On most of my trips I never even made it to frustration. I was too enamored of the new languages, people, and experiences. It was all exciting, and all better than "real life" at home. 

Frustration probably set in the most a few weeks into my semester abroad. I would cry for absolutely no reason during one of my one-on-one Spanish lessons. I would be trying to think of a certain word, or figuring out how to phrase something, and suddenly it all seemed so futile. My profe would be alarmed, wondering what had happened, or if they had said something to upset me. No, I would reply, don't mind me. I just have to cry for a second, but I'm fine, really. Living in another language is exhausting. Also, I just wanted a chocolate chip cookie and a 6 inch roast beef on Italian herbs and cheese from Subway. And a proper bowl of cereal with milk that didn't come from a box. Turns out most of my frustration was centered around food. 

I hit my adjustment stride one sunny Friday afternoon when a group of friends and I had margaritas right after class. We had nowhere to go, and nowhere to be. We were drinking margaritas on a patio at noon in Quito. I felt so content I couldn't bear it. Not to mention I finally felt like my Spanish was getting somewhere. People could understand my jokes, and I didn't have to pay such close attention to understand others. I felt superior to those who were stuck in winter back home, and I felt like I could conquer any situation travel threw at me.

A few weeks before we were to go home, I suddenly knew what acceptance felt like. I loved my home in Quito. I adored my host family, my Spanish professors were witty and helpful, and I had made a great group of friends. I couldn't get lost if I tried in Quito, and I could manage any task I chose to try in Spanish. But I suddenly felt a fondness for home - the midwest - that I had never felt before. I was excited to see my real family, my fiancee, and friends from home. Suddenly the U.S. didn't seem so backwards - just different. 

I finally realized that life - everyday life- is really the same wherever you go. Life is filled with mundane tasks and frustrations no matter where you live. I was in an exotic place far from home, but I still had to study, think about money, and fold my laundry just like at home. The people that surrounded me had to go to work, grocery shop, and take their kids to the park just like at home. It was an empowering feeling, knowing that I could truly live anywhere in the world, and I would adjust. 

Fast forward to the winter of 2013-2014. We're all pretty sure the White Witch is in power, because this is most likely an eternal winter. We're all fed up with the snow and sub zero temperatures, and most of us are planning real or fictional trips to somewhere warm. I keep thinking that somewhere else would be a better place to live. I should just pack up and move to Costa Rica! Why have I chosen this life? Why don't I live on a boat? I should have been a cowboy...or a pirate. 

And then I remember that life is life. Life is life in Costa Rica or Canada, Minnesota or Mexico. What frustrates me in Minnesota might not be the same as what frustrates me in Quito, but there are frustrations all the same. What exhilarates me in Bogotá may not be the same as what exhilarates me in Stillwater, but both places contain things that thrill me, that make me feel alive. 

So lesson learned, bloom where you're planted, and all that jazz. But I'm still planning a trip somewhere warm. 


feliz día de san valentín

14 Things I Love

a husband who always takes the dog out in the bitter winter

a baby who laughs at all my jokes and lays her head in my chest when she's tired

a dog who stays by my side when I'm sad

the sun peeking through the clouds to warm the interior of my car

unlimited access to books via the library and my Nook

all sorts of breakfast cereals

just enough creamer to transform bitter coffee into a sweet sip

waking up with the sun

the luxury of a slow morning, a sofa, a laptop, and a hot mug of coffee

a long hike in a park

hunting for plane tickets anywhere and everywhere

group text messages with my strange and sweet family

coconut oil

the odes written by Pablo Neruda


worth more

I have never been a huge advocate for Valentine's Day. It reeks of insincerity to me. That's why I had to laugh at the SNL clip "Valentine's Day Commercial - get your girlfriend some last minute junk from CVS." I think the title and tagline speak for themselves. Hilarious.

Anyway, I just don't like the idea of being railroaded into buying something that you wouldn't otherwise buy or even care about. I feel like we're setting ourselves up for failure with sky-high expectations of romance. (Plus, people should feel free to buy me chocolate any day of the year - not just holidays.)

The one aspect of the holiday I do enjoy are the thoughtful hand-made gifts that people give out to significant others, friends, and family members. Our mom would always send us to school with homemade cookies and a cute heart-shaped hand-written note that never failed to make me smile. In college, we would get a little Valentine's Day package that would certainly brighten my week. It's the thoughtfulness and small gestures that are what make Valentine's Day worth keeping around. Also, February needs all the joy it can get!

