Tuesday, August 31, 2010


It's raining.  I love scent of rain after a long dry spell.  I wonder if all my incipient cantaloupes will split, but I won't really mind if they do because it's raining plip plop patter patter rain pooling and splashing and glancing off of leaves crisped around the edges even though I watered at least once a week because it's been so dry.

When it rains after a long dry spell I sleep a special kind of deep sleep, different though not better or worse than napping on a hot day.  It's a cool, slippery kind of sleep, mysterious and full of graceful omens.  Sometimes it's a little scary, but somehow peaceful at the same time, how the falling water carries my subconscious away and how everything, even my heartbeat, my breath, the pulse of blood changes with that first rain.  It's beautiful, but not as beautiful as when I wake up in the darkest time to rain.  The sound and scent and blissful cool soothe the heat from a weary body and parched skin drinks in moisture, easing pain so slight and pervasive only its absence is felt.

The rain dilutes itself over time, and I'll begin to drown as the rainy season floods my senses.  But in the beginning ... it's liquid magic.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

It's Not All Greek to Me

I try not to rant too much, but every once in awhile someone says something that brings that sort of thing out in me.

Someone hit a wrong button on a debit card machine and somehow got into the Spanish menu.  "I hate this!" she burst out.  "This is America!"
Shorthand for this is America and we only speak English here, and everyone else has to speak English too.
Regardless of whether they're just visiting as opposed to permanent or semi-permanent residents?  Regardless of age?
Yes, I think that people who decide to come live here ought to try to learn English in order to get by in our country, and I agree that kids should, if they're in mainstream schools, have all their tests in English, etc.  


I think the hostility is misplaced.  My DH told me about how in Istanbul he found it remarkable that his waiter could get by, at least enough to do business, in a dozen languages.  And then he found out that was true in another restaurant.  And another.  And another.  Naturally this worked out great for him, since he could only barely get by in Arabic.  It left a deep impression on him, not only because the waiters were so clever/intelligent/adaptable, but because it showed so much hospitality.

I know many people feel like this country has been too hospitable to immigrants, especially illegal ones, but please read on.

When my family went to the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia and behind the Iron Curtain) to visit family, a *huge* number of citizens there knew English, Russian and German.  In fact, we were standing in a store line in a duty-free store and my father tugged on my mom's sleeve.  "Hey, that little kid is speaking perfect Czech!" he said in Czech.  "Yeah," my uncle said behind him, not missing a beat, "and that German kid is speaking really good German too."  There were so many languages bandied about that he'd forgotten we were in Prague for a moment.  And the locals could understand the vast majority of languages spoken by everyone in that store.  Was the Czech identity bankrupt because of this?  No.  It's a country proud of its culture, a culture that lacks diversity to a certain extent because so many people that come to live there become absorbed.  They become Czech within a generation, sometimes less (invaders often found that a large percentage of their population went 'native.')  

Sound familiar?  Ah, America, the great melting pot ... but somehow some of its citizens have become fearful not just of immigrants, but of ... what?  Having lots of languages spoken on her soil?  I have to wonder what the harm in that would be.  All I can think of is how much we have to gain, not by increasing the number of 'national languages' (there's no need to be so official and mandate-y) but by expanding our ability to communicate with the whole world.  Aren't there any people/opinions/blogs/whatever out there written in foreign languages worth connecting with?

Back in the day, schools were expected to teach children at least one foreign language, a musical instrument, at least one classical language like Latin or Greek, art, and literature.  Bare minimum.  As public schools became more and more strapped for money to hire good instruction, private schools became the last hold-out for the 'classic' education.  

Are people afraid of America becoming multi-lingual because they themselves might be left behind?  I don't know if there are people who are multi-lingual who hold the point of view that we shouldn't have multi-lingual tech support and language choices on ATMs and debit machines.  I know, the schools don't have time and resources to have mandatory languages taught in them from an early enough age to create multi-lingual fluency.  But shouldn't kids be learning something at home too?  Which gave me an intriguing idea--maybe our family should pick a language and only speak that at dinner.  Movie and a dinner could be done with the movie in, say, French, with English subtitles to help us follow the story.  

But I digress.

Another story from Prague--my sister and I were in a crystal shop, talking while we waited in line.  I overheard one of the clerks say "Look, they're Americans.  Let's make them wait."  I turned to her and said "I can understand what you're saying."  She turned beet red and had to retreat to the back room, she was so embarrassed.

