February 27, 2009

How My Mind Works

Yesterday I was eating lunch in the cafeteria* at work, and a thought occurred to me: If** God really is all-powerful, then right here and now, He*** could inflate my body until I exploded.

Hopefully he doesn't.

*First Digression: I was eating what they call pastel aleman,**** which I guess translates linguistically to "German pie," but culinarily, it translates into "casserole with mashed potato base, chopped hot dog, and melted cheese on top." It's pretty tasty, actually, and one of my more-liked dishes from the cafeteria.

**Second Digression: Here I don't mean to say God isn't all-powerful, though; it's more of a ponderance.

***Third Digression: I say "He" just because I needed to use some sort of pronoun to avoid the redundancy of using the word "God" twice in a sentence... maybe God isn't a "He" or a "She" or even a "G-d"; in fact, wouldn't God be above and beyond gender? One way or the other, grammatically-speaking, "God" would still fall into the category of a third-person singular noun, and you gotta put an "s" at the end of most of your verbs that you conjugate to match a third-person singular noun, people! (As I tell my students)

****Fourth Digression, a Digression from the First Digression: I sometimes confuse pastel aleman and pastor aleman, at least when I'm speaking. The latter means "German Shepherd." Believe me, people aren't nearly as friendly if you tell them you had German Shepherd for lunch.

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February 25, 2009

It Certainly Does Sound Like A "Merry Land"

In my travels, I discovered that the state motto for Maryland is, "Fatti maschii, parole femine." According to Wikipedia (also the source of the seal picture above), that means, "Manly deeds, womanly words."

Sometimes I miss America.

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February 22, 2009

Sitzmedia: Sunday Magazine

Hi everyone! I'm back with another "Sunday Magazine" filled with the news and curiosities that I came across this week. I'm not sure if anyone is reading these, but I know that it's the kind of thing that would interest me. And, in fact, these articles did:

For a bit of international news, here's a Toronto Star article that my Canadian coworker sent to me. It's called "The Truth Is, Canada, America Isn't Into You." It's pretty interesting, and it's funny how the author claims that the U.S. doesn't like our neighbors in The Great White North because they're friendly and boring. It's almost good enough to make me stop talking crap about Canadians at work. Almost.

For our next course, check out this article from The Atlantic entitled "The Next Slum?" It caught my attention because the area in question that may become a slum is American suburbia. It's an interesting piece about how and where Americans choose to live, and why the future doesn't look too bright for suburbs. Plus it mentions Kurt Russell--twice.

If that wasn't enough and you're still looking for another long-ass Atlantic article about life in America in the current depression, check out this one entitled "How The Crash Will Reshape America." It's more in-depth, and it takes a look at different American geographical regions and considers how they'll fare in the current economic crisis. Basically, good news for Pittsburgh, and bad news for hot-as-balls places in the Southwest like Phoenix and Vegas. It's more of a strain on the eyes and brain, but if you've got an extra half-hour and an ounce of geopolitical curiosity, it's well worth your time.

Finally, if you live in the 'burbs and those last two articles left you with a gloomy sense of impending doom, check out this article called "Ned Ludd's Radiohead," which closely examines similarities between George Orwell's 1984 (a book which I'll be reviewing soon) and Radiohead's excellent album "OK Computer" (number two on my all-time top five!). The article is from a site called "Exploring Faith" of all places, but because of that fact, it appreciates the book and the album both from a secular as well as a religious viewpoint. An excerpt:

"As people of faith, we would be wise to take note of the ways in which technology, mass marketing and the lightning fast pace of our culture tend toward the deterioration of the human spirit. When approaching advances in technology and science, we ought to stop and ask ourselves what type of end these sorts of means may bring about [...] We owe a debt to the work of Radiohead, and others, for showing us that blindly embracing the age can often lead to an evisceration of the spiritual life, and for that warning, we should be grateful."

So, that's it for this week's Sunday Magazine. Hope you enjoyed something about it, and I hope that your weekend wraps up nicely!

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February 21, 2009

Plugged: Droppin' Drops And Poppin' Pills In Coast Tasty

A random sampling of free, state-provided meds that I found in our house

For about a week, I’d been hearing an echo in my right ear, so on Thursday I went to the nurse at my work. The nurse used one of those little lights to look inside my ear and told me that I had a plug of wax in there. Actually, she said I had a “tapón de cera” which, due to my plugged ear, sounded like “wax tampon”; not to sound gynophobic,* but that’s a pretty disgusting thought, frankly.