One of my favorite songs is Tengo Tu Love by Sie7e. It speaks to my kind of love. I don't expect, or even want, diamond jewelry or expensive gifts (although a plane ticket somewhere warm would not be turned down). Love is not a test of how much you got me for a random Friday in February, but rather experiencing life with someone who wants to hang out with me, listen to me, and have adventures with me. 

Here are some of my favorite lines from the song (be prepared - many of these lyrics sound way better in Spanish than their translation into English:

el tiempo vale más que un Rolex                time is worth more than a Rolex
el amigo más que el peso en el bosillo       a friend more than money in your pocket
hablar vale más que un iPhone                   talking is worth more than an iPhone
y más cuando alguien te quiere escuchar   and more when someone wants to listen to you
el compromiso vale más que el anillo        the engagement is worth more than the ring
tu mirada vale más que el oro                    a look from you is worth more than gold 
aunque pueda tenerlo todo, todo                I may have everything, everything
nunca hay nada si me faltas tú                   it's nothing if I'm lacking you

There are so many more parts of the song I absolutely adore (Parent Trap, anyone?) but today I wanted to focus on the comparison of worth. Nothing in the world is worth more than your people. Those people in your life that make each day exciting, fun, comfortable, or easy. This Valentine's Day let's give the gift of our time and attention. And maybe a plane ticket to the beach. 


happy things + odds & ends

I'm not sure if it was our recent trip to the Como Park Conservatory but throughout the past few days my mood has been more lighthearted, and hopeful of the coming spring. I've been doing some experimenting with regards to my bedtime and morning routines to help me start my days on a more positive and productive note.

First of all, I have been sneaking Pippa's dream feed up earlier and earlier each night, with the hope of eventually phasing it out. This helps me actually get into bed with time to read before my head hits the pillow.

Second, I have been practicing setting a mental alarm clock for 6:30 a.m., which is about a half hour before Baby Zero Hour. I remember hearing or reading that it's possible to train yourself to wake up at a certain time just by thinking about it. I'm not sure if it's my husbands alarm + snooze combo that's actually waking me up, or simply my desire to start the day a little earlier that's working, but on Monday and Tuesday I was able to greet the day with a smile at exactly the time I wanted to wake up.  I Googled this very phenomenon, and found this fascinating article. Apparently, routine and intent are essential to a great morning.

Other things that have been making my winter days brighter:

baking cookies

Borrowing some magic from Martha Stewart, but with my own "healthified" substitutions. I substitute one of the sticks of butter with a 1/2 cup of coconut oil, use wheat flour instead of white, and sugar in the raw instead of granulated sugar. Still not healthy by any means, but it makes me feel a little bit better about indulging myself. The texture is just how I like it - soft and chewy.

nature music on youtube 

Flowing streams, ocean waves, and birds chirping are my favorites right now.

chugging water

I don't know if it's the dry winter air or not, but I find myself with more frequent headaches, scratchy throats, and fatigue during the colder months. More water seems to help!

vitamin D

Gummy vitamins, of course.

new books!

Pippa's great grandma got her a Barnes and Noble gift card for Christmas so I could pick up some more Spanish books. Yesterday we picked out three: ¿Eres Mi Mamá?, Frida, and Siempre Te Querré
(Are You My Mother?, Frida - a children's book about the painter Frida Kahlo, and I'll Love You Forever.)

longer days

Has anyone else noticed the slightly later sunset? Less than a month until Daylight Savings and even longer days! Spring is coming, people!

this kid


palm trees in snow

The other day at my Bible study group, I mentioned that the winter blues were starting to get to me, and asked the other ladies what they do to survive the Minnesota winter while cooped up inside with their offspring. I cannot thank them enough for bringing my attention to the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. 

Throughout winter my general outlook is that of a bear - hibernate. I desire to wrap myself in a fluffy blanket burrito of warmth and fall asleep at the stroke of 7 pm. This instinct is compounded with the addition of a baby bear, mostly because getting her bundled up and packed up for a day on the town takes about a year.  

Fridays are generally a free day for me, and I often end up only seeing the light of day when we take Pablo for a short walk. Because I had been singing the winter blues all week long, I was leaning toward making Friday a cozy day inside again. But something snapped within me. I think it was that Matthew McConaughey advice about wanting to be where you are. So I shut my laptop, stuffed everything we needed for the day in my trusty North Face backpack, and hit the open road. 

