Monday, April 3, 2017

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I was reminiscing about a song in a show I've done called "I Speak Six Languages." The character in the play speaks French, German, Russian, Hebrew, and Japanese in addition to English...and she's only 11.

This got me thinking about how I've wanted to learn more than one foreign language. We Americans are woefully inadequate when it comes to learning them. Granted, English is a difficult language to master (indeed, many of us don't seem to have it down yet, and we've been speaking it our entire lives). Furthermore, America is such a large country that we can travel within it for days and not need to know another language to get by--regional accents and terms change, but we can still be understood. Besides, we arrogantly think, the rest of the world is learning English anyway as the international business language, so why should we bother?

I imagine that mentality does not work at all in Europe. The countries there are much smaller, so anyone who wants to travel will likely need to know at least one other language. Besides that, their education system seems geared toward being multi-lingual: most students seem to know their primary tongue, plus English and one or two others by the time they finish high school. One of my classmates was a foreign exchange student from Germany who was taking French more or less for fun, yet it seemed her mastery was already beyond ours.

This isn't limited to just Europe, either. My former neighbor, originally from India, knows Hindi, Punjabi, and at least 3 or 4 other Indian languages in addition to English and Spanish. This, I would suspect, comes not just from his education, which is considerable, but also from necessity: with hundreds of millions of people living in such proximity, speaking dozens of languages and perhaps hundreds of dialects, knowing several of them would be a matter of survival.

More than one travel guide has stated that learning even a little bit of the local language goes a long way. The service is better when they see you're trying; it's a measure of respect, because you're not some American who demands everything in English, as if your language is somehow superior to theirs. And while I haven't traveled abroad yet, how cool would that be to visit Europe and use as little English as possible? I bet you could go almost anywhere and find someone who knows French, German, Italian, or Spanish and get what you want before you have to use English as a last resort.

I've always had a lot of respect for folks who know several languages. At one point, I was pretty good at French, having studied it for one-and-a-half years in junior high, two years in high school, and one year in college. But years of not needing it, and therefore not using it, have taken much of the vocabulary away. I still know the basics, but I'd need a long review to get to where I was. My Spanish is OK, but not great; at least the more frequent use of it has kept it in my head. I don't regret studying French at all; but I know that if I'd learned the same amount of Spanish, I'd still be using it today and would be near-fluent.

Some years ago, Jennifer and I decided to study another language. We debated between Italian and German before settling on German. That was the language she had studied in college, so we thought it would be easier for her to pick up where she left off. It went well for a couple years, and our vocabulary grew to where we could possibly talk to an 8-year-old. But again, the lack of opportunity to use it robbed our enthusiasm, and we stopped.

Now I think we're going to start on Italian. I know, there's no more opportunity in America for Italian than there is for German or French or most other languages, unless you live in an area with a concentration of speakers in one neighborhood. But it's so beautiful to listen to; most of the vowels and pronunciation rules are pretty regular; and so much of English comes from Latin that we already know more words than we realize. Will it be different this time around? We certainly hope so. If we decide we're going to do it, and do it right, we'll be fine.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lessons from Hollywood

It's not often that we see movies which actually teach us or inspire us, but the recent film "Julie and Julia" has done just that. We don't just mean an inspiration to read the book the film is based on, or to do further research on the person or events portrayed. Most movies have that effect on us (as evidenced by our overloaded bookcases). But this film has actually motivated us to be better people. Only once in a while does that happen. Here are some of our thoughts.

JEFF: Usually it's the so-called artistic movies, the ones loved by the Academy, that are considered inspirational. I doubt that "Julie and Julia" will be nominated for many awards, even though Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child is charmingly rendered. But I have gained another level of appreciation for good cooking. Other light-hearted cooking movies like "Ratatouille" and "No Reservations" have done this too. What sets this one apart is the lesson in perseverance. As the author George Eliot said, "It's never too late to become what you might have been."

JEN: First, I think it's an amazing feat to see a film that inspires me to buy a cookbook. As you may or may not know, I don't cook. Despite the mean cookies I bake, I am a person who eats to live rather than anticipating my next gourmet meal. However, I heartily enjoyed the film "Julie and Julia" so much that I'm tempted to place my order on Amazon for Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (as the local Barnes & Noble was out of stock) if only to discover new dessert creations. I found the film delightful both times I saw it.

JEFF: By the time most people get to my age, they are well-established in their careers and family life, and they can easily project the next several years of their lives. I, however, still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Julia Child is a great example of discovering one's passion somewhat later in life and becoming successful with a hidden talent. (Maybe buying the cookbook will awaken a knack for fine cooking in Jennifer after all...)

JEN: I'm not sure that'll actually happen. However, the Bavarian cream that swirled across the screen reminded me of a recipe for Caledonian cream in Godey's Lady's Book, 1860. Anything 19th Century motivates me.

JEFF: While I have no plans to become a gourmet chef, I continue to find pleasure in learning and practicing my culinary skills. Tonight, an omelette with bacon, green bell pepper and squash; tomorrow, perhaps, Beef Bourguignon.

JEN: Inspiration from this film came to me on three levels: first, to want to try my hand at cooking a dish or two; second, encouraging me to be more creative in my writing for Cloak & Corset; third, discovering a new method of brainstorming.

If you have a chance, go see the movie. Then tell us when you're cooking chicken with mushrooms sauteed in a butter, port, and cream sauce, and we'll be your guests for dinner. Bon appetit!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Another Busy Summer Ahead

This time last year, I listed all the activities I planned to do over summer break. I am not so sure that I will be able to do as many varied things, because I have already filled my calendar until August.

I am involved in not one, but two musicals this summer. "Honky Tonk Angels" features the music of the early girls of country: Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and Dolly Parton, among others. Musically, it's not very complicated, but it's going to be fun. This is the country music I was raised on, so I know and like most of the songs already.

The second show, "Into the Woods," weaves the stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and other fairy-tale characters together. The music is quite challenging, but the assembled cast has a great deal of talent, and we are all excited to see how it's going to turn out.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Building a Family Tree

Last week I "broke down" and purchased family tree making software. I figured that all my notes on little and loose sheets of paper needed to be contained in one area. Gee - why don't I use my computer for something like that?

I'm really excited to undertake the task of entering all of this sorted information about my family and ancestors. From ever so many names and dates to photos and fun facts like my 3x-Great-grandfather was born in Ireland and two of my grandfathers lived in Iowa.

Here are my three Ransom great-aunts taken in 1902. I love this photo. They are so adorable.

And for those who follow my Civil War character, Mrs Rosbrugh, or reenact with me on Oak Street, here is my 2x-great-grandmother, Katie Minora Foote Todd, who I've made into my character's Aunt Katie who died shortly after the Oak Street town fire.

I also have the wonderful opportunity of researching 3 lines (my father's and 2 of my mother's) as my mother was adopted (the grandparents I grew up with) but found her birth mother in 1992. I can now trace the blood line back with much information already found by my mother and her sisters.

Yea for computers and ancestors! I don't care about digging up black skeletons 'cause every family has 'em. But those people in my tree went through their life with happiness and struggles like all of us. Their course in life has formed the path down to where I was born. How exciting to connect with the past!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Disneyland Roses

I know these aren't "our" roses - yet, but I was searching thru old photos and found this one I took in May 2007 while at Disneyland. These roses are beautiful!
So much so that we now have three plants of official Disneyland roses in our front flower beds and three more plants coming next week for the back patio. Yippie! Roses and Disneyland - both on my favorites list.