December 30, 2012

My Tour of Languages

I've read that the optimum time to learn a new language is somewhere between birth and age 7. Does that mean it's way too late for me? I am fascinated by people who can speak more than one language. Being bilingual (or multilingual) seems like it would be a useful personal and professional skill. So I've been thinking about where I went wrong.

How is it that I was born and raised in south Florida where there's a big Cuban population and also spent the last 13-years in Texas and never had a legitimate opportunity to learn Spanish? Step back in time with me as I revisit my (educational) youth and see where I went astray.

Back in Florida I went to the same school from kindergarten through ninth grade. For some reason at this school there seemed to be emphasis on French. As early as fourth grade I remember having time each day, or maybe a few times a week, where Madame Ketchens would walk into the classroom. We'd all stand up and say, "Bonjour Madame."  She'd reply, "Bonjour, mes enfants. comment allez-vous?" That's about all that stuck with me.

Ralph Furley or Madame Karella?
There was a different French teacher during the middle school years, Madame Karella (guessing at the spelling). Kids can be cruel, so behind her back Madame Karella was jokingly known as "My D*** Gorilla." Anyway, the only other interesting thing I remember about French class in middle school was that Madame Karella used to dress like Mr. Furley on Three's Company. But she was a lot less funny.  

December 28, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday - Vol. 2

--- 1 ---
Babies have a knack for making the funniest sounds at the most inappropriate moments. Take Christmas Mass, for example. Right at the quiet moment after everyone said, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. But only say the word and my soul shall be healed," our two-month-old let out a loud, explosive-sounding poop. That's not the word we were expecting.
--- 2 ---
The little one also amused us right after Christmas Mass as we walked up to the nativity scene to wish Jesus a happy birthday. I snapped this quick picture. Check it out. Yawning at the baby Jesus! [gasp]

--- 3 ---
New Year's Eve isn't a big deal in our household. In fact, I can't even remember the last time I attended an official New Year's Eve party. It's probably been seven or eight years. And ever since we became parents in 2006, staying up until the clock strikes 12 has been even less appealing. Remember one of the first rules of being a parent of small children: Sleep when the kids are sleeping. I suppose if the baby happens to wake us up just before midnight Monday night, we'll say happy new year, listen for the neighbors' illegal fireworks and then hopefully go back to sleep quickly.

--- 4 ---
While many people partied on New Year's Eve in 1999 to ring in the year 2000, I was hard at work (or at least at work). That was back in my previous professional life when I worked in TV news. In case the world was going to end due to the Y2K problem, my employer was doing live updates every hour all day and night to show the ball dropping in every time zone across the globe. But despite the fears that all computers would spontaneously combust, here we are 13 years later. My computer is working fine, but thankfully it's not the same computer.

--- 5 ---
I don't do new year's resolutions. It seems like a practice that would only make me sad to think about all the things I should have done in 2012. Besides, if there's something I need to do (or do better), I'll take that up with God in prayer.
--- 6 ---
I had forgotten that Sherman Hemsley had died this year until I just saw one of those end-of-the year musical obits on TV. Here are my two favorite George Jefferson lines from The Jeffersons: 1) Florence the maid was helping to organize a housekeeper's union to push for higher wages and working conditions. She hosted a union meeting in the Jefferson's apartment while they were out. George came home and was angry and wanted to kick everyone out. He said to one of the maids, "Do you know how to use a broom." She said, "of course," so he said, "Then hop on yours and fly out of here!" 2) George came home from work one day and Weezie asked him how his day was. He said, "I'll give you the good, the bad and ugly. Business was good, traffic was bad, and then there's Florence!" Poor Florence.