In a mere 25 minutes we found ourselves at the absolutely stunning conservatory. How this hidden gem escaped my attention for the 4 years I have lived here in the Twin Cities I will never know. I decided I didn't want to be bogged down my a stroller, so I tied on the Moby wrap in the car because it was still 0° outside. I tucked my little kangaroo in the folds of fabric to keep her warm, then sprinted to the door because I accidentally forgot my gloves. 

You guys, if I had all the money, you know I would be on the next flight to Peru or Costa Rica or Argentina. But as it so happens, I am still clawing my way out of student loan debt, so the Como Park Conservatory is the next best thing. Lush greenery, humid air, and sunshine wrap their arms around you, a safe haven from the harsh Minnesota winter. Tropical plants from every warm part of the world fill the gardens, and the scents of spices rise before you as incense. But enough of painting a word picture. I will let my actual pictures invade your eyeballs.

The nicest girl who happened to be a photography student offered to take some pictures of us.

This girl could not get enough of the greenery and chatted nonstop as we walked through the gardens. 

We bumped into some friends who took this lovely picture of us. 

Checking out the fishies

I miss Ecuador! Take me back!

Spring will come...eventually. Until then, we will definitely be returning to the conservatory for more warmth and green. 

Is there a botanical garden or green house in your area? Where do you escape to in winter?


when are we ever going to use this?

I love learning. There I said it. It feels good to get that off my chest.

I love learning - but I didn't always love school. Sometimes I hated school because I felt like the pace was mind-numbingly slow. Sometimes I hated school because I was a teenager and that's what teenagers do. Sometimes, though, I hated school because I didn't feel like what I was learning was relevant. 

"When are we ever going to use this?" is a question echoed round the country by throngs of pre-teens and teenagers alike. I know this because I was once one of those teenagers, and more recently, I was the teacher hearing those cries. When are we ever going to have to plot a parabola on a graph? When will I ever need to know the pluperfect subjunctive? Why are we learning the parts of a microscope?

Though school is about more than just the content learned in the classroom, and teaches soft skills like organization, time management, problem solving, and critical thinking, I graduated high school and even college wishing I had learned more hard skills that applied to my daily life. If I could add certain subjects or courses to my secondary and higher education, here's what they would be:

Saving, Budgeting, Investing, and Staying Out of Debt 101
I'm a saver by nature, and I hate spending money when I don't have to. But if someone had showed me and tested me on the logistics of budgeting, paying off student loans, and eventually investing my hard earned dollars, I might have made better decisions my first year out of college. No cable, live closer to work, bike everywhere, only pay for cars in cash, and make all your food from scratch. Budgeting will always be my Everest, because I'm always wondering if I'm doing it right, especially when it comes to sinking funds or surprise expenses. This is why the thought of doing a zero based budget makes my palms sweat. 

What is the prevailing wisdom on nutrition? Can nutrition really make a difference in things like mood, diseases, aches and pains, and energy levels? What is the current research on how dairy, gluten, and sugar/salt affect the human body? What are dairy, gluten, salt, and sugar? How much protein do you need? Is butter a carb? This is a gold mine of information that a lot of young people are clueless about. I mean, I sometime considered 2 pop tarts and mashed potatoes a sufficient lunch as an athlete. Yikes. 

Running a Household for Dummies
This is not just for women! All people of all time need to run a household, whether you're single or a family of 10, male, female, in the work force, or working from home. Subjects they could cover: how often is acceptable to go between changing your sheets, how often should one dust the bookshelf, how to separate laundry into white, colors, and delicates, meal planning, and interior design on a budget. 

Eating at fancy restaurants, etiquette when giving and receiving gifts, being a respectful traveler, dating dos and don'ts...the topics are endless!

How to Make the Perfect Cup of Coffee and/or Tea
Yes, this would be a semester long course. It could cover the history of these popular beverages, and skills like choosing your beans, operating different types of coffee makers, the science behind how these beverages are made, and adding mixers like cream and sugar. 

This wouldn't be a popular one, but it would be really helpful!

HTML and stuff
That would be the name of the class. And it would teach all of us how to create our own website. Because nowadays, life = the internet. 

How Cars Work and Other Alien Life Forms
Like, seriously. I think someone should have told me how to put oil in a car and change the tires. Also, how not to get tricked by a mechanic.

