March 31, 2011

That Darn Cat

So, we've NOT got a new cat... yet. But this one is certainly using all her charm to worm her way into our hearts. Here's a picture of her the other day:

Obviously, she's looking much better. If you'll recall, when she first showed up the other day, she had red crap on her, and she looked absolutely sad and pathetic:

I mentioned at the time that we were hoping the red stuff wasn't blood and as it turned out, it wasn't. It appears to have been some kind of floor wax. That's a bit of a relief, but it's also disturbing to know that someone would spray a cat with floor wax.

Wow, how can you not feel bad when she does this?

So now we're not sure what to do, exactly. We're planning on taking her to a shelter in San Ramon or Palmares, once we check the place out. It's apparently a no-kill shelter, which is the only option I'd accept. She's a really loving cat, so hopefully a good family will find her. We almost have started considering keeping her, but we already have two cats, and we never really wanted any cats in the first place. It's hard to give them a good life, and one more cat would make that even more difficult. Especially since this one's a female. Obviously, it'd need to be spayed, and we still need to get Boner neutered, lest his name go from a semi-vulgar joke into a kind of prophecy. In short, Berlin doesn't need more cats! Especially not adorable cats that break your damn heart!

So, wherever you are: if you have a pet, GET IT FIXED! Bob Barker was right, and we need to keep the population of unwanted pets down. In Berlin, the attitude is, "Oh, whatever," or "Pobrecito, there's no reason to fix him," or "I don't want to pay $30 dollars to have an animal fixed," or some other stupid excuse like that. But the reality is that there are a ton of unwanted animals, and Berlin's a really crappy place to be an animal.

So, I just wanted to get that off my chest. I'll keep you updated on the cat situation.

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March 29, 2011

Pictures of the Day: March 3-29, 2011

Wow, I've somehow gotten very behind on posting these Pictures of the Day. You may have seen some of them on flickr or on the weekly picture projects, but likely not all of them. So, here they are!

March 3rd: Scoff if you will, but having a bidet turns out to be awesome.

March 4th: Here it looks like I'm riding the bike at an incredible rate.

March 5th: Upon first glance, this seems to be a pretty damn secure wood fence gate. Until you realize that three of the four locks are superfluous. We came across this gate driving from Playa Cabuyal to Liberia, in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

March 6th: Around the time the sun goes down, things start getting windy in Berlin. This is a tree we planted in our yard around a year ago.

March 7th: A quesadilla and some beans I made for lunch. It seems that a lot of food pictures turn out looking like some sort of barnyard afterbirth, so judging it against that standard, I'm pretty happy with this picture.

March 8th: The letter of the week for my weekly picture project was "J," so when Juan Manuel walked into work with his name tag on, it seemed like a good J picture was in the making.

March 9th: A junk drawer in Angela's sewing machine.

March 10th: Angela and I went for a walk and came across these two goats sitting on a couch outside an abandoned pulperia (like a very small general store in Costa Rica). I'm not sure what their deal was, but when we came back by around an hour later, they were still there. Must have been comfortable.

March 11th: Angela and I cleaned our water tank today with some bleach and a broom. I was trying to get a picture of the broom while it was drying, in order to capture the drops of water coming off it.

March 12th: A "still life" at school in the afternoon. This stuff must belong to the teacher who uses the room during the day.

March 13th: We quickly stopped by Juan Guillermo and Paola's house since they had a new baby, Sarah, and we wanted to see her. Congratulations to them!

March 14th: So, I guess I'm officially one of those creeps who takes pictures of his lunch before eating it, but at least this was at home. We had hot dogs, beans, and chips. Incidentally, it was one of my grandpa's favorite meals.

March 15th: Some laundry with a foreboding sky. I went for a walk around Berlin and took some pictures.

March 16th: This is a little glass candle-ball thing that Angela and I picked up in Munich. It's pretty.

March 17th: I made "Thai Coconut Chicken, Hold The Chicken." Chicken here is usually hit or miss, but potatoes are almost always good, so I usually use them instead. It turned out very well!