Ignorance is ignorance, and prejudice is prejudice.  People speaking Spanish or French or German or Japanese on the bus amongst each other are speaking in their native language--the language they can speak the best.  While my sister and I were in that store, we could have only had the most simplistic conversation, since we don't know Czech as intimately as we do English.  Were we trying to be secretive?  No.  But we did have a huge advantage--we understood Czech.  Don't think for a second that people who struggle with English (and it's a tough language, even for people who speak languages in the same family) can't understand you.  It's you who can't understand them, whether it's accent, or the way they struggle with grammar, or the softness of a voice made shy by unfamiliarity--or because you can't speak their native language.  Despite any awkwardness in English, they have the advantage.  Maybe that's where the fear comes in.  But you know, that advantage is easily negated by language books on tape or a night class.  Should you have to?  No.  But I didn't beat my arachnophobia by insisting that the government eradicate all the spiders in the U.S., or genetically modify them so that they didn't come into my house or build their webs across the sliding glass doorway (I hate that!)  I had to learn about spiders to help ease my fears.  I also had the choice to continue to do the heebie-jeebie dance every time I saw a spider in the bathtub, and to live in dread of going outdoors in summer.  But that would have made a very narrow, fearful life for me.  

The person with two or more languages in their heads is someone whose intelligence I can respect.  And I have to admit that I lose respect for people who cling to one and claim it is the only language anyone should communicate in because of where they are, with no regard to that person's business there.  And that business may be something that takes only a few days, or a few hours.  Just because someone speaks Spanish (or French, or German, or ...) it doesn't automatically mean that they plan to spend the rest of their lives in the place that they happen to be.  I doubt anyone in tourist-weary Paris would expect me to know more than a handful of badly-pronounced French phrases, and they would famously rescue me by speaking really good English, or locating someone passing by who knows it.  Are we as Americans somehow safer, or better, or more patriotic, or more special because it would take much longer to find someone passing by who spoke French if a Parisian happened to be visiting our country?

By the way, no one is forcing anyone to learn Spanish or any other language to get by in America.  If there are a lot of Spanish or other-speaking people around, chances are if you say hi in English, they'll say hi back, and even say how are you in English.  And those signs have English as the top option, often in a bigger font.  No skin off my back, or anyone else's, right?  If I'm wrong, please correct me.

Another thing.  Based on my observations of my grandmother who has been trying to learn English starting in her fifties (she's now almost 90)--sometimes, for whatever reason, some people who become permanent citizens simply can't learn more than a little English.  Should they be thrown out because they can't learn English (or denied citizenship in the first place)?  I don't know the answer to that one, but I must say it makes me uncomfortable to think of all the wonderful, talented people from all around the world who make a living in our country who would be denied work visas or citizenship based on their linguistic ability.  (Not to mention I'd sure miss my grandmother!)  I personally don't care what language my surgeon speaks.  I just want him to be the best surgeon I can get.  This was highlighted in a weird little news story I read in the newspaper today about how certain countries have shortages in various professions because they're restricting citizenship.  Because they don't have the right schools, or there isn't enough interest (who would have thought England would be short on people who know how to shear sheep?  But they are.  I'm not making this up!) they have no choice but to hope that someone from another country will come in to fill the gap.  Except ... yeah.  Sorry, apparently the sheep shearers willing to move over don't fulfill immigration requirements.  Guess there'll be a wool shortage, and some pretty unhappy sheep.

Anyway, I'll keep my opinions about immigration, illegal or otherwise, to myself.  Regardless of stance, though, pouring anger into hatred of foreign language being spoken on our soil (oh, the audacity) and having signs in many languages (thank goodness they had those in Montreal,) or having an option for Spanish and/or French, or other languages on product packaging--I don't see a reason to beat up on that.  I'm proud that I can stumble along in more than a couple of languages on those multi-lingual signs.  And I'm sorry, but it makes more sense to have Spanish and French on our street signs than Braille on a drive-up ATM (though I understand that that can be useful at times.)  

Sometimes I choose the Spanish option just to see how far I can get in a computer menu.  Worried about Alzheimers?  Screw learning Sudoku.  Learn a foreign language.  Now that's real brain work.  

This is the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, not Land of the Willfully Ignorant and Home of the Afraid.  Yay America, the Great Melting Pot!  I'm proud to be a (multi-lingual) American.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Deeper Shade of Gold

I had a busy couple of weeks. Guests from the Denver area (hi Marc & Diana!) and work and all that kind of thing, plus I was sick for a couple of days. Luckily (sort of) I didn't have to call in, so I didn't miss any work days.

The weather shifted from hot to normal Pacific NW summer, if there is such a thing, in this last little stretch. The earth is dry, perfumed with scents of hay and hidden dew when I weed. The chickens are growing fast--not getting bigger so much as stronger and they're having trouble peeping like chicks when I come out to feed them. Soon their baby voices will be gone forever, but I'm not sad about that. It's cute, but I find the soft clucks they make charming, and I love waking to the roosters crowing.

Speaking of roosters, so far we have just the two, Henry and a still-to-be-determined Wyandotte. The Wyandotte won't crow when I go out there, so I only see his neck stretch and his wings flap from afar. Henry will crow any time he feels like it, and he only protests a little when I pick him up. It's hard to tell if he likes getting petted and carried around, but at minimum he's learned that I won't hurt him and that he'll be able to go about his business again as soon as I set him down.