Fortunately, the nurse immediately gave me some drops to dissolve the wax. I know that I do a lot of complaining in this blog, but one thing that’s pretty great about this country is the free drugs. I didn’t have to pay for the ear medicine, and I also didn’t have to pay for any of the other drugs that the nurse has given me in the past. I occasionally go into the “Medical Services” office and simply tell them what’s bothering me, and I walk out about two minutes later with assorted free medications. On different occasions they’ve treated my congestion, my cough, my post-cafeteria gas, my post-cafeteria upset stomach, my headache, my sore throat, and now my plugged ear, and every time I’ve gone it’s been free.

I do know that the country’s socialized medical care system is far from perfect, though. The state clinic in Berlín is only open one morning a week, and due to draconian practices and idiotic restrictions, people line up for hours to get a place in line. But if/when the people are attended to, it’s all still free. I’m just lucky that I can pass by the nurse’s office on my way from my desk to the cafeteria (or, as is more often the case, on my way from the cafeteria to my desk).

All of this is to begin a gradual series of things about Costa Rica that drive me nuts, but which also have a great, positive side. Or vice-versa. As I said, the healthcare system here is nice because it gives me drugs like pseudoephedrine for free, and all I have to do is ask for it; to get the same medication in the US, depending on the state, it may be displayed behind a drugstore counter like some boxed porn, I’d have to show identification, and I’d be limited to two boxes… and all of that would be before I paid 5 or 10 dollars for the simple, generic version. (Although I guess we’ll have to see how long it takes before Costa Ricans follow American Midwesterners’ example and blow up their garages and toolsheds when their shoddily-built meth labs start exploding.)

Another piece of anecdotal evidence of a healthcare system that deals with patients by treating them instead of avoiding them: about a year ago my brother-in-law’s wife had some sort of stone removed from her; I can’t remember if it was bladder or gall or what. In any case, the consultations, the surgery, and the hospital stays were all free.

On the other hand, you can occasionally find newspaper articles about patients trying to see a specialist, and then being given an appointment in 2012. Or patients chaining themselves to the main public hospital in San Jose to demand an appointment with a neurologist. Or citizens in areas away from the capital protesting to get a doctor stationed in their city.

So like I said, the system here definitely isn’t perfect, but as long as my ailments can be cured with the administration of a 10-pill blister pack of some random medication instead of through major invasive surgery, I should be sitting pretty down here for some time to come.

*If "gynophobic" is a word

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February 20, 2009

Three Pictures

For your Friday pleasure, here are three pictures I'd meant to put up before, but never had the chance to:

Here Angela and I are in the mountains over the coast of Puntarenas. We went to a botanical garden with my friend Mike's parents Janis and Steve Stroh, who visited Costa Rica in January with their friends Judy and Steve. It was very nice to hang out with them a bit, and they even got to see our nearly-completed house. Not only were they some of our first houseguests, but they were also the first guests who we forgot to ask to sign our guestbook! This picture is taken by Steve Stroh.

This tree was in the botanical gardens, also. You can see them throughout the country, and I always love the way the branches fan out.

Finally, back to Colorado... I believe our friend Aaron McGrew took this picture. In any case, it's a simulation of what I would look like with an awful combover. Sometimes--but only very rarely--I'm pretty glad to have my hair the way it is now. When I look at this picture, it's one of those times.

Anyhow, have a good weekend, and I'll try to keep the frequent blog updates coming (But don't let that prevent you from having a good weekend!)

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February 19, 2009

Tugurio-Perro Millionario

The following images are pictures that I took of a newspaper advertisement for a new Costa Rican version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" It looks pretty impressive and professional, right, with... holy crap! Does that say TWENTY-FIVE Million?

Indeed it does, my impoverished friend.

Twenty-Five Million!

Twenty-Five (25) Million!


Um, twenty-five million Costa Rican colones.

Oh. Colones? Soooo... how much is that in real money?

Well, according to the currency conversion site XE, that comes to a nice, tidy $44,558.51. Or if you're Eurotrash, 35,481.06 Euros.

Wow, I know we're in a world-wide depression and all, but are things really that bad?

