Thursday, August 28, 2014

Profesional Spanish Student

Learning a second language is difficult. It can be frustratingly slow, and as I've said before, my confidence level comes and goes in waves, depending on the hour or day or who I'm talking to.

When we arrived to Guatemala last year, we took 2 months of intensive Spanish study. We had the disadvantage of not being able to live with a host family. The best way to learn a language is to truly be immersed. This wasn't feasible with two little ones, so we spent our afternoons studying, doing homework, and speaking to each other in English.

In our context, MCC will provide up to three months of language study. After our initial two months we had two weeks of orientation in Pennsylvania, followed by three weeks of orientation with the outgoing reps, and then we started working. I definitely could have used another month of Spanish.

I arrived with a very basic level of Spanish. I had taken 2 1/2 years of Spanish in high school, and even did well on the National Spanish Exam (for geeky Spanish students). But, more than ten years after high school, there was a whole lot I didn't know and more that I couldn't understand.

Fortunately, I've had the opportunity to take more Spanish classes throughout the last year. I took some classes last September. Then I took some more a few months later, followed by more in the Spring. After our first-year work evaluation with our bosses, it came to all of our attention that I needed more Spanish. It was humbling (even humiliating?) to admit that I needed to take even more classes. Finally, I took another chunk again over this summer, in between visitors and travelers and work schedules.

One of my biggest hindrances has been that I can go days without speaking Spanish. I do a good amount of reading and writing in Spanish, however. I need to continue to seek out places to practice my Spanish. Each round of classes over the last year has helped me focus on different aspects. I think I can finally say I'm done taking formal classes. I'm not sure I can afford any more time away from work, and I think my Spanish is at a level where I can continue to read and push myself on my own.

I'm ever so grateful for the flexibility and opportunities I've had to continue pushing through the frustrations and slow learning that I've had throughout the year.
4 out of the 5 teachers I've had throughout the year.
I have joked with the teachers at the school where I took classes that I've been an "estudiante profesional" (professional student). The staff and teachers there have been so supportive and lately have repeatedly told me how much they've seen an improvement compared to a year ago. I'm even considered an "advanced" student, something that makes me proud. I recently read another novel in Spanish, which I couldn't have imagined reading several months ago. I was even more proud of the fact that I could read several pages in between needing to look up a word in the dictionary.

I still have a lot to work on, but I have to remind myself that considering how little I sometimes hear and speak Spanish in my daily routine, I've come a loooooong way. I understand the majority of what most people say, and that improves daily. I feel more comfortable with different tenses and forms that don't translate in English.

And, the highest complement and note of progress came just the other day. A woman who we work with on banking stuff, and who I haven't seen or spoken to in several months, just paused in the middle of our conversation to tell me how good my pronunciation is. WOW! Big progress made here. I still pronounce things funny and need to keep working, but it made me feel like it's been worth the hard work.

I have a few Spanish novels sitting on my table, which I'm excited to read. Michael and I joined a young married persons' Bible study/discussion group, and of course, the book we are reading and the discussions we have are in Spanish. I think this means I'm advancing...

I'll end with some recent Spanish blunders. I know I have more, but I can't remember them at the moment:

-I meant to say "Donde pagamos?" (Where do we pay?), but I said, "Donde pegamos?, (Where do we glue?)

-"Necesito un mente," (I need a mind), when I wanted to say, "Necesito una menta" (I need a mint.)

-My teacher told me I need to be careful when I pronounce "pagina," ( because if I don't pronounce it correctly with the accent, it sounds like I'm saying (va-HEE-nah...vagina).

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Big Week

A few really random and unrelated highlights from our week:

Hazel had an especially big week. She switched from her pack 'n play to a toddler bed (which, for the moment, is a mattress on the floor). With Ellie it was a crazy disaster for months because she was always trying to get out of bed once she had freedom, but we've been really lucky with Hazel. She pretty much just stays in her bed. It also means I don't have to hold her at nap time, something that had been increasingly difficult with my growing belly.

Hazel also stopped wearing diapers. We potty trained her at the end of June but then did a lot of traveling for a few weeks and had to revert to diapers for a while. Now that we're home again we dropped them for good (except naps and bedtime), and we sent her to school for the first time this week without diapers. I have to admit, it's kind of nice to have teachers at the school who can help with this "learning" stage when there are still accidents in between successes.

In summary: my Hazel baby is a big 2-year old.

Michael made homemade yogurt this week. Twice. It's delicious and economical. We've calculated that it's less than half the price of buying it, plus we were going through so much yogurt that we have a zillion plastic containers, which we no longer need to accrue. It's also kind of great (for me) that he's made this his "thing," at least for now. I finally got an amazing homemade granola recipe from my friend Kelsey, so we have been eating yogurt and granola every single day. It's Ellie's new favorite.
Today we found out the gender of our baby. Totally not on purpose, Michael and I both wore blue shirts to the appointment. And ate a blueberry muffin afterwards.
But, in the end, is it blue or more pink in our future? Ellie has been saying it's a boy for months, and then all of a sudden today, she told us she thinks it's a sister. Find out. (If the video doesn't work, try this link).