March 18th: It was my birthday, so I spent most of it having fun. That meant that late in the evening, I had to plan for the next day's classes. Tea and this little birthday dog from a few years ago helped.

March 19th: Some classroom closets set out in a hallway at work.

March 20th: Some pretty flowers at Termales del Bosque. We went there for a belated birthday celebration, since it's one of our favorite places to visit. As its name indicates, it's hot springs in a forest. Very nice!

March 21st: Some "fruits" made from condensed milk, powdered milk, and sugar... sort of like a Poor Man's Marzipan. We got them at a roadside stand near Zarcero.

March 22nd: This little cat outside our door fairly broke our freaking hearts. It's been coming around lately, and we think it might have a home, but is only trying to mate with our cat Boner. In any case, we're not sure what to do.
As a side note, we think that MAY not be blood, since it's really light and doesn't look much like blood. But we don't have another good explanation, either.

March 23rd: Our niece Kati stopped by on her four-wheeler!

March 24th: Testing out the zoom on the camera (obviously, it's not very zoomed-in in this picture). These are the towers in Berlin, as seen from our kitchen.

March 25th: I went to San Jose with my friend Lucy to do a bureaucratic errand at the Ministry of Migration. Of course, we didn't realize till we got there that it had all been for naught. But we went to the mall for lunch and saw this awesome tree.

March 26th: Angela went into a supermarket so while I waited in the car, I got a picture of this seemingly heavy-duty bakery in Palmares.

March 27th: The lens from my camera. It seemed like a good "L" picture, since it's a weekly photography-themed project.

March 28th: "Das Letzte Gefecht" (The Stand), by Stephen King. I've been reading it for my Sitzbook book-a-week project.

March 29th: A lemon mint plant that we got at the hardware store today. Yes, such a glorious thing exists.

Whew! Well, that's it for now. Hopefully something in there was interesting for you. If not, I've got nothin'!

Thanks for reading and looking, and have a great day!

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

March 28, 2011

Weekly Picture Project: Week 12 (L)

Here are this week's pictures for our weekly alphabetical project. Either later today or tomorrow I'm hoping to post the pictures of the day for the last few weeks. Until then, hopefully there's something interesting for you here:

Picture 1: A Lamp in our bedroom. It's kind of cheesy, but this lamp has been great. I think I bought it on sale at Target for a few dollars quite a few years ago. It's a touch lamp, so it's good to have beside the bed.

Picture 2: Long! I started reading The Stand for my Sitzbook project. I read it around 10 or 15 years ago and really liked it, and I've had the German translation for a few years. I finally decided to read it, despite --or perhaps because of-- its large size (1,192 pages!).

Picture 3: Longing. This is the cat that came by our house a few nights ago. She's been pretty sweet. We're giving her some food until we can find a home for her. By the way, in the pictures from a few days ago, she had some red stuff on her face and body. Thankfully, it turned out to be some kind of wax or other goopy substance, and not blood.

Picture 4: Lens. This is the 50 mm lens from my nice camera. I took the picture with our little blue camera.

Well, that's it for the moment. I'll try to get those pictures of the day up soon. Until then, thanks for reading/looking, and have a great day!

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March 24, 2011

Sitzbook: 4 Flash Reviews!

I've been reading a lot lately, but not writing much. I've decided I should put up some more book reviews. But, in my original review of The Art of Non-Conformity, I decided to be gimmicky and I called it a 300-word review, and it was indeed 300 words. That led to some confusion, so I had to write another, much-longer review.

So, in the interest of creating even more misunderstanding, I've decided to write four short "flash reviews" for a few of the books I've finished recently for my book-a-week Sitzbook project. Each review is literally 100 words long, so they're easier to digest and misinterpret. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, or if you have read any of these books, I'd love to hear what you have to say.

1. The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss

The History of Love is a book that my sister recommended to me after she read Everything is Illuminated. I can definitely see where she saw the connection. Both deal with descendants and acquaintances of Eastern European World War II survivors, and both have “dueling” narrators and narrative styles. Both are excellent. In The History of Love, the cornerstone of the story is a book of the same name, and the reader alternates between an author and a girl whose mother is translating a book. I can’t give away too much, but I can say that this book was excellent.