Fun times. If there's a hint of sadness, it's because I smell autumn most mornings these days, and it feels too soon. And yet, I'm anticipating that wonderful, soaring longing I feel that we call The Wandering that autumn brings.

It's been a very short summer, one of the shortest we've had since 2002 (or was it 2003?) I remember complaining about the wet, cold June. The talk around town is that we'll have a really rough winter this year. I wonder if I'll finally be able to try out my snowshoes. The girl has, but that's because she went snowshoeing on Mt. Hood with her grandma. So far, local conditions haven't called for them ever since I got them as a Christmas present, a present that I couldn't receive until after we thawed out. Of course I didn't need them anymore that year ....

Time to make lists and lay plans, and to plant onion and carrots to overwinter. Mother Nature won't wait and neither can I if I'm to have half a hope of spring leek soup.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bring on the Heat

We're in the midst of some hot weather, so my day off turned into the day of water. Watering the garden (sprinkler going all day except between 2-4pm,) taking the dogs to the river to soak them, drinking lots. Of water! Jeez, people.

It makes me happy. I like water, and any excuse to play in it on a beautiful day sounds good to me. I like the heat too, and so do my veggies. Tomatoes stalled out in the green stage are starting to turn yellow. The zucchini fruits finally began to swell. After a third day of really warm weather, they might even grow to eating size. And cantaloupe! The little thimble-sized starts that I figured would wither and drop off in the cool weather started to grow. I've got one the size of a golf ball. It might just make it to grapefruit size or even bigger before the weather turns. That would be awesome.

Ah, such low expectations when my hopes had been so high. We had a really, really good early spring, and then the warmth went away and didn't come back. But all is not lost. We often don't get frost until Halloween, so if I garden carefully and well, and cover the warm-loving plants at night and protect them from too much moisture (sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it?) I may have an excellent harvest after all.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Working Two Jobs

I'm starting to remember how precious days off from work can be, especially when I know I won't have two in a row for a while.

Daily writing becomes a serious challenge, as everyone who writes with a day job knows.  The trick, key, whatever you want to call it, is to decide to do it, and then do it regardless of how much time you have in a given day.  If all you have is fifteen minutes out of your lunch, then you have to make the commitment.

Fortunately I have a job that, despite having a variable schedule, is set between fixed hours.  I know the absolute latest hour I'll be home from work on a given day, even if I work the entire day (a shift and a half.)  I also know the absolute earliest that I'll have to come in.  Given those parameters, I can decide in advance if I'm going to write in the mornings or the evenings.  Any other times are bonus times.  I *can* write any time that I'm not at work.  I *choose* to write in the evenings after 9pm, and if I get a little in before work, that's awesome too.  

Without choosing my time to write and then writing at that time, I'd have a lot more missed days for my daily writing goal.  Some people can do it on a day-by-day basis.  I can't.  I need a schedule, or I'm far more likely to blow it off.

Lately I've been writing, instead of reading in bed.  I'm sure it'll change my writing style a bit.  I hope it's for the better.  But at the very least I'm getting words on the virtual page, and that's a writer's primary job, regardless of what the day job might be.

I can see this working on a much more variable schedule with rolling shift changes, but it would require a calendar and a good combination of high expectations and a gut-level knowledge of what you could realistically do.  Thankfully I'm not in that situation.  I think I'd end up doing a lot less writing.

What are your writing habits like?  Do you need to schedule them?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Roof? Woof.

The boy and I climbed the ladder onto the roof and surveyed the job.  Didn't look so bad, and we didn't have to do the south-facing side.  If it were inside the house, it would take maybe an hour to sweep and mop.

And so we began to sweep, and scrub, and discovered the joy that is moss on the roof.

It smells like fish, even when it's dry.  Okay, maybe fish isn't quite right.  Fishy, though, like algae, like the ocean but sans the salt.  It likes to cling tightly to roofing material, which, by the way, is hot in the sun.  Really hot.  As in I couldn't sit on my ass in a new spot without feeling the burn.  But I had to sit sometimes.  Our roof has two levels and I had to get under things and scrape stuff.  Some of it just rolled and bounced off the roof like a lopsided ball, while other bits were more lively and gripped hard.  Those I had to take on with a scrub brush or sometimes, gently, with a screwdriver.

Two days later ...

After work I made some dinner.  While I cooked the boy came into the kitchen and announced that he's finished the last section.  I leap with joy, I heap on the praise, and then remind him that we still have to clean the gutters.


Oh yes, it's time to get back on the roof again.  This time we were on our bellies with our bare arms on the rough, scratchy stuff scraping out handfuls of debris.  It only takes about a half hour, though, and then we rinse.

We climbed down the ladder and surveyed our handiwork.  Ah, the happiness of success and a job well done.

Only now the front of the gutters looks really dirty by comparison, and I notice the paint around the eaves needs to be redone.

It's the curse of a housewife's eye.  Do people really wonder how honey-do lists come to be?  But I'm a working lass now, so I'm free to ignore it for now so I can go earn a paycheck.