In any case, at these prices, there's probably a pretty good chance that contestants will keep pressing their luck, since the mid-level stakes are worth about as much as a used Hyundai Elantra. I'd watch myself to find out, but we don't actually get that particular network channel in the boondocks (We only really get channels 11, 4, and sometimes 2). Still, I'm sure that one of these unenthused-looking contestants will walk home a millionaire in some currency, even if it's Turkish Lira, Zimbabwean Dollars, or--if they're lucky--Costa Rican Colones.

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February 18, 2009

RIP, Laika Loca

Yesterday a motorcyclist killed my parent-in-laws' German Shepherd Laika. I figured that I'd mention it here since she was a good dog. I would put up a picture of her, but unfortunately, I don't even have one.

Named after the first dog in space, the Costa Rican Laika (That seems to be how it's spelled here...I've only seen Angela write it one time) was not really a pioneer like her namesake, but I still liked her. I liked her because she apparently had a reputation for attacking and biting men (including one of Angela's ex-boyfriends), but she always liked me. In fact, she liked all Americans, which Angela's family thought was interesting. I think it was maybe just the way Americans approached her, though. Costa Ricans generally would freak out to see a big dog like Laika barking and running toward them, but Americans--like my mom, for example--would just say, "Aww, good dog!" in that baby-teasing voice. I personally preferred to say, "Awwww, Laika Loca!" At that remark, Laika's bark would turn to a sort of purring whine, and you could then pet her. Well, you could pet her if you wanted to. She was pretty incontinent in the years I knew her, and her back half was usually damp and matted down in muddy urine.

In any case, she was a good dog, and the other reason that I liked her is because she had a reputation for killing snakes. I'm sure that there are other dogs than can or could do this, but I've not seen them (And if YOU see one, send it my way). Although Laika had not killed a snake in years, it still gave me a bit of comfort to think that she lived in the same town as me.

I'm not too sure about the details of what happened yesterday, but apparently the motorcyclist was taken to the hospital for scratches and bruises, and had even considered trying to get some money from my in-laws to pay for his bike's damages. Fortunately, it looks like that idea probably won't pan out, possibly because the guy was surely yet another shitkicker blazing his way to the motocross track in Llano Brenes, the next town just down the road. Seriously, Laika was pretty sick and could hardly move in her last days, and anyone going at a reasonable speed--or even a moderately unreasonable speed--could have easily avoided her. But at least the guy is OK, and he suffered mainly scratches...and a bruised conscience, hopefully.

So, Laika Loca, this email is for you. Say hi to Prisca, Jenny, and Pussypie (if they've desegregated dog and cat heavens).

We'll miss you.

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February 16, 2009

Scraping By

I won't write much today because I'm kinda tired and I need to get home to do some crap I neglected over the weekend. I neglected said crap because Angela and I were busy cleaning the new house yesterday in preparation to (hopefully) move in (soon) (within the next month or two).

In any case, the windows were especially filthy. I spent six hours (and I'm not bullshitting or exaggerating here) cleaning them, and I only got about two-thirds cleaned. I used a mix of Windex and water, plus a squeege and an old sock for the cleaning. Then for the fine details, I used a little razor blade to scrape off the little speckles of paint and primer on the inside and out. You can bet your ass we'll be putting up newspaper when we finish painting the outside. That was like spending hours shaving a gigantic, glass cheek. In other words, not so cool, and now my arms hurt.

Now let's go to Ryan with weather:

Ryan: Well, Ryan, it's a beautiful day outside, and there's no way I'm wasting any more of it in a smelly internet cafe. (Takes off microphone and leaves studio, walking out the doorway filled with light)

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February 15, 2009

Sitzmedia: Sunday Magazine

Hi Everyone,

Well, I'm not sure if this can really be considered a "Sitzmedia" thing, but I recently came across a couple of articles that I thought you readers might enjoy. Just as if you were going to read a "Sunay Magazine" insert in a big-ass Sunday newspaper, I envision my North American readers curling up on the couch with a laptop and a cup of coffee, avoiding the cold, harsh weather outside.

I envision my rural Costa Rican readers curling up with a can of Fanta while sitting on an adjustable chair at an internet café, surrounded by little brats yelling and playing Halo online. But you don't really know what you're missing anyhow, since the newspaper doesn't even deliver this far out.