2. The Story of English: How the English Language Conquered the World, by Philip Gooden
From the outside, The Story of English looks like coffee-table fluff history, but despite the pictures, it does contain quite a bit of information about the English language. So it is legitimate. The main problem I have with this book is that Bill Bryson already undertook a similar task with his book The Mother Tongue, and his work was quite a bit more engaging, interesting, and humorous. In fact, there are many parallels in the books’ content, and this book even references Bryson’s on a few occasions. I can now understand better why I found it on the discount shelf.

3. Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
If you happen to have been following my Twitter feed, you may have noticed that I was having trouble hacking my way through Crime and Punishment. It was well-written (it’s a classic, after all), but around 200 or 300 pages over-written. As I recently mentioned, I seriously calculated the book’s content, and it’s 97.1% Crime and 2.9% Punishment, and the Punishment part doesn’t happen until the Epilogue. Those numbers make me think of skim milk, for some reason. I’ve officially decided that although I respect Dostoevsky, I much prefer Tolstoy. Call me a Russian Lit lightweight, but I don’t care.

4. Pigeon Poo, the Universe & Car Paint, by Karl Kruszelnicki
Finally, Pigeon Poo, the Universe & Car Paint, which I borrowed from Lucy, is actually a bona-fide science book, but it’s definitely accessible for non-scientists (like this guy). Over its 175 pages it covers 17 topics as diverse as why silk is stronger than steel, how Elvis died (hint: eating loaves of deep-fried bread probably didn’t help), and why traffic jams can happen seemingly in the middle of nowhere and without apparent cause. I blazed through this book in a few sittings, and it was probably just what the reading doctor ordered after something as long as Crime and Punishment.

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March 22, 2011

Weekly Picture Project: Week 11 (K)

I believe that last week I joked that I might do this week's letter (K) in German. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea, since K is so common in German. In fact, when it comes to starting letters, K does most of the heavy lifting for C, since the only words that start with C in German are loan words from other languages.
But who cares? 
So, let's see what I came up with!

Picture 1: Kerze (Candle): This candle was a souvenir that Angela and I brought back from Munich, so it seemed especially relevant. 

Picture 2: Käse (Cheese): Here a girl (who only allowed me to take a picture of her hand) weighs some "palmito" cheese we bought at a roadside stand near Zarcero.

Picture 3: Kuh (Cow): A cow in Berlin (de San Ramon, not the real one).

Bonus Picture 4: Kleidung (Clothes): Some clothes drying on the line here in Berlin.

So, I know this doesn't have a lot of English K's; in fact, it's got none. But since I set out at the beginning of the week to find German K's, I hope we're cool (or at least kühl). In any case, maybe these pics helped you brush-up on your all-but-forgotten high school German. And to avoid making things too depressing, I didn't even include the definite articles!

Well, that's it for this week. Thanks for reading, and have a good one!

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

March 18, 2011

It's My Birthday, So I've Got This One

It's now officially my birthday. I don't normally make a big deal out of my birthday, mainly because it's the day after St. Patrick's Day* and if you talk too loud or make a big deal out of anything, you're bound to piss off some hungover people. However, I did want to mention that this year will mark the tenth year of my own birthday tradition: taking someone out to eat.

For some people, this concept seems strange. After all, if it's your birthday, then people should be taking you out, not vice-versa... right? I think it's like that for most people. And I've also come across a few people who seemed genuinely irritated that the birthday boy would try to pick up the check. But I also noticed that a lot of people get down and depressed on their birthdays, and ever since I've started going out for a birthday meal and picking up the tab, I've actually had a pretty great birthday each year. Plus, I usually only go out to eat with one or two people, so it's not like I spend the rest of the next year paying for one meal.