Thursday, August 14, 2014

One reason it's awesome to live in Guatemala City while pregnant, and one reason it's not

How many pregnant women, at one point in their pregnancy, have said something like this:

"I really wish ____________(insert favorite restaurant or cafe or fast food chain) would make home deliveries."

Here in Guatemala, this is a reality. Use your imagination. Just about everything you can think of delivers, not just pizza or expensive flower shops.

Burger King
Kentucky Fried Chicken
Steak houses
Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Japanese restaurants
Fruits and vegetables delivered to your door
Hot dogs
Local dairies

And it's not just limited to food:
Dog groomers
Pharmacies (we once had our antibiotics delivered to our home, a free service)
Car radios
(to name a few)

There's this really great system where every business who offers this service has one phone number. When I call, they figure out what neighborhood I live in, take my order, and inform the closest restaurant to us to send us the delivery. On motorcycles. 

The food gets packed in these boxes loaded on the back of motos. You see these driving all over the city.

There are two things that are lacking from this list, in my opinion: espresso drinks (for example, I doubt Starbucks will whip up a latte and send it in a moto), and ice cream (mainly, Dairy Queen blizzards would be awesome). It's possible that many of the above food places deliver ice cream, but sometimes what they can deliver is limited, and my guess is ice cream might be one of those exceptions. But, I haven't actually tried yet, so I could be totally wrong.

I found a website called (translation: I'm hungry). You enter your location, look at the list of restaurants available for home delivery in your area, call and place an order. Presto!

Recently I saw an advertisement for a local cheesecake shop. And of course, the magic words, a domicilio, which signifies they will deliver to your home.  Seriously, hasn't every pregnant woman, at some point said, "I really wish someone could bring me a cheesecake. I need cheesecake. RIGHT. NOW."
This brings me to one reason I've discovered that it's not awesome to have a baby here: no one here seems to have picked up on the amazing, life-giving, miraculous American tradition of providing meals to families with newborns. With both of our girls, friends set up a schedule and every other night for several weeks we received meals already cooked and ready to eat. This was such a huge blessing that at times I thought it was worth having a baby just to get so many people to cook for us! But alas, here in Guatemala, this doesn't happen. Usually the grandmother of the newborn shows up for a couple months and does all the cooking and cleaning for the house. That isn't going to happen here as neither of our moms can come take over our house for 2 months! Fortunately, I have a whole list of places I can call to bring me meals when I'm too overwhelmed with a newborn to make anything more than cold cereal. Or, when I just feel like a piece of cheesecake and want to blame it on a "craving."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On Netflix and Muffins and Not Moping

A few weeks ago I finished a 5-season television series on Netflix. I won't admit to when I started the series, but suffice it to say that it didn't take 5 seasons to finish it.

I'll go ahead and blame it on being tired and nauseous all the time (which hasn't changed, despite being 17 weeks pregnant. Whoever said nausea ends in the first trimester was telling LIES). Or maybe it's my need for conclusion to any book or movie or program I start. Also, it was a pretty good series with great acting.

But the point is, I didn't do much else. It sort of took over all my free moments of the day. By the last season I was just marathoning it just to get it over with so I could get back to life.

I often come home from work, put Hazel down for a nap, let Ellie watch a bit of TV, and I veg out for a little while on the computer, usually watching some show. But I'm tired of that routine and feel like there are a million other things I could do instead. And more importantly, there are a million things Ellie could be doing instead. Too many times I feel like I wasted my afternoon, but justify it because I feel so little energy.

Today felt different. After putting Hazel down for a nap, I ignored my computer and went straight to the kitchen. I made starter dough for bread out of my leftover breakfast oatmeal (my favorite bread recipe ever), washed dishes, made cranberry orange muffins with Ellie, helped Ellie with her homework, made a grocery list and planned out our meals for the next two weeks-something I haven't done in weeks, worked on a count-down chain to Ellie's birthday (it's in October, which means there are 66 circles to our chain, but she's been insisting on a chain), and now I'm sitting down to blog.
5 of 66. We've got a ways to go.
Sometimes I get into a rut about life here. Or maybe a self-pity party. Namely, I focus on the things I feel like I or my girls are missing out on by not living in the States. Moms groups through my church, playdates, enrolling the girls in sports or music or dance classes, going to the library (it makes me sad that I can't throw the girls in the stroller and jog or walk to the library, something I did with Ellie weekly in Fresno)...things I perceive I'm missing.

But today, as I was grating orange zest for our muffins, I realized that I can mope about things I think I'm missing, or I can miss opportunities to make memories that are right in front of me. I made muffins and spent time with my daughters. That's not missing out on anything. I'd say it's quite the opposite.