I love learning for the sake of learning. Does reading Anna Karenina serve a purpose in life? Not directly, though the argument could be made that it increased my vocabulary, critical thinking, and summarizing skills. But I read it on my own time, anyway, because I like the idea of being a well read person. Did memorizing all those artists in college have instant application in my life? Not really, but I was really glad I did it, because it made me feel cultured.

Academia serves its place - but it would be really nice to get some insight into life in the real word! What classes would you add to your education to best serve you in adulthood?


curing monolingualism

As Pippa begins to vocalize more and more each day, I have become fascinated with infant linguistic development, especially given that I'm working on raising her to be bilingual.

Each time she utters a new sound, my inner linguist can't help but analyze. Was that merely a repetitive babble? Or is she early to the protoword party? (In other words, is she just babbling dadadada or is she labeling her father as dada?)

Her brain is taking in so much information, and soon she will even begin to distinguish between English and Spanish based on word length, pitch, and phonetic sounds. I can't help but want to take notes on her linguistic development as my own personal form of research on bilingualism.

The more research I do, the more I am convinced and motivated to continue down this path. The benefits both now and in the future of a bilingual brain are astounding. Babies who are raised in 2 or more languages are labeled more "cognitively flexible" than monolingual infants. Those who speak more than one language have an advantage in critical thinking and staving off diseases like Alzheimer's. The truth is that even her English skills will be strengthened by knowing another language. I know mine were - even if my spelling abilities went downhill fast.

Not everyone is as excited as I am about bilingualism, though. For some reason, there seems to be a prevailing attitude in our nation that English and only English is best. I mean, I completely support knowing or learning the dominant language of the place where you live, but only positive things can arise from maintaining the heritage language of the many immigrant cultures that exist in our country. The majority of people living here have ancestors or even immediate family that hail from a country that speaks a language other than English. Wouldn't it be amazing if each of these families passed down that language while still maintaining English?

Anyway, in my internet adventures and "research" on this topic, I stumbled across this TED talk that basically says everything on this topic. If you are considering bi- or multilingualism for yourself or a child - do it! And if I haven't convinced you, I'll let Kim Potowski take it from here. Enjoy!


just want to be here

Well, it finally happened. I thought I could escape and outsmart it this year. I thought I could outrun it, and I thought I could will it away with positive thoughts and good vibes.

But the winter blues have hunted me down like a lion stalking its prey, and they have thrown everything they have at me. If it's not bitterly cold, it's a snowstorm. That is not a complaint, though. That's stone cold reality. Now, as a mostly stay-at-home-parent, this means there is no escape. Most days, the temperature makes it truly unsafe for a baby to be outside for any real length of time. This means no walks, no adventures, and no jaunts about town. Our apartment gets little to no sunlight, and for the love of all that is good and holy, if I have to plan my outfits around wearing snow boots for one more day, I'm going to lose it.

Wow. That was a super negative paragraph. People, don't think I haven't tried my usual positive thinking tricks. I'm well aware how fortunate I am to have a home to be trapped inside, and how awesome it is that I have 2 pairs of warm boots to protect myself from the elements. But somehow those thoughts have not staved off the lethargy, carb cravings, and little desire to do anything but wrap myself in a blanket like a burrito.

The weather affects me. There, I said it. It makes me feel and sound weak. And I hate that. But it takes a mighty strong person to resist the February in Minnesota (or almost anywhere else in the country right now) blues.

I think admitting that helps. I'm trying to be aware of what I am feeling, put a name on the feeling, and let myself feel it.

So now the question remains. How does one get out of the winter funk? Naturally, I turned to the internet for solutions. Some of the suggestions made my brain think in angry emojis. "Try to get some fresh air and be outside." WELL IF I COULD DO THAT THEN I WOULDN'T BE GOOGLING SOLUTIONS FOR THE WINTER BLUES. The rest were pretty standard. In fact, I probably could have written any one of the 50 articles that gave the same 5 pieces of advice: eat healthy, exercise, get outside, buy a light box, take it easy on the caffeine.


Honestly, one of the most helpful pieces of advice came from Matthew McConaughey of all people. He is talking about a piece of advice he got from Jay Leno years ago. What he has to say here is profoundly simple.

Want to be here.

I heard that, and I just thought, "Well, alright then. I want to be here. Even if here is Minnesota in the winter."

My day wasn't automatically perfect after hearing that, but I did notice that I felt a little less anxious and a little more peaceful. I felt a teeny bit more motivated to get off the couch and work out. I enjoyed the scent of my incense a little bit more. My baby's smile was a bit more endearing. I was extra happy to see my husband come home from work.