--- 7 ---
What kind of shifts to UPS drivers work during the holidays? Our UPS guy delivered a package at 8:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Do they start their day early in the morning and have to stay out as long as it takes to deliver everything? I would have asked him, but whenever he delivers he does the ol' ding dong dash. You know, when you ring the doorbell and make a run for it. Usually by the time we get to the door, the big brown truck is already on its way. Wow, long day. Here's to you, UPS guy.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary.
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December 23, 2012

Mother Teresa on the Side of the Road

On the fourth Sunday of Advent, Fr. Paul started off his homily by telling one of his favorite stories:

One day Mother Teresa had an important appointment to meet Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. She spotted an injured person on the side of the road and immediately told the other nun who was driving to pull over. Mother Teresa knelt by the person's side to pray for him and comfort him while waiting for medical help to arrive. The nun behind the wheel kept reminding Mother Teresa that they needed to go because she was going to be late for her meeting with the Pope. But Mother Teresa said she couldn't leave yet. Finally when the other nun told her one more time that they needed to go, Mother Teresa said something like this: "Fine. You go meet with the Pope while I stay here with Jesus." 
Christmas is a time to remember that we need to see Christ in everyone. And don't forgot that others see Christ in us.

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They Call Me the Dish Ninja

Card-carrying introverts have to come up with quick strategies to cope with common occurrences that only extroverts crave. (And apparently, we like alliteration too.) Take holiday meals, for example. In our household we hosted an early Christmas dinner on Saturday afternoon because of the out-of-town relatives' other scheduling commitments. Including ourselves, we had eight adults and three kids.

Are you finished with your plate?
While I always appreciate the kindness and company of family, and of course the true meaning of Christmas, I still have to admit that having visitors drains my mental battery. How do I do my part to keep up with and contribute to all the conversations at the dinner table and beyond?

My strategy: I transform from a humble, mild-mannered husband and father into a dish ninja. (This new nickname was bestowed upon me yesterday.) I become the world's quickest, most efficient table clearer, dishwasher loader, pot and pan scrubber, and dishwasher emptier in the world.

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December 21, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday

--- 1 ---
I found the clever 7 Quick Takes Friday template on the Conversion Diary site which is always a good read for parenting, family, conversion, Catholicism and more. It's also the home of the astute Minor Revisions reality show, although I hesitate to call it a reality show because I wouldn't want you to lump it in with the usually useless reality show drivel on TV. I can proudly say I've never seen a single full episode of Survivor, Jersey Shore or any of those singing and/or dancing competition shows. Of course, my reality show avoidance is less about seeking smart programming and more about not watching much TV in general.
--- 2 ---
Unfortunately I wasn't able to see the second episode of Minor Revisions last night, but based on the tease at the end of the first show as well as the running commentary on Twitter during the second, there are definitely a couple of things that would have been fun to see. There's a segment in the office of Dr. Jeremy Kalamarides; I've accompanied my wife to many an appointment there. (Thank you, Dr. K, for the coffee and water bottles in the waiting room!) And there's a chat with famed Planned Parenthood director turned pro-life advocate Abby Johnson. Several months ago, my six-year-old daughter, also named Abby, had one of those "Hey, my name is Abby too!" moments with the famous Abby in the ladies room of an Austin hotel.

--- 3 ---
I'm trying to cherish every moment of parenthood. Wednesday was my first grader's last day of school before Christmas break. Thursday morning I was kind of sad that I would be driving to work and not stopping to take her to school on the way. I really enjoy our Abby/Daddy time when we sit in the lobby of her school waiting for the bell to ring.

--- 4 ---
But the happy thing about school being out is that the wife and kids got to visit me at work. Abby drew this on the dry erase board in my office. I'll never erase it!

--- 5 ---
I think I need to make my 7 Quick Takes entries quicker, hence this especially short #5.

--- 6 ---
I haven't been paying much attention to all the silly chatter about the end of the world that's supposed to be happening today. But I did post a less-than-brilliant joke by Tweeting: "Hurrying to post one last tweet before the end of the---"

Get it? the world ended before I could finish it. If you liked that joke, thank you very much. If you didn't like it, I borrowed the concept from Steve Martin who once tweeted a similar joke about his cell phone battery dying.

--- 7 ---
As Christmas approaches, let me borrow something else from Steve Martin. He offered the following holiday wishes on an episode of Saturday Night Live in the early 90s (paraphrased):
I wish you all a happy holidays. And I say "happy holidays" just in case you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or some weird astrology cult that you believe in but everybody else knows is hogwash.
Of course, the faith teaches me to love and respect everyone's beliefs. But a good joke is okay too!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!
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December 20, 2012

A Fact of Life: Christmas with Mrs. Garrett is Divine

This year my six-year-old has picked up on what’s sure to be a hilarious Christmas tradition in my family. Here’s all we have to do: in a mock operatic-voice, and very loudly and off key, sing the word “diviiiiiiiiiiiiine,” and she’ll instantly drop to the floor and roll around laughing.