I believe --and I may be a bit confused or perhaps this is the revisionist historian in me speaking up-- but I believe that it was 10 years ago, for my 21st birthday, when I went out to dinner with my friend Zach. I can't even remember the steak restaurant's name, and I think it's not even there anymore, but it was in North Boulder. I also remember that unlike most people who turn 21, I didn't drink anything because it was the first (and I think only) time I'd been on antibiotics, fighting a nasty case of bronchitis. I think that that was actually part of the motivation to go to dinner: I didn't want to feel pressured to go to bars and drink and get annoyed by loud crowds. So, I did what I wanted to do for my birthday.

If you're going to celebrate a birthday, I'd highly recommend this practice. It's a way to take the focus off of you for a little bit, and you can feel magnanimous for a few hours. Admittedly, I suppose that by being magnanimous, you could potentially bring the focus back to you. Still, it's nicer to hang out with a good friend or two over some tasty food and a nice conversation than to be "alone in the crowd," dwelling on your own mortality and getting depressed that your party didn't turn out right. 

In any case, happy birthday to me! 

*Incidentally, my mom's birthday is January 1st, which means that we both have birthdays on what could arguably be called our nation's two semi-official Hangover Days. 

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March 17, 2011

Sitzbook Thoughts: "The Art of Non-Conformity," Take Two

I know I did a brief review of this book in another post a week or so ago, but I got a comment from a reader and current student that I wanted to reply to.

I want to stress here that this was a comment by a student of mine, so I don't want this post to seem confrontational or overly critical. But after reading his comment, I got the feeling that I didn't to a very good job of expressing what the book was really about, so I wanted to expand the review a bit more and respond to my student's comment.

As I mentioned before, the book is about living life according to your own rules, but it's not anarchistic by any means. Instead, the author, Chris Guillebeau, wrote the book to encourage people stuck in unsatisfying careers or living life without motivation. I admire Guillebeau quite a lot; his goal is to travel to every country in the world before his 35th birthday, and at the last time I checked his site, I believe he had already been to 150 or so. For a travel fan like myself, that's pretty incredible and inspiring in and of itself. 

The book's target audience is basically someone who feels like he or she is going through life and doing what society expects from him or her, but who still feels like something is missing. He talks about how you can stop being a "sleepwalker" by taking control of your dreams, challenging conventional authority when it's illogical, and setting the terms of your own life. If anything, it's a self-help book with a bit of Guillebeau's personal story mixed in.

In my student's comment, he said that Guillebeau wasn't a god, and that he still needed rules in his life. Very true, and I think that Guillebeau would be the first to agree that he's not a god, and in fact, he does talk about religion a few times in the book. Various passages indicate the he's an active member of a church community, and in his suggestions for living a fulfilling life, he emphasizes the importance of observing a sabbath. He does stop short of endorsing any specific religion or belief, but I suppose that that's the nature of publishing a book that will reach a large readership, with readers of different faiths.

Obviously, if my student hasn't read the book, then he'd not know these details, and I'm not criticizing him for that; I'm just trying to clarify something that I didn't express very clearly in my first review. What I do disagree with in my student's comment was when he said that people need to obey to be free. This is a matter of personal opinion (on my part and on his), but I think this statement isn't true. 

I agree that most people who want to have a complete life should look to something beyond their own, selfish experience. My student said that he uses the Bible for guidance, and that's fine. I would argue that the Bible doesn't have a monopoly on truth and ethics, though. I think that as long as we're looking beyond ourselves and our own egos and trying to live lives that helps others, then we'll likely have a better chance at being successful and happy than if we just try to be an island unto ourselves. But in the end, that still seems to be a choice, and although there may certainly be consequences if we go our own way, it's nevertheless a possibility.

Still, the part of the comment that I disagree with most is the notion that in order to be free, we must obey. That's also a notion I feel Guillebeau would disagree with (even just based on the title of his book). One common thread among great leaders and historical figures that have inspired me is that they didn't obey the conventional rules of their time. That seems to me to be the case with Malcolm X, Abraham Lincoln, countless great authors, and even Jesus himself. I think if they had obeyed the rules of their times, then we probably never would have heard of them.

But, then again, that's a personal opinion, and we're all entitled to our opinions.

