Tuesday, September 22, 2020

French Learning: Skip the Boring-Start Speaking

As my husband and I prepare to launch the first of a half a dozen French programs I have been dreaming up for years now, the topic on my mind most often is how to best help someone who wants to speak another language. This has been ruminating about for some time; since I was 19 and noticed that many of the exchange students went back home after a year abroad fluent in French, yet others were still woefully inadequate as speakers of anything other than their native tongue. Why? I had no special skills or gifts in learning, I was certainly not the kid who finished my year with no accent. I did, however, end the year with fluency in French. Were we not all immersed and thus in the most favorable conditions for acquiring a new language? It was not the old disadvantage of age; we were all between 16 and 19 that year. In the following years, patterns would emerge, some involved method, some the company one kept. 

I went on to successfully teach English to the Spanish and later to the French, then French to Americans. The running joke between my students and myself was; 

"How did you learn French so well?"

"I live with my teacher. Don't suppose your partner would object to you moving out for six months, would they? Get a local fellow/gal." 

Right, how about that  of French we were working on again?

The idea of learning with a partner stuck with me, and grew into a plan to make it easy to do. Speak each day with the one you're with? Oui. Sure, you can wake up and say; "Let's speak in French today," and way to go, if you do! But having a method that incorporates meaningful dialog and a script makes it easier to implement. So I wrote one; the original French with Kids, for people home with children, to accompany a daily rhythm. Did I finish recording it and put it out into the world? No, but I am recording right now. Then I wrote one especially for this year, for Corona Times, for two adults to share; at home, across the world via video, anywhere; French at Home. 

As to method, way back when, I began in a strictly prescribed trio of lesson plus workbook plus group exercise used by the language schools of the 90's. That worked sometimes, but what worked best was a student interested in learning, engaged in their own progress and conversations on topics relevant to their life. 

A friend of mine hit on the prime impetus for language and for the dialogs we use today; "a statement should elicit a response. If you tell your child, "go take a shower," and they understand, you will see them head to the bathroom. You both see a direct correlation between what is being said and the answer; spoken or acted upon." In other words, use language for communication. 

The other key element was frequency words, or basing the dialogs on the 500 most used words in the French language, I started at the top, and added in what I know people use every day at home, with a partner or with a family. 

The next post is the email I sent out to a few people to find testers before launching the paid version, this is a free test, and I still have a spot and a half left (meaning; if you do not have a speaking partner, I have one who needs the same. Send me an email.) I am looking forward feedback, because this is all about YOU speaking French, the progress you are making, the ease with which you communicate in French. 








Friday, September 18, 2020

Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Working Out and Utter Frustration

My mind was occupied almost the entire time my body was participating in my gym class this morning;  chattering a mile a minute in time to the music; "isn't this just swell? I am strong and vibrant. I'm going to return home and write one humdinger of an inspiring blog post about how fantastic I feel today. It is all going so well. Everyone deserves to feel as good as I do right now, let's cheer them all up and share this abundance of joy."

One: The French at Home: A Conversation program is about to go live for a first round of testers.

Two: I slept enough hours to feel good when that 5:00 alarm sounded. Small but mighty victory.

Three: My wrist/thumb has been sore, but I decided to weight train anyway. Arthritic thumb confined to a brace all the way to my elbow? Yes, but HERE I AM. I am showing up, growing and making the most of this fabulous life I get to live. 

Back home, I had breakfast, watered the vegetables, new shrubs and flowers, tossed in a load of laundry, all mostly one-handed, and headed upstairs to the office to write. I opened up my laptop, began typing and yelped. pain. I tried a few more key strokes and had to give up. 

The universe may be falling into place as it should, but the wires are all crossed on the messages I am getting. Instead of making progress on a hundred dozen projects, I iced my wrist and had a day of reading, meditation, hovering as my kids did their at-home schoolwork, phone conversations with family, and wondering what it was that life is trying to tell me. Should I not be accomplishing something? Or is the picture bigger, the neglected parts equally needed to fulfill a life and make it whole? 

-Typed with six fingers. Take care, lovely, marvelous readers, and good night. It will look better in the morning. that point, Blogger crashed, leaving me with this post open and unpublished...but since it was still  here this morning, I'll consider it a keeper. I went back to the gym today and only did things that would NOT hurt. You know, one-handed pull-ups, one-handed push-ups, with a (gentle) clap on the way up? I did not. I worked through an Essentrics routine and did squats. I am also typing with all ten fingers. Carefully. 

I've added the above photo of a beautiful, beautiful road, tree-lined along the water, the way I like my paths to look. It reminds me of country roads in France. The end exists somewhere, perhaps, but the flowing water and the trees are right here, beside and above you, a reminder that what you feel, hear, see, smell and know in your heart to be true holds sway over the invisible end. Permission to jubilate.  

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Spaghetti Sauce, Pesto and Other Joys of Being Home

Back in the dutch oven with you. I gave the weepy sauce a mournful look, but then instantly it came to me that this year, it was OK. 

This is a radical thought to have in the year 2020 of the Common Era, I know, but here it was, bubbling up at me from a big, blue pot on my stove. 