Yep, nice and cozy.
In any case, here are the articles (just click on the links):

Let my people go!

Rats, just one day too late for Valentine's Day!

Dustin sent me this ungodly site (I better tell you now it's about nude gardening and not suitable for work)

And finally, some enlightening news from the medical field!

So, hope you enjoy the articles!

Sunday Hugs,

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February 14, 2009

Nerdy Valentine's Day Article

As many of you may know, I'm a bit fan of Slate.com, an online magazine. They have an interesting and funny article about the meaning (literally) of love. Check it out here.

Happy Valentine's Day and all that!

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February 13, 2009

Batten Down The Hatches (Or Whatever), 'Cause Here Comes Cap'n Scuzzbeard!

The other day at lunch, four of us were sitting around and my coworker Robby commented that Gilette could make a killing off of us.

I suppose I have let myself go just a bit. And I noticed a couple of grey hairs in the midst of all that scraggle on my face. With my bald head, isn't that basically just adding insult to indignity?

Throw me a bone here, God.

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February 12, 2009

Sitzmedia: "The Catcher In The Rye," Part 2

As I indicated yesterday, here's a second quote from "The Catcher in the Rye." The excerpt from yesterday definitely illustrates the narrator's style and outlook, but the one today gets at the crux of the matter, and hits at what the main conflict in the story is. The monologue is spoken by Mr. Antolini, Holden's former teacher. He's giving his perspective of Holden's situation. It's good stuff:

“'All right. Listen to me a minute now…I may not word this as memorably as I’d like to, but I’ll write you a letter about it in a day or two. Then you can get it all straight. But listen now, anyway.’ He started concentrating again. Then he said, ‘This fall I think you’re riding for—it’s a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling isn’t permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. He just keeps falling and falling. The whole arrangement’s designed for men who, at some time or other in their lives, were looking for something their own environment couldn’t supply them with. Or they thought their own environment couldn’t supply them with. So they gave up looking. They gave it up before they ever really even got started. You follow me?’”

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February 11, 2009

Sitzmedia: "The Catcher In The Rye"

So last weekend I re-read "The Catcher in the Rye." I think it had been about 10 years since I'd read it, and I was surprised how much I liked it. I guess I was surprised because at the root of it, it's basically about nothing. I guess it was a trailblazer for "Seinfeld."

In any case, if you've not read it, it's a novel written as a first-person narrative. The protagonist is Holden Caulfield, and he's essentially a high school flunk-out that boozes, chain-smokes, and has a pretty pissy view of basically everything and everyone around him. In short, it's hilarious. In any case, I picked out a few passages that I liked. I'll put up one today and one tomorrow.

I'm assuming many of you have read it, so feel free to comment on it. I've noticed, though, that the books I mention don't get nearly as many comments as the movies I mention. Who knows why.

Maybe there's a movie version of "The Catcher in the Rye."

In any case, here's my first favorite quote, from p.99-100 (and yes, it's all one paragraph in the book, so sorry about the formatting; blame J.D. Salinger):

“Finally, though, I got undressed and got in bed. I felt like praying or something, when I was in bed, but I couldn’t do it. I can’t always pray when I feel like it. In the first place, I’m sort of an atheist. I like Jesus and all, but I don’t care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible. Take the Disciples, for instance. They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth. They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while He was alive, there were about as much use to Him as a hole in the head. All they did was keep letting him down. I like almost anybody in the Bible better than the Disciples. If you want to know the truth, the guy I like best in the Bible, next to Jesus, was that lunatic and all, that lived in the tombs and kept cutting himself with stones. I like him ten times as much as the Disciples, that poor bastard. I used to get in quite a few arguments about it, when I was at Whooton School, with this boy that lived down the corridor, Arthur Childs. Old Childs was a Quaker and all, and he read the Bible all the time. He was a very nice kid, and I liked him, but I could never see eye to eye with him on a lot of stuff in the Bible, especially the Disciples. He kept telling me that if I didn’t like the Disciples, then I didn’t like Jesus and all. He said that because Jesus picked the Disciples, you were supposed to like them. I said I knew He picked them, but that He picked them at random. I said He didn’t have time to go around analyzing everybody. I said I wasn’t blaming Jesus or anything. It wasn’t His fault that He didn’t have any time. I remember I asked old Childs if he thought Judas, the one that betrayed Jesus and all, went to Hell after he committed suicide. Childs said certainly. That’s exactly where I disagreed with him. I said I’d bet a thousand bucks that Jesus never sent old Judas to Hell. I still would, too, if I had a thousand bucks. I think any one of the Disciples would’ve sent him to Hell and all—and fast, too—but I’ll bet anything Jesus didn’t do it."