Speaking of opinions, I'd be more than happy to hear yours in the comments section, whether you've read the book or not. Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

To my student who made the original comment: I'd like to thank you again for reading the blog and for taking the time to leave a comment, especially since it's a bit intimidating to do in a language that isn't your mother tongue. I hope this blog isn't too confrontational; in fact, I'd be happy to hear your thoughts. Also, I'll bring the book to class this evening if you're interested in taking a look at it. 

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

March 14, 2011


I know that I've lately been posting a lot of pictures, videos, and book reviews on this blog, but I actually have been writing some, still. I'm sure I mentioned my new, language-learning blog, Sitzman ABC, but if you've not checked it out, you're certainly more than welcome to do so. I created it as a resource for my students, but also as a way of bringing up issues related to languages and cultures in general.

I often write about English language issues on that blog, since that's what I teach here in Costa Rica. However, since I studied German, the awfulness of that particular language is actually a bit closer to my heart. Yesterday I wrote a post explaining why exactly German can be so difficult to learn. Have a look!

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

Weekly Picture Project: Week 10 (J)

I'm sure that there are lots of words that start with "J," but when you try to start finding them, it gets difficult. I guess that's why the letter's worth 8 points in Scrabble.

In any case, here's what I came up with for this week. If you want to see an enlarged and clearer version of any picture, just click on it:

I was thinking of getting a coworker's picture, since I work with a Jeremy, a José, and a Juan, but when I saw that Juan Manuel had on a name tag for the first day of classes, it seemed like a good "J" picture.

I decided that this can count as a Junk Drawer. It's one of the drawers in Angela's sewing machine.

"Juice" seemed like a good option for J, especially since it also starts with a J in Spanish. It just took a surprising amount of oranges to get a little juice for this picture. It was delicious, though!

This is my fourth, optional picture, since it's actually a spelling error. This is my niece Yoselin's bracelet and as you can see, she spells her name differently than it appears on her bracelet. But that's a whole other story altogether. In this case, the bracelet was a first-communion present, so it's OK.

So, that's it for now. We'll see what "K's" I can come up with for this week. I don't suppose I can really go for Spanish this time around, since K isn't really a letter that's used in Spanish but on the other hand, German may be ripe with K's! We'll have to see! Thanks for reading, and have a great new week!

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

March 12, 2011

Do You Realize...

Do You Realize...

...that I love the song "Do You Realize?" by The Flaming Lips?

I'm notoriously bad at understanding lyrics, but I actually can understand the words in this song--and they have a good message! I'd not seen the video until today, though, but it's pretty cool. Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

The Flaming Lips - Do You Realize?? por WBRNewMedia

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March 8, 2011

Sitzbook 300-Word Review: "The Art of Non-Conformity"

The Art of Non-Conformity, by Chris Guillebeau
This was one of the first books I read for Sitzbook, and it was a quick read. The author, Chris Guillebeau, created the website of the same name as the title. I’ve been following his global adventures for a few years now. One of his biggest goals is to visit every country in the world by his 35th birthday, but even more importantly, his goal is to live by his own rules—and to help his readers do the same.

Ironically, that’s what makes this book less applicable for me: I don’t seem to be part of the target audience. I definitely don’t work a 9-5 job that I’m dissatisfied with, and I already feel pretty content with my life in general. Still, the book is interesting and has many good points. Having gone to graduate school, I think my favorite part is the “One-Year, Self-Directed, Alternative Graduate School Experience,” wherein Guillebeau lays out a $10,000 plan that he claims is better than actually going to graduate school (parts of his plan include memorizing the name of every country and its capital, reading the basic texts of major world religions, and buying a round-the-world plane ticket). I actually do believe that for most people, this plan probably is better than graduate school, and I’ve even done many or most of the things in his plan. Still, I do have a Master’s Degree, but because it was basically free (I was a TA and I got scholarships), I can’t really knock it. That’s another example of how I enjoyed the book, even though some of the advice in the book didn’t really apply directly to me.

You can still enjoy this book if you’re happy with your current position in life, but if you’re not, this book was written for you.

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