What’s so funny about that? Well, let me tell you a thing or two about the facts of life. No, no, not those facts of life. I mean The Facts of Life.

Last year around Christmas, I had a flashback from the 80s. For reasons unknown, I suddenly remembered a very special (that’s usually how you describe a sitcom when it tackles “tough” issues like drugs, etc.) Christmas episode of The Facts of Life. I don’t recall why, but Mrs. Garrett and the girls had to perform a makeshift Christmas show in front of a bunch of angry inmates in a jail. They called the episode, “Christmas in the Big House.”

The most memorable performance in the pokey was Mrs. Garrett’s rendition of O Holy Night. Wait ‘til you hear her hit the high note: “diviiiiiiiiiiiiine!” (You’ll get your chance below.) I remembered it being both good and hilarious, and I just had to hear it again. Sure enough, it’s on YouTube thanks to canw1, whomever you are.

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December 18, 2012

Must (Not) See TV

One area in which I break ranks with my introverted brethren is watching television. Introverts like to be alone, so they sit around and watch tons of TV, right? No, not me. So if we're standing at the water cooler and you start talking about how great last's night's episode of [insert your favorite prime time TV show here] was, I'll smile to be polite but will have no clue what you're talking about.

Granted, if I weren't married with children I'd probably be in front of the TV every night. But I truly value the very limited time I have with my family on work days. As soon as I get home from work, the clock is ticking: eat dinner, have some family time, get the kids bathed, have prayer time and then everyone goes to bed. Yes, when the kids are asleep, we don't waste time watching TV. We get to bed ASAP because you never know when the baby's going to start crying.

I honestly can't even remember the last time I watched a prime time network television program. To prove my point, I was racking my brain to try to guess the names of any shows that are in the top ten in ratings. My only guesses were The Office (I sort of recall that being a popular "hey did you watch it last night" topic) and Two and a Half Men (since it always winds up in the news whenever a cast member has a meltdown).

I should point out that I've never seen a single episode of The Office, and I think I've probably seen a handful of episodes of Two and a Half Men, though none recently since I try to have a higher moral standard for entertainment.

Okay, let's check the scoreboard and see how I did. Mr. Nielsen, take it away:

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December 17, 2012

Connecticut Tragedy: Up the River

How do you explain the mass murder of 20 first grade children to your own first grader? Here’s how I did it. 

Our daughter hadn’t heard anything about it when she came home from school on Friday. Good! As parents, we’ve always tried to be very open with her about some of the realities of life. After all, she’s a cancer survivor who had surgery when she was five-days old and chemotherapy before she turned two. She’s even attended the funeral of another former chemo kid she had met in the hospital. So we usually talk openly about medical issues and their severity, including the possibility of death and the desire to go to heaven. But the murdering of children is a little too much. So we waited and didn’t necessarily have an immediate game plan.

Fast forward to Sunday morning Mass. Our six-year-old usually likes to follow along with the readings and songs in the book, but I’m not sure how much of the homily she’s able to digest. On this particular day, she was not as focused as she usually is at Mass. Fr. Steve’s homily was all about the Connecticut shootings. But he very skillfully avoided any specific mention of exactly what happened. Brilliant! He delivered a powerful message without scaring anyone.
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Service With a Smile

What's the first thing that pops into your mind when you get invited to holiday luncheon at work? The answer may be either Oh, great! (excited, enthusiastic voice), or Oh, great! (dejected, downtrodden voice). This is what separates the extroverts from the introverts.

My internal battery depletes quickly in a crowd, especially in those "forced" social situations. I need to be alone (or with immediate family hanging out quietly at home) to recharge my battery. But in the workplace, we introverts have to make nice and show up at employee functions nonetheless.

I've been lucky enough to work for generous employers that have provided holiday luncheons over the past several years. Times like these were made for extroverts (apologies to Taster's Choice), so I found a great way to get by: serve the food!

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