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February 10, 2009

Sitzmedia: "Benny and Joon"

Last night we watched "Benny and Joon." I was sort of pessimistic because I thought that I had hated it. But I realized that I'd not even seen it, and that I had gotten it confused with "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" That movie sucked, and I think it's the reason I don't like Leonardo DiCaprio, and why I was very hesitant vis-a-vis Johnny Depp for many years.

"Benny and Joon" was good, though.

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February 9, 2009

Sometimes It Really Blows Here

The other day I was talking about the heavy winds here, so I figured I'd include a couple more pictures, now that the gusts have died down a bit:

This is our new house, from way in the back. I actually took this picture from the neighbor's property, which currently is empty. This is the tree that was blocking our view of the Gulf of Nicoya anyhow, so when it blew over, we didn't shed too many tears. Plus, it landed exactly on the property line, which is perfect. Before the tree fell, all sorts of dogs and hicks were coming through our property, and now the branches have helped seal it off a bit more.

Here is another big pine tree that fell down on the side of our lot. It fell onto Angela's sister's lot and almost crushed an outhouse (the little silver thing on the left), so we were really lucky that no coffee pickers were using the facilities at the time. We're currently taking applications for someone to remove the tree. The only requirements are a lot of gumption and stick-to-it-iveness...and a big chainsaw.

Finally, these last two pictures are of the house that "blew over." It turns out that reports of the house's demise were slightly exaggerated (as are most reports of any type in Berlín). Nevertheless, the wind still tore the house a new skylight. The picture above was taken while going up the hill between our house and Angela's folks' house, and from here the house looks like it may be a slight bit drafty.

When viewed from above, though, you can see that the garage and part of the house were knocked over or blown away, but a lot of the house's actual structure remained. As I said in the previous post, it was really lucky that no one was living there at the time.
Anyhow, that's it for now. But trust me, the wind is dying down, so you should still come visit!

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2008 In Pictures

So, have you been checking out www.ryansitzman.com lately?

Don't worry, no one has.

BUT! You should check it out now. I've been baking up some tasty digital bread (hence the picture above) especially for you, my dear readers, and you better get it while it's hot!

I finally schlepped my giant freaking computer to the internet cafe, and I was able to use my web publishing software at last. I just put up a bunch of pictures from 2008, and I'd love it if you have a look at them. Depending on who you are, you may even be in one of them!

Follow this link to see them.

Enjoy, and have a great day!

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February 8, 2009

Pittsburgh Dreamin': Yoschi, Are You Out There?

Like many people last weekend, I was happy to hear that the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl. Not because I like football, of course, but because I like Pittsburgh.

I used to go to Pittsburgh at least once or twice a year to visit my friend Josh, who lived there for quite a few years. I know Josh from our Rotary International Youth Exchange year in which we both lived in the bustling metropolis of Neustadt am Rübenberge, outside of Hannover, Germany. Those were formidable years, and it’s hard to believe that those good times happened 10 years ago!

In any case, with the attention on Pittsburgh for at least half of an afternoon, I was reminiscing a bit about the various trips I’d taken to Pittsburgh to visit Josh, so I just thought I’d name drop him and say hi. He’s obviously the guy in the space suit in the picture above, and that’s also him in the other picture. Both were taken at a costume shop in Philadelphia in 2005, and that was the last time we got to hang out. In fact, I included this second picture for a good reason.

See, most of my friends who know Josh…well, if you just say “Josh,” they know who you’re talking about. But my wife Angela hasn’t ever met Josh. She also hadn’t met most of my friends until we went to Colorado for Christmas. Still, I had shown her a ton of pictures from the U.S. before we first went there, and in one of the folders we came across the picture of Josh with the prosthetic joke breasts. That made quite an impression on Angela, and to this day, whenever I mention “Josh,” her face still gets a blank stare. But if I add, “You know, my friend with the fake boobs,” then she says, “Oh yeah! Josh!”

