Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Streams of Spanish Consciousness?

OK, many of my readers may have no clue what this is about. You will just have to be patient and wait for any responses.

But from the comments I received on other posts along the same vein, I am going out on a limb here. I am banking on at least some readers enjoying this as I did.

We have several Spanish/English story books that we keep lying around in the hopes that one or another of us will pick them up and learn some Spanish. Periodically, my husband or I will pick one up during our cup of coffee time. One of us reads in Spanish while the other tries to guess the meaning. Since Joe has actually studied a bit of Spanish in a school setting he is usually the guesser, while I am usually the reader.

Yesterday we were reading Una visita a la abuelita from the Las aventuras de Nicolas series by Berlitz kids. This is a nice series that starts with a story (in both Spanish and English) in a basal reader style, so that many words are repeated several times to facilitate vocabulary development. The book has an audio CD that includes the story in Spanish, a audio of the picture dictionary that one finds at the back of the book, and several fun kids songs for which both the Spanish and English are in the book. It is very child friendly. The series is available in many languages.

To return to the story we were reading yesterday, A Visit to Grandma, there was point in the story at which Grandma's guests were said to be "divierten muchisimo." Now the book insisted the phrase ought to be translated, "having a wonderful time."

I would have translated it differently. Any guesses?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

HIlls, Mountains, and Cairns

I grew up in Washington State. Western Washington. In the Puget Sound area. Sandwiched between the Cascade Range and Puget Sound. With the Olympic Peninsula and its Olympic Range on the horizon to the West.

One of my most vivid memories of Tacoma is the hills. The city streets seem to go straight up. And then up some more. At each cross street, the hill levels for a moment to cross the perpendicular road, and then up some more.

The backyard I first remember in that area was only slightly hilly. The back lawn was quite flat, as I recall. Beyond the lawn was a little patch of woods that grew on the hillside toward the back of our property. And if you climbed the trail up the hill, hidden away behind the woods, the ground leveled off and there we had our garden. All along one side of our yard were the back yards of the houses that faced the street perpendicular to ours. I think there were three houses, maybe four, along our property line. Each house was perhaps 10 feet higher than the last as one went along that street.

After we moved from that house we lived in the valley of a very hilly area. Between our road and the next main road a mile to the west were several large hills. Large as in, perhaps 30 feet up and then down maybe 20 feet; then up another 10 and down 20; and then back up 10. Of course, I am just guessing, but I did scan a topographical map to see if I was in the ball park. I don't think I'm exaggerating. At any rate, we had hills.

Always along the horizons, when we got up a hill far enough to see a horizon that is, were mountains. The crowning topographical feature of the area is Mount Rainier.

Each morning we drove from our town, Puyallup, to Faith Lutheran School in Tacoma, along Hwy 512. And in the afternoon we drove back home along the same route. There is spot along 512, if I remember correctly it is near where Portland Ave intersects. For that 100 yards or so all the hills and valleys line up to give a person a most magnificent view of Mount Rainier. From this particular view Rainier seems close enough to touch.

I have a friend, Carrie R. who is originally from the Midwest. When she first moved to Tacoma, the weather was overcast for several days. Carrie said that when the weather finally cleared and she got her first view of The Mountain, she almost drove off the road. She was so startled. It was amazing to someone who hadn't before scene peaks such as the many along the Cascade Range.

This view of Mount Rainier is looking from Puget Sound across the Tacoma skyline. It is somewhat different than my favorite along 512, but it captures the "reach out and touch it" aspect pretty well. This image is from a public domain collection at the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory. They have a nice photo collection of all the various volcanic peaks along the Cascades.

Now pan forward 30 years. I am now living in arguably one of the flattest places on earth. Our friend, Steve, the first time he was here thought that the area of Kansas in which he had spent a number of years was probably flatter. I think that was the southwest corner of Kansas, but I am not sure. After he vacationed there a few years later he had this to say, "I was mistaken. Your part of Minnesota is probably the flattest area on earth. Even Kansas seems hilly in comparison."

When we first moved here it was the middle of winter. Cold. Snow-covered. I am sorry to all you locals for whom this is home. But to my eyes it seemed really desolate. There is nothing on the horizon. No hills. In the winter, nothing green. Seemingly, nothing alive on this entire prairie but the other poor lonely souls hunkered in, waiting for spring.

Our nearest neighbors are a mile away. With binoculars I could look in their living room windows. Don't worry, Muriel, we have never tried. But I guess my point is that we can see everyone. Just looking out our north windows we can see the home sites of seven fellow church members, our neighbors, the folks we first got to know when we moved in. And three or four home sites of non-members, whom we therefore don't know as well, but are still neighbors. All these neighbors.

But the nearest ones a mile away. Juell and Annabell or Chris and Alan are probably each 2 1/2 miles north of us, as the crow flies. We can easily see their places. Darrow and Shirley are not much closer as the crow flies. But counting driving distance, they are probably the furthest of the neighbors we can see. All these neighbors. Just down the road. And yet separated by the barren tundra all winter long.

I am so glad we have cars these days. I often think of how it was 100 years ago when a person had to either walk or saddle a horse. I just can't imagine having everyone within easy view and yet being mostly cut off from them for 4-6 months each winter. That is desolate!

Now I have been here six and a half years. I no longer feel quite so overwhelmed by the openness or the winter time barrenness. But add to that one more thing that I found ironic when Spring did finally come that first year. The soil here is very rocky. The farmers in New England also have stony soil. I am told in New England they use these rocks to build beautiful stone fences along their property lines.

But here! Here, they pile them up so that when spring comes and the snow melts what do we see? Piles of stone in the middle of the fields. Big piles, little piles. Some along the edges of the fields, some in the middle. And what do they remind me of? The cairns that Celts use to mark graves. Yes, I know, on the British Isles cairns are also used for landmarks and to memorialize something important that occurred at the spot of the cairn.

But, alas, the thing that I thought of that first spring was that I had been transported to some medieval Celtic hillside (minus the hills, of course) and that each of those little piles marked the grave of some poor unfortunate who did not make it through the winter. The ground was frozen so they had to just pile the rocks on top, I guess.

I am reminded of that impression each spring as the rock piles become visible with the melting snows. But now instead of thinking of rustic tombs, I wonder if there are any good rocks in there for my flower bed.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Again Ms Plum; this Time on Novice Firearms Use

And again, also in Two for the Dough, Stephanie is on stake-out with Grandma Mazur. The bad guy they are seeking sees them at the side of the road as he drives by.
...Kenny had U-turned at the intersection and was closing ground between us. There were no cars parked behind me. I saw the Suburban swerve to the curb and told Grandma to brace herself.
The Suburban crashed into the back of the Buick, bouncing us forward into Morelli's car, which crashed into the car in front of him. Kenny backed the Suburban up, stepped on the gas, and rammed us again.
"Well, that takes it, Grandma said. "I'm too old for this kind of bouncing around. I got delicate bones at my age." She pulled a .45 long-barrel out of her tote bag, wrenched her door open, and scrambled out onto the sidewalk. "Guess this will show you something," she said, aiming the gun at the Suburban. She pulled the trigger, fire flashed form the barrel, and the kick knocked her on her [bottom]....
...She had her hand to her forehead. "Hit myself in the head with the dang gun. didn't expect that much of a kick." ...
..."Where'd you get the forty-five?"
"My friend Elsie loaned it to me," Grandma said. "She got it at a yard sale when she lived in Washington, D.C."..."I guess I'm not so tough as them television people. "
This episode kind of summarizes how I felt when I first shot clay pigeons with my cousins on top of Badger Mountain in Washington state. I have no idea what gauge shotguns we were shooting, but the first time I fired I was knocked over. I had no idea what I was doing. The instructions went something like this. "Put this on your shoulder. Hold here and here. Then when we release the targets, pull the trigger." Since my cousins Chip and Dale had grown up shooting, they didn't think to warn me about the kick. Or perhaps they just wanted to laugh at the city girl. I don't know.

Later I fired a few rounds from various weapons belonging to another friend in Madison. I don't really remember any details about that episode. Later still I shot a bit with my husband's .22 revolver.

And finally, I got my own Bersa Thunder .380. Having a .380 caliber round in a semi-auto handgun really took me by surprise. It bounces around a bit more than the twenty-two. Unlike Grandma Mazur, I did not, however hit my forehead. But I can imagine doing so when shooting a forty-five without previous practice. Had the gun I first fired with my cousins been a forty-five handgun, I probably would have ended up with a lump front and center.

I have also learned that not only caliber, but also the weight of the gun and the length of barrel effect the kick. My husband has a 9mm Springfield XD. That one seems to kick less than my .380. I'm not sure which factors are primarily responsible for this difference.

I am still learning about all this ammo stuff. A 9-mm and a .380 have nearly identical diameters. My .380 rounds are just a hair over 7/8" long. The 9mm rounds are 1 1/8 inches. Just the bullets themselves are also nearly a quarter inch different in length. Mine say they are 95 grain and Joe's say 115 grain. I think that is the mass of the bullet itself. But I also know that different rounds use different amounts of powder, too.

In the weights of the pistols themselves, there is also a difference. My Bersa is only 23 ounces. The barrel is 3 1/2". Joe's XD weighs in at 28 ounces with a barrel length of 4".

Whatever the differences are, his was much easier for me to shoot accurately with less practice than was mine. But I like my little one for other reasons. And I have gotten better with practice. I still would like to see more improvement.

I think it would be fun to take a course through The Site or Blackwater or Front Site or something similar. I think the discipline and routine that these courses instill is something to be worked toward. But I think that will remain a dreamed about vacation for awhile yet.