Ok, winter. I'm here, so this is where I want to be. Do your worst.


drink of choice

As I was driving to work tonight, I heard about this article on the radio. This gist of the article is that the drink you order on a date says something about you. It might say that you're pretentious, "hot", adventurous, or boring. I thought it was cute and funny, but didn't take it too seriously. Because if you're making your dating decisions based on what people order to drink, that's another issue altogether.

My husband and I met my first year in college, so I have honestly never been on a date where I have been judged based on what I ordered to drink. Unless Justin is secretly judging my drink orders when we go out to eat...in which case he has probably come to the conclusion that I am cheap. Because, help us, we're poor.

Anyway, even if money and calories were not an issue, I would probably still go with a rum and coke - a Cuba Libre if you're fancy. I'd like to think my drink choice says that I'm laid back and I'd rather be on a tropical island sipping rum in the sand. But most likely it says that I don't branch out much. Hey, I've got simple tastes and I stick with what I like.

My other favorite choice would easily be a plain old margarita on the rocks. Because beaches. And tequila. Yum.

What's your drink of choice, and what do you think it says about you?


favorite travel memories | n° 4

Tomsk, Siberia, Russia - Summer of 2006

So this one time, in Russia...

That was our "catchphrase" the whole trip. We were incredulous that we had the opportunity to go to Siberia. Siberia! Who gets to go there? The trip felt so avant garde. While all my friends were going to graduation parties, I was packing a carry-on for three weeks of teaching Vacation Bible School at some mission churches in Russia.

But the specific memory doesn't have much to do with the actual teaching of children. No, that is the story of the "death craft." A story for another day.

Today's story could be entitled "The Night from Hell."

The memory begins when we left rural Iskitim for the more urban Tomsk. With five universities (or so I'm told), there were plenty of opportunities for outreach and mission work. We were put up in a modern and chic apartment with a jacuzzi, modern appliances, and beautiful hard wood floors. We were thrilled with the accommodations, and ready to start our second week of teaching.

Summer in Siberia is much like summer in the midwest: hot, humid, and full of mosquitoes. It was no surprise, then, when we would have to slap at the occasional mosquito in our lovely flat. It didn't bother us one bit. That is, until night fell. One by one, we shut off our flash lights, and let our journals slide off the air mattresses. Drowsy, still a bit jet lagged, and with an early wakeup call, we expected sleep to arrive swiftly.

Instead, I went through all 5 stages of grief due to loss of sleep.

Denial and isolation: Dreamland was within reach when that first mosquito buzzed in my ear. I convulsed on my mattress, then pulled the blanket up over my head - annoyed, but not distressed. 250,000 repetitions of this scenario later, I realized that sleep would not come as easily as I had hoped. I gave my travel alarm clock a furtive glance - hoping not to wake the others.

I needn't have worried, for I was not the only one engaged in this battle of man vs. insect. We collectively tried to deny what was happening - that is until the cat started. Have you ever heard a cat in heat? Or perhaps a drunken cat singing karaoke in an alley? Or perhaps a cat having its claws ripped out one by one? I have. Probably.

Anger: This was the last straw. I sat bolt upright, scowling and huffing in the way only one who is dealing with a snoring roommate can. This time I didn't care if I woke anyone up - I was not going through this agony alone. Once again, I needn't have doubted. The others had similar reactions to the feline performance.  Plots of murder were hatched and fists were shaken. I rent my garments, donned a sackcloth, and beat my chest like a gorilla.

Bargaining: We couldn't end the cat's misery, but we could do something about the mosquitoes. Or so we thought. If you have ever owned a yellow lab and a black coat, and have tried to remove by hand each individual hair shed from your pooch off your coat one at a time, you will know how hopeless this task felt. Bug traps, bug crusades, bug genocide. We tried it all. And each time we crawled back under the covers, the mosquitoes had multiplied. It only confirmed my theory that when you murder a bug, its ancestors come back to haunt you. At this point, I promised to be a better person if only the cat would shut up and the bugs would die.

Depression: At this point I could only cry. I just wanted to sleep. Just. wanted. to sleep.

Acceptance: Finally, we came to terms with the fact that we would have a hilarious story to tell later. We were just not ready to laugh about it at that moment.

Sleep was a long time coming. I think the sun was coming up as my eyes closed, and I know I got ready in 5 minutes the next morning because I hit snooze so many times.

It was the night from hell. But at least the week could only go up from there. And hey - I got my story, didn't I?