Thursday, January 28, 2016

Longing for the Return of the Small Town

Has the Small Town Really Gone Away?

Look at any map, and you will see a countryside dotted with small towns.  Drive back roads instead of interstate highways and you will encounter small towns.  Stand in the middle of a group of people and chances are you are in the presence of at least one person who grew up in a small town.  So how can I say I want the small town to return, when it clearly hasn't gone anywhere?  Well, I think it has gone somewhere.  It's gone to the suburbs.

What do you notice when you drive through small towns?  You probably either see a bunch of abandoned businesses, or you see a tiny business district surrounded by suburban sprawl.  You may even see abandoned businesses and suburban sprawl in the same town.  I don't know what the situation is in other countries, but in America at least small towns are either dying or turning into suburbs.

My Small Town

This is a map of what my hometown looked like when I was a kid in the eighties.  So that you understand what you're seeing, here's what the letters mean:

R: Locally-owned restaurant
G: Mom and pop grocery store
L: Library
H: My house
P: Park

As you can see, my house was one block away from the park and two blocks from the library.  The restaurant and grocery store were a little farther away, but could still be reached on foot or on a bike.  Not shown on this map are the bank and post office, which were also in easy walking/biking distance from my house.  The town looked like this for most of my childhood.  Then it changed.

I think the library was the first thing to go.  There was demand for a bigger building, so instead of moving into another larger structure right there in town, or adding on to the one they were already in, they built a brand new library out on the highway.  It's still close to my house, but I don't ride my bike there.  I value my life too much to brave that road, even with a helmet.

Next, the town grew to such a size that the post office required a bigger building.  It didn't move out to the highway, but it did move far enough from my house that it's no longer easily accessible on foot.

After the post office left a couple of fast food restaurants opened up just outside of town.  They pulled in so much business that within a few years the little local place on Main Street closed down.  This happened after I was married and living in the house pictured above with my husband and kids.  We were very disappointed with the loss of that restaurant.

Finally, a big chain grocery store opened up on the highway.  Within a year the little mom and pop place was closed.

Gradually, my small town was turning into a suburb.  Big businesses replaced small and no one could walk anywhere.  Okay, you could still walk around town, but if wanted to actually go somewhere you had to get into your car and drive there.  Main Street was slowly dying.

A Return to Greatness?

I must not be the only one who was saddened by the change in my town, because in the past couple of years new businesses have been coming to Main Street.  We now have a pizza place, a restaurant, and a movie theater (in the same building that housed the town's movie theater back in the forties and fifties).  I still can't walk to the library or the grocery store, but I am holding out hope that this may be a reality in the not too distant future.

I hope that the changes I've seen in my town in recent years are only the beginning.  I hope that the same thing is happening in other towns across the country.  I know there is no such thing as a perfect place to live, but I look forward to seeing my corner of the globe become just a little more wonderful.

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Counting My Blessings

How Will I Clean My Kitchen?

When I first became a stay-at-home mom I discovered something about my domestic habits.  I realized that I had quickly fallen into the routine of coming down the stairs in the morning and immediately turning on the television, which would remain on for the majority of the day.  When you're in the house all day and the TV is always on, it doesn't take long to become addicted to daytime television.  And I did.  I watched Oprah and Montel.  I followed the soaps.  I rooted for contestants on The Price is Right.  But at the same time I was trying to maintain a decent level of order in my home.  This was difficult with the television always tempting me away from the chores I had assigned myself.  I would be in the kitchen washing dishes, then I'd hear something interesting happening on the living room television set and go to see what it was.  Half an hour later I'd still be sitting right there watching, and lo and behold the dishes would not get done.

When my husband and I bought our second house, I came up with a brilliant solution to this problem.  I would put a TV in the kitchen.  That way I could watch and get housework done at the same time.  Ten years later there is still a television set on my kitchen counter.  There is just one small problem.  About a week ago the power button fell off.  I have no idea where the remote is, so I have no way of turning the TV on.  Now I am discovering that I have come to rely on the television as my motivation for getting anything done.  If I can't watch something entertaining I don't want to clean my kitchen.  What's a girl to do?

Where Will I Shower?

Our house is somewhere around seventy years old.  I love old houses, but one drawback to living in an old house is that things will occasionally fall apart.  This was happening in our master bathroom recently.  Some of the floor boards were rotting, causing the toilet to rock every time we sat on it.  So my husband decided to replace the floor.  He loves DIY projects, and I'm glad he can save us money by doing the work himself rather than hiring someone else to come in and do it.  But the thing about DIY is that it often takes a long time to get anything done, especially if you're trying to work a full-time job at the same time.  So we've been down to one bathroom for about three weeks now.  It wouldn't be such a big deal if it weren't for the fact the we've gotten so used to doing everything in the master bathroom.  Showering and brushing teeth and...well...other things...just don't feel right in the hall bathroom.  What's a girl to do?

What Will I Drink With My Breakfast?

My husband and I have taken quite the coffee journey in our lives together.  We started out hating the stuff.  Then one particularly cold morning we wanted something warm to sip so we dug through our cabinets and found the old aluminum percolator that used to belong to my grandmother.  Then we dug through the pantry and found a bag of coffee someone had given us for...I don't know...Christmas or something.  We drank coffee that morning, but it didn't become part of our daily lives until I started working full-time a few years later.  We came to rely on it to help us through our hectic morning routine.  We were still using the percolator at that point, but then someone gave us a drip coffee maker as a present, and we switched over to that.  Then a couple of years ago my husband decided he was tired of having to wait for coffee to brew and bought a Keurig.  We both drank Keurig coffee until about a month ago when I decided to start making mine in the small stove-top espresso maker I had purchased a few years back and never used.  It didn't take long at all for me to fall head-over-heels in love with espresso.  I still had the occasional cup of Keurig coffee every now and then, but after having sampled heaven in a cup it just wasn't the same.  Then the unthinkable happened.

A couple of days ago I was busily brewing my morning pot.  I rinsed out the espresso maker, put the coffee in, reassembled it, and put it onto the hot stove burner.  A few minutes later I realized I had forgotten one vital ingredient.  The water.  I immediately removed the pot from the heat, waited for it to cool enough to be handled, and started over.  As soon as the water started boiling I knew something was wrong.  It smelled horrible.  Then I poured my first cup and tasted it.  It tasted like the pot smelled.  Burnt.  And nasty.  My husband, a chemist, suggested that harmful chemicals may have leached into the coffee from the overheated metal and that my safest option was to not use the pot again.  Maybe I'm being overly cautious, but I took him at his word and threw my espresso maker away.  But now I can no longer make my favorite type of coffee.  What's a girl to do?

What Is a Girl to Do?

It's extremely frustrating that all of these things happened at the same time.  My daily routines have been altered in multiple ways, and I'm sure many of you can understand how important routines are to maintaining sanity in a chaotic world.  So what am I doing?  I'm looking on the bright side.  I may have one bathroom that's out of commission, but I do have another bathroom.  That means my husband can take as long as he needs repairing the floor, making sure he does the job properly, because we can do our business somewhere else.  I may not have a television in my kitchen anymore, but maybe that can be my excuse to finally break free from my need to be constantly entertained.  And I may not be able to drink espresso every day, but I can use this opportunity to detox a bit from the caffeine.  And we do still have the Keurig.  All and all I'm doing pretty well and have no reason whatsoever to complain.  But I do miss my espresso.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Amazing Worlds You Discover When You Learn a New Language

Our Worldview

Our worldview is shaped by many things: our religion, our parents, our age, the area where we grew up, and a host of others.  Our worldview is also always changing, usually expanding.  For example, if your mother cooked stovetop macaroni and cheese when you were growing up, you probably thought the baked kind was some weird alien substance the first time you saw it.  But of course those who grow up eating baked macaroni and cheese think the stovetop variety is not "real macaroni and cheese."  That is part of our worldview.  We grow up eating mama's cooking (or the lack thereof) and when we first move out into the world and sample other flavors, they are strange to us.  Some we find exotic, others we find just plain disgusting.  And then we grow and adapt and our worldview changes.

Our Awareness of Worldviews

We learn that other worldviews exist at a very early age.  Maybe it was the time the kid in your kindergarten class said he had to "go pee", while you were always required to say "potty" because "pee" was not a very nice word.  Maybe it was the time someone in your fourth grade class said they were vegetarian, and you had never even heard that word before.  Whatever the catalyst, at some point you became aware that not everyone saw the world in exactly the same way you did.  When confronted with this you had two choices: stand firm on what you'd always known, or change your worldview.  That is not always an easy decision, but it's one we're required to make practically from the moment we arrive on the earth.

Our Blind Spot

So you've long been aware that people have a different view of God than you do, or they have different attitudes about diet and exercise.  Some people dress differently than you.  Some have cleaner houses.  Some care more about money than you do.  Others care less.  These are things you see every time you walk out of your house, or even just turn on the television.  But we seldom think about the ways in which language shapes our worldview.  I'm sure this is true for everyone, no matter their native language, but I think it's particularly true for English speakers because there are so many of us.  When we look out across the world we see the United States, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.  We see all of these cultures that we in some ways consider foreign, but at the same time we see cultures tied together by a common tongue.  We come to assume that everyone, literally everyone, studies Shakespeare in high school.  Everyone is familiar with Charles Dickens.  Everyone can name at least one book by Stephen King.  We don't even think of this as a worldview.  We just think of it as The World.  But we think of it that way because our worldview has been so shaped by the language we speak that it becomes our entire world.

Discovering New Worlds

When I first started out on my journey to become bilingual, this idea of a worldview shaped by language was one of the most amazing discoveries I made.  After only a few months of learning Spanish I became aware of authors and books and movies and actors and singers who were as well-known in the Spanish speaking world as Shakespeare and Dickens and King were in the English-speaking world.  Some I had heard of before, but others were completely new to me.  It was like finding another world.  Only it wasn't a new world.  It had always been there.  It had existed right beside my own for as long as my own world had been around, but I had never seen it because I had never bothered to look.

I'm tempted to compare learning Spanish to opening a door to this new world, but that wouldn't adequately describe the experience, because if we're aware that there's a door, then we're naturally aware that there is something behind it.  For me it was more like opening what I thought was a closet only to find another entire house when I stepped through.  Some things were familiar, but some things were completely new.  I had heard of Don Quixote, but now I also knew about Doña Barbara.  I was familiar with Selena (Quintanilla, not Gomez), but suddenly found myself preferring to listen to Juanes.  I had seen movies with Javier Bardem, but now fell completely in love with Eduardo Noriega.  I read Como agua para chocolate.  I stood up and cheered when Frijolito's parents finally got together.  And I rooted for Gael Garcia Bernal at the Golden Globes this year.

Paying it Forward

I can't tell you how many times I've heard people complain about "having to" learn a new language.  Or ask why they need to learn it if they never plan to travel to other countries.  I have an answer for that question now.  You should learn a new language because it's one of the most amazing journeys you will ever take.  You will learn so much more than just grammar and vocabulary, and your life will be forever changed by the experience.

If you have made your own amazing discoveries about the joys of becoming bilingual, I would love for you to leave me a comment.

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Why I Decided To Go Vegetarian in the New Year

Why a New Eating Plan?

Why am I trying to eat better in the New Year?  Well, why does anyone try to eat better in the New Year?'s because I ate a little too much over the holidays and now I'm feeling absolutely disgusted with myself and would love more than anything to drop a few pounds.  That's it in a nutshell.

The Way I Diet

I have to follow a meal plan when I diet.  I can't just "make better choices", because when I do that I get to thinking to myself, "Hey, this food is healthy! That means I can eat more of it!." And I do.  One of my favorite healthy snacks is apples with nut butter.  I don't really care what kind of nut the butter comes from, to me it all tastes good on an apple.  But here's the thing about nut butters: they have tons of fat.  That makes this favorite of mine a healthy, but certainly not low calorie, snack.  But I'm not thinking about that when I'm eating it.  I'm just thinking, "Yum," and I keep eating until I'm full, so I need to follow a scripted out plan if I'm going to see results.  I have to have some external form of portion control or I will overeat.

Why Vegetarian?

I would love to tell you that my decision to go veggie is because of some noble sense of duty to this world and the furry creatures that inhabit it, but I'm not going to tell you that because if I did I'd be lying.  Don't get me wrong, I do love animals, and occasionally feel a twinge of guilt when I eat them.  I have also read all of the research that says giving up meat is better for the environment and the world as a whole.  These thoughts were naturally in the back of my mind when I decided to give up meat (or maybe just eat a lot less of it) this year, but they were not my primary motivation.

Have you ever tried to improve your eating habits?  What is one thing that you discovered when you did that?  Most likely you found that healthy food is a lot more expensive than junk food.  Snacking on fruit and cheese costs a lot more than eating crackers and chips.  Lean meat costs more than fatty meat.  Seafood costs more than just about anything else in the grocery store.  When I've followed meal plans in the past I've spent so much on groceries it made my head, not to mention my checking account, spin.  Putting all of that money into my diet becomes just one more excuse to give it up completely and go back to crackers and white bread.  So I'm trying something different this time.  I'm giving up the thing that usually ends up costing the most in any healthy eating plan.  The meat.  I'm only one week in, so I don't know yet if it's made a difference in my budget, but I'm going to take a guess and say that it will.  Hopefully. 

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Saturday, January 2, 2016

Movies Every Supernatural Fan Needs to See

This is by no means a comprehensive list.  To do that I'd have to re-watch every episode, meticulously taking notes every time a movie reference came up.  I'd also have to write down everything that sounded like a movie reference, even if I didn't recognize it, then go on Google and search for the movies that the mystery references came from.  I didn't do that, so I have an incomplete list.  If anyone knows of any reference that I've missed, please let me know in a comment.

Season One:
          Poltergeist--mentioned briefly in the episode "Phantom Traveler". I naturally mean the original, not the remake. If you want to watch the remake, fine. It's a good movie as remakes go, but watch the old one first. And if, heaven forbid, you've seen the remake but not the original, then drop whatever you are doing and go watch it right now.
          The Sixth Sense--mentioned in "Asylum" when Dean calls Sam "Haley Joel".
          Deliverance--Mentioned briefly in "The Benders".

Season Two:
          It--I don't remember if there are any direct references, but "Everybody Loves A Clown" is about an evil clown. You can't really know the evil clown genre until you've seen It.
          Star Wars--Okay, I know, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who have seen Star Wars and those who are very proud of their identity as Someone Who Has Not Seen Star Wars. But still. If you watched the episode "Simon Said" and didn't quite get Dean's line, "He freakin' Obi Wanned me," then just go watch Star Wars. Please.
          The Exorcist--If you're a horror buff, which you must be if you're watching Supernatural, then you should have watched this movie long ago. But if you haven't, now's the time. The episode "The Usual Suspects" stars Linda Blair, and while it's actually pretty light on Exorcist references, there are a couple.
          The Shining--The episode "Playthings" is basically one long tribute to this movie.
          The Evil Dead--In "Hollywood Babylon" Sam and Dean visit a movie set. The movie being made is very similar to The Evil Dead. Again, please watch the original, not the remake.

Season Three:
          Groundhog Day--Lot's of shows have done tribute episodes to this movie, and Supernatural is no exception. Before you watch "Mystery Spot", watch Groundhog Day.

Season Four:
          Back to the Future--In the episode "In the Beginning", Dean goes back in time and meets his parents. Need I say more?
          I Know What You Did Last Summer--Again I don't remember if there are specific references to the movie itself, but a season four episode has this title, so you might as well watch it.

Season Five:
          The Omen--"I Believe The Children Are Our Future" is about the antichrist, so why not watch this classic movie on the same subject.
          Stay Tuned--I haven't seen this movie in years and remember very little about it, but the episode "Changing Channels" seems to be loosely based on it.
          Ghostbusters--Lends its name to the episode "The Real Ghostbusters", but referenced in other episodes as well. If you like the horror/comedy genre, which you must if you're watching Supernatural, but haven't seen this movie, go watch it right now.
          Girl, Interrupted--Lends its name to the episode "Sam, Interrupted."
          My Bloody Valentine--this time if you want to watch the remake (starring Jensen Ackles) then go ahead, but if you're a true movie nerd you'll watch the old one too.

Season Six:
          Weekend at Bernie's--lends its name to the episode "Weekend at Bobby's".
          Twilight--yeah, I know, you wouldn't be caught dead watching that movie. But if you really want to understand the episode "Live Free or Twihard", then bite your bottom lip and just do it. It will only take a couple of hours, I promise.

Season Seven:
          A Beautiful Mind--mentioned a couple of times in reference to Sam's hallucinations.
          Misery--referenced somewhat in the episode "Season Seven, Time for a Wedding".
          Black Swan--mentioned in the episode "Out With the Old".
          The Lord of the Rings Trilogy--also from "Out With the Old". The ballet shoes in this episode change size to fit the wearer, and once someone has touched them they have an overwhelming urge to put them on.
          The Ring--I don't remember the episode, but I know Sam mentions this movie at one point.

Season Eight:
          We Need to Talk About Kevin--lends its name to the first episode of the season.
          Lars and the Real Girl--lends its name to the episode "LARP and the Real Girl".

Season Nine:
          Dog Day Afternoon--inspired the title of the episode "Dog Dean Afternoon".

Season Ten:
          Paper Moon--lends its name to an episode in this season.

Season Eleven:
          Night of the Living Dead--The first two episodes of this season borrow heavily from the zombie genre, so you might as well watch this classic.
          The Bad Seed--lends its name to the third episode of the season.

As I said, this is an incomplete list. If you have anything to add, let me know in a comment.

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