So, Yoschi,* if you’re out there and you happen to read this, then drop a line. Or better yet, come on down and visit. You’re bound to be remembered as “The Fake Boob Guy” until you do!

*A note about the “Yoschi”: In the Biology class that Josh and I sort of “attended” while we were in high school in Germany, we had a teacher named Doc Troue. As the students in his class ran around, chatted with one another, and even once got into a fight over a fake fur coat, old Doc Troue would always be at the front of the room plugging away at some equation on the board, with his back turned to the class. Occasionally, though, he’d quickly turn around and ask Josh or me a question, since I think we were the only ones who were even remotely paying attention. We never knew the answer, though, and most of the time we probably couldn’t even have told you which branch of Biology we were studying in class, since we were busy drawing pictures or writing notes about Axl Rose doing a duet with Tina Turner.
In any case, Doc Troue apparently couldn’t say “Josh,” so he always called him “Yoschi,” which made Josh seem about 50% more Japanese. As a matter of fact, Troue called ME “Yoschi” sometimes, too, since Germans had a bit of a tough time with “Ryan” as well…either that, or he may not have even been able to determine that there were two of us.

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February 7, 2009

(Insert Your Own "Wizard of Oz" Joke Here)

Man, it's been windy here for the last few days. I've never seen wind like this, and I've been to Wyoming!* In any case, the house where we're staying now has a nailed-on roof (as opposed to a screwed-on one). For a few nights, the wind was lifting the tin panels into the air slightly (and taking some of the support beams with them). Every 20 seconds or so, the wind would let up a bit, causing the tin and the wood beams to slam down onto the rest of the roof. As you can imagine, this doesn't make for sweet dreams, especially when the crashing is literally above your head, with a thin layer of wood ceiling protecting you...a thin layer of wood ceiling that is continually dropping dust, dirt particles, dead bugs, and other crap on your head while you're trying to sleep...

Anyhow, the house where we live now belongs to Angela's brother, and he repaired it very well, and it's now pretty solid. Unfortunately, we can't say the same about the poor garage, which is getting screwed up more and more each day. They can't repair it since the wind hasn't let up enough to make it safe to get on the roof.

Fortunately, our new house was just fine, since it's built with stronger, more wind-resistant techniques and materials. We did lose a few giant pine trees, though, but they were ugly and blocking our view of the gulf anyhow. And the rest of Berlín wasn't so lucky, either. One house actually blew down yesterday. No one was living there, and since it was a seasonal house for coffee pickers, it probably wasn't built very solidly, but still....shit, man.

So for all of you who may think that living in "paradise" is a fairy tale, well, you're sometimes right. But this time, the story is "The Three Little Pigs," evidently.

Well, that's about the news for now. I'd have written more, but we also keep losing electricity, and it's hard to motivate when everything going on around you just makes you want to crawl back into bed (or under your desk).

Hope everyone is doing well, and remember to hold on to something solid.

*One time when I went from Colorado to the Wyoming border with my friend Josh, we opened the car door to get out and take some pictures of the "Welcome to Wyoming" sign. An enormous burst of wind blew into the car and swept out a Burger King bag that had been in the back seat. Seconds later, I'm sure it pelted someone in Nebraska in a small explosion of nose-blood and ketchup packets.

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February 5, 2009

Congratulations to Adriana!

The girl on the left of this picture is my lovely wife Angela, and on the right is Adriana Mora, one member of our army of nieces and nephews. Last weekend she graduated from the Universidad Latina with a degree in Administration, so I just wanted to say congratulations to her!

The picture was taken by Angela. The two intended to graduate at the same time, but due to various circumstances, Angela got out a bit earlier. In any case, many congratulations to both of these lovely ladies, and best of luck to you both in the future!

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February 4, 2009

Sitzmedia: Language Websites

Now that I’ve been teaching English at a call center for about a year, I’ve had many chances to go through the internet to gather various materials for listening and speaking exercises. If you’re reading this blog, then you can obviously understand some English, and for most of you, it’s your native language. There’s also a good chance that you take that fact for granted.

I am often taken aback by some of the English questions that my students have come up with, and I’m also surprised by the questions that I find myself asking. English is a very incredible and weird language, when it comes down to it.