This year, I would be home and able to supervise the sauce from beginning to end. Too soupy? No worries, back on to simmer you go. No need to quickly can and or bag and freeze it until I was good and ready to do so; no "surprise tomato substance with no date" found two months later in the deep freeze. 

In the ten years since I began working and being called away at odd hours or out of town, there may have been a year or two in which free tomatoes did not coincide with ideal canning moment. As usual, last week, we made both spaghetti sauce, from my grandmother's recipe, and piperade, from my husband's grandmother's recipe. Hard to tell which is which in the deep, dark bottom of the big freezer. A quick sauce is better than no sauce, certainly, but a perfect even better. A perfect sauce that has been properly canned and labeled? That is living life to the fullest. 

This comfort may be small, but it is grounding and real. 

Ditto for the pesto; the temperatures were dropping to 50 tonight? Crud, my friend, that is how you lose an entire crop of the pansy stuff. Go out in bare feet in the moonlight to harvest basil: check. Wrap in damp towel, knowing tomorrow I will get to it: check. On hand we have pine nuts: also check. We are never without fresh garlic. We are cooks.

Finding joy in the perfect cup of tea, or in being home to cook, home to complete a project, no matter how small, is a tiny burst of joy in a day. 

The sauces were not bad either. 

Recipes? Sure, go ahead, especially if someone just called you with an offer of free produce. Bon appetit!

Spaghetti Sauce

A lot of tomatoes: all the ones you don't want to use for piperade or for a tomato salad with fresh mozzarella and basil, with a vinaigrette made from a mild vinegar; red wine works nicely, the rest of them then:

(cored, peeled (drop in boiling water, remove leaving skin behind)

Garlic (1 clove per 3-4 tomatoes)

Basil (a few leaves, to taste, if dried; 1/4 teaspoon to 3-4 tomatoes)

Oregano (1/4 teaspoon to 3-4 tomatoes)

Olive oil (for sautéing)


Maybe a dash of pepper

Mince garlic, and sauté in the olive oil until golden

Add tomatoes, cook half an hour over medium low heat, reduce to simmer, add basil, oregano, salt, simmer until liquid has been almost all the way reduced. Taste for spices once every hour or so, add salt, pepper, others as needed. 


Is much like ratatouille, but minus the aubergines; garden harvest plus, you guessed it, onions and all the tomatoes you have been given or harvested. 


Classic recipe

2 cups of basil leaves, rather packed

1/3 c pine nuts

3-4 cloves garlic (depending on size and taste for garlic)

1/4 c olive oil

1/4 c Parmesan


In food processor/blender/coffee grinder or Nutribullet, blend basil, add pine nuts, blend, pour in a tiny stream of olive oil as needed to continue mixing.  Add garlic, blend, Parmesan and salt, blend and add olive oil to help with mixing until you have a nice paste. Serve (or rather, add a tiny spoonful) to pasta or anything else.

A word of advice: use copious amounts of mouth wash before venturing forth into the world again.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Meditation, Radical Acceptance and Gratitude Leading to Joy out of Guilt

The most extraordinary thing just happened, and you should know all about it. I would not have believed it if you told me it could happen, all of about twenty minutes ago. 

Like every mother on the face of the earth, I know there are two or three things I could have, would have done better, if given a chance at a "re-do." I have always believed fate to be doubly cruel in giving us the power to regret and the power to remember, but nothing at all in the way of a "reset" or "do-over" button for those moments. And the real number of these little gems is closer to two or three billion, to be real with you. But you knew that. 

Here is what happened. I have given myself a two-day retreat, while still at home, but a break from the constant everything that makes my brain spin from worry and fear and stress. These two days are to delve into meditation, the books I have on mindfulness, healing of spirit and of self, and for quiet introspection. 

Today's first book, a water-logged, dog-eared, much beloved copy of Thich Nhat Hahn's "Peace is Every Step." I read until I came to what I needed to read and meditated on it for the rest of the morning. This is, of course, between sitting in meditation and doing laundry (this is a real home and not a hotel retreat center, after all). The passage was about a lost smile, and how everything around you is holding on to that smile for you until you can let it return. The lines; "You don't need to feel isolated. You only have to open yourself to the support that is all around you and in you." Sometimes, as the "head of household" be it mother or father, we take it upon ourselves to hold it all, hold it in, hold it together, hold ourselves apart, marked, separate and solely responsible for the mayhem and pain. 

The second book is brand new to me. According to my Kindle, I had previously read about 12% of it, but today I wanted to take the time to read it all. The title is "Radical Acceptance" by Tara Brach. The exercise that just changed me forever is about learning to say "yes". You sit with a difficult experience and allow the emotions of that to come to mind. As they do, you first apply denial; say "no" and keep saying "no", and as you do so, you remark how you feel; in your throat, your gut, the tightening of your eyes and clenched fists. Then replay the same difficult experience and say "yes", "yes" as the memories and feelings roll past you. 

Here is what happened next for me;  few minutes after this experience,  I had gone downstairs, to make tea. Of a sudden, all of the other memories that had happened at the same time, but were not associated with the many parenting mistakes I always dwell on, came rushing back in all of their happiness, peacefulness and joy. I had access to beautiful moments that my monkey brain had locked away behind the guilt for so long. My gratitude is overwhelming.