Consider our vocabulary for a moment. I toss out scores of vocabulary words to my students every day but I know that I’m only scratching the surface of a deep ocean of wonderful words. Then again, in a book called “The Mother Tongue” by—once again—Bill Bryson, he comments: “Here, as in almost every other area of language, natural bias plays an inescapable part in any attempt at evaluation. No one has ever said, ‘Yes, my language is backward and unexpressive, and could really do with some sharpening up.’”

The point of this whole discussion is to draw your attention to a few resources that you, presumably as a native speaker of English, may not have even known were out there. The Internet is all about strange little insular worlds concentrated on one idea or area of expertise, and the digital realm of English Language Learning is no exception to that concept.

I have selected a few resources, both digital and in print, that you might find interesting, even if you’ve spoken English since the day you were born. Consider them curiosities to add to the bookcases and knick-knack shelves of your brain, if you will. The first two have proven useful and entertaining to both my students and myself, and the third is just a good book about the history of the English language. The last is just a weird, random thing if you’re into Swedish… and who isn’t these days?

Take a look or have a listen if you ever get the chance, and see how the other, English-learning half lives:

1. http://www.talkenglish.com/
This site is a collection of hundreds of dialogue samples and real-life scenarios, all of which have imbedded audio and text, both of which are great for my teaching purposes. The audio is kind of dry and at times even nerdy, but if you’re trying to learn how to talk the talk, this is a great site. If you already speak English, it’s worth checking out the profanity or sex talk parts, just to remark to your coworkers, “Wow, listen to this geeky-sounding voice talking about how he likes big titties!”

2. http://www.china232.com/
This is a collection of podcasts and their complementary English lessons. As the site’s title indicates, the podcasts are from China, and they are recorded by two Canadians (but we won’t hold their nationality against them…for now). The lessons are definitely for language learners, and if you’re not careful, the speakers’ slow, nearly-monotone Canadian voices can lull you to sleep. But when you pay close attention to the humor that’s beneath each broadcast, it’s quite easy to get pulled in and listen to these two brothers explain their take on everyday things. All in all, it’s enough to make you want to call your own brother to try to convince him to move abroad with you to record an English-learning podcast…Paul, you in?

3. "The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way," by Bill Bryson
This is the book that I mentioned previously in the post, and it’s one of my favorites by Bryson. While he’s a hilarious writer in basically any circumstance or scenario, he also proves himself to be a consummate researcher and academic in books like this. This fascinating book frames the development of the English language by considering its historical, cultural, and contemporary significance. My personal favorite section is—of course—the one on swearing. A sample from page 215:

“English is unusual in including the impossible and the pleasurable in its litany of profanities. It is a strange and little-noted idiosyncrasy of our tongue that when we wish to express extreme fury we entreat the object of our rage to undertake an anatomical impossibility or, stranger still, to engage in the one activity that is bound to give him more pleasure than almost anything else. Can there be, when you think about it, a more improbable sentiment than, “Get fucked!”? We might as well snarl, “Make a lot of money!” or “Have a nice day!”

As an aside, Bryson also wrote a book called “Made in America,” which examines our language even more closely, but from a specifically American English perspective. Both books are well worth your time if language remotely interests you. The more compact "Mother Tongue" is a good start if you’re just curious about English or language development in general, but would prefer to learn about it with bit of a laugh.

4. Swedish Radio Site: Klartext
This is the weird one for people who like Swedish. It’s basically daily radio broadcasts from Svenska Radio, but with simplified vocabulary and slower speech. If you happen to be learning Swedish, it’s a great resource, and if you’re not learning Swedish, it’s still funny to laugh at. Check it out one way or the other. First, follow the link above. Below the calendar, click on the little speaker symbol for the day you want to listen to. An audio player should pop up, and after choosing your player preferences, click "Spara" (Save). Listen, enjoy, and repeat as necessary!

Well, that’s it for today. Now, you had all better start studying, because all of this could possibly show up on the quiz!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

Oh, Coast Tasty

Sorry I've not posted anything in quite a few days. When I went to the internet café, it didn't have internet. This happens surprisingly often for a place called an internet café*.

Ah, sometimes I love this country so much that I think I might just scream till my head explodes...
Fear not, though, the situation is being dealt with, and we'll be back in service directly.

Thanks for reading!

*Especially considering that internet cafés here don't have cafés, either, even on their best days... just internet. And although some cafés have wireless internet, it's just an incidental coincidence, and the internet at those usually doesn't work anyhow.

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook