Monday, October 31, 2011

It's Italian, not Math, Mary!

I just took an on-line Italian quiz.  No, I wasn't merely wasting time.  Although I did have other things I wanted to be doing today. 

My Louisa is hoping to be a foreign exchange student in Italy next academic year.  She's learning Italian using Rosetta Stone.  But since Italian isn't one of Rosetta Stone's more commonly requested languages, it doesn't come with any supplemental materials, such as worksheets, tests and quizzes.  So I'm dinking around in the virtual world today, trying to find something she can use to reinforce what she's learning. 

I studied Italian for two semesters in college. But I don't really remember anything.  Or at least not much of anything.  I had also studied German for three years in highschool.  Highschool level language studies progress at a much slower pace than do college level courses.  I think a foreign language sticks with a person better when done at a slower pace.  

I traveled to Germany immediately after having studied Italian in college.  We stayed for three weeks with a family who spoke almost exclusively German.  When I first got there, I kept saying, "Si," rather than, "Ja," and, "Buon Giorno," rather than, "Guten Morgen."   But by the time we went to Italy at the end of our six weeks of traveling, I couldn't remember any Italian.  Almost nothing!  I think the German I learned in highschool resurfaced during my three week stay in Germany, and fully chased away any Italian I had managed to absorb during the previous college semesters.

Good thing many Germans travel to Italy for their holidays.  Most Italians we needed to speak with spoke German pretty well.  So between their second language skills and our own, we communicated more easily than in either Italian or English. 

So I'm not really much help to Louisa in her Italian language studies.

But I did have a pretty good classical type or college prep education, and I have always been a huge reader.  From that combination I have a little bit of ability to connect words that sound alike, or have similar roots, and can often make a reasonable guess at the meaning of isolated foreign words.  Especially in Italian or Spanish, since they have so many similarities to Latin, which is the root of so many of our English words. 

I can guess at German and Norwegian words or phrases for a different reason.  Since they are not romance languages, they don't get their foundations from Latin.  But they have similar roots to the English language (it's the whole Anglo-Saxon thing, I guess).  So they often just sound similar to our English words.  Guten Morgen, for example does not sound too much different than Good morning.

But I digress, sorry.  I'm a word geek, I find languages very fascinating.  When I was young I wanted to learn all the languages in the world.  We had a retired neighbor whose surname I can't spell correctly, so I'm not going to try.  He's just going to be, "The neighbor."  He had worked, I believe, for the national government (maybe state department) in some international capacity.  The neighbor had collected over his years of service a good number of languages.  Something like eight or nine.  I always held him is awe because of this talent.    

The neighbors were the kind of older couple who kept a little dish of candy just inside the door.  They liked for us kids to come over and visit.  We'd ring the doorbell and visit a few minutes and leave with our little piece of candy.  But behind the polite little visits with The neighbors, underneath the desire for that little piece of candy, was always the idea that this man was very cool.  He knew lots of languages.  Wow!

With that whole language thing in mind, just to see how I could do, I tried my hand at this Italian language quiz of common phrases at Quiz Tree a few minutes ago.  I did have a little help from Joe, who also does not speak Italian, but is a bigger language geek than I am.  He didn't help me with all of the questions, but for a few I couldn't decide between the two more likely answers, I'd ask his opinion. I think I got all the questions correct.  The little answer blinked green when I answered all of them. 

Just to be sure that I was interpreting the quiz blinks correctly, I just did a test and yes, it blinked red when I intentionally answered one wrong. As you can see from the screenshot I took of my quiz scores, I got the following results.

Think about that a minute.

Score: 640/700
Accuracy: 100%

Hmm.   Joe's response, "It's Italian, Mary, not math!"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Motivational Travail

I've been struggling with motivation lately.  Change has always been hard for me.  I prefer to find a groove and stay in it.

Now that the kids are in school, rather than at home full time, I find it takes most of the summer to get things figured out around the home, to be able to orchestrate the troops and actually get anything done.  Then summer is done and I have to figure out how to manage three little ones, and still get the normal stuff done, and even occasionally get to a "catching up" type job.  Eventually I even aspire to the "getting ahead" type jobs.  But then I get to feeling a little manic and have to rein in my dreams, lest I end up succumbing to the all too familiar sense of failure when such dreams do not come to fruition.

That said, even though it's not really a very interesting blog post, I'm going to list my goals for the day, in the hopes it will shame me into actually focusing long enough to accomplish a little something.
  • put in a load of wash
  • get lunch on (dinner, to any northern Minnesotans)
  • do dishes
  • put in another load of wash (yes, unfortunately, I have a heap of dishes waiting today; the wash load will probably be ready to change; sad but true)
  • sweep kitchen floor
  • sweep dining room floor
  • put another load of wash in
  • read to little ones and get them to quiet time
  • pick up living room and vacuum the floor
  • fold some of Mt. Washmore 
  • switch another wash load
  • plan after school snack and supper
Not very exciting, but very real.  If I get that much done, it will be a successful day.    Probably, now that I look at the time, if I get half of that done, it will have to count for a successful day.  Sigh.  Late getting going again today.

Thank you to a Faithful Reader

First I want to thank a blog reader who I know a bit personally, but not well.  Thank you, Corella, for sending me the Teresa Bloomingdale address.  It tickled my fancy, and I was able to nod my head and laugh at many spots.

As a blogger, it's always fun to meet someone who reads my blog.  And if that person has little or no connection to myself, its kind of a bonus.  I expect my family and friends to read occasionally, if for no other reason than to find out what's up with Mary and Joe.  But it pleases me in a special way to be able to write things that please strangers or near strangers.

Corella is the daughter of a sainted woman to whom Joe served as pastor in Oakland Park nursing home for the first several years we lived here.  I don't believe I ever met her, but enjoyed getting the photo greeting cards her family periodically sent out; and I've enjoyed meeting her family at a variety of community occasions.

Corella has commented that she enjoys reading the things I write about the area and community in which she was raised.  I fear I've not been doing a very good job of that lately.  I looked back with chagrin the other day at the slim number of posts I've actually gotten done in the last several months.

Thank you, Corella, for bringing a smile to my face.  How thoughtful of you to take the time to pop that address in the mail for me!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Prayers for this Young Lady

"So, a lion and a cheetah were running a race."  Joe started this joke at lunch Tuesday.  I burst out laughing, and then reached out and slugged him.  It was just so silly, and I could already hear the obvious ending. 

John was home from school that day, so Joe finished the joke for him.  "The cheetah crossed the finish line first, but the lion hollered, 'You're a cheata!' to which the lion replied, 'You're a-lyin'!' "

I was still giggling when Joe told me where he heard the joke.  But my giggles were quickly replaced by a teary feeling and a little catch in my throat, when he said that this was one of the jokes our young friend, Hannah, was telling the emergency room staff when she was being evaluated the other night.  And that sums up Hannah.  When her world is crashing down around her, she is thinking about others, and inserting a little joy in their lives.  Apparently, when another young girl came in after having been injured in a car accident, Hannah entertained her in like manner.

Hannah is a twelve year old friend who is not exactly a member of any of our churches, but it feels like she is.  Her mom, Allie, grew up in the Nazareth congregation, and because of all the close family ties in our area, even though Allie and her immediate family are members of a church in Thief River Falls, we see them often, and we have become as close to this family as to other families in our churches.

In many ways, Hannah is a typical middle-class American kid.  She likes Hollister clothes, plays cello in the local school orchestra (I think that's the correct big stringed thing), and has played hockey every winter since she was little.  But Hannah had been blessed with one of the biggest hearts I've seen in a person her age.

One example of her selflessness is her work at The Valley Home in Thief River Falls.  She volunteers at this nursing home almost daily during the summer; and spends some evenings and Saturdays there during the school year.  Her sparkling personality and kind demeanor are a joy and comfort to the residents there.  A few years ago, when she was probably only nine or ten, she orchestrated a fund drive to get a Wii system for the residents at Valley Home.

But Hannah is going through a traumatic time right now.  She has been experiencing seizures of unexplained origins for the last three weeks or so. These seizures have been increasing in frequency and intensity.  Monday afternoon the seizures became severe enough that Hannah was once again taken to the hospital in TRF, and then later rushed again to Fargo for care.

By the time Joe got the second call Monday, near midnight, the medical practitioners were not sure they'd be able to stabilize Hannah to get her through the night.  Her seizures at that point, according to the scans they were running, were coming almost constantly, with several layers of seizure on top of each other.

We praise God that He allowed the doctors to get Hannah through that night. She was flown to the Mayo Clinic's St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester on Tuesday.  It sounds as though she is gradually improving with the care she is getting.  But it is a scary time for her and her family, as they wait for God's timing in allowing the doctors to figure out the mystery of the source of and solution to her seizures.

Hannah's immediate situation is not the first bump in the road along which God has asked Hannah and her family to walk in recent years.  Only a few years ago, Hannah lost her Uncle Ryan, still a young man, in a tragic car accident.

And just a little over a year ago, Hannah's mom, Allie, had a stroke at the young age of 34.  Allie has been so valiant at all levels of her recovery.  It's been a time of physical, emotional, and spiritual challenge and healing.  God surely has worked in Allie's life through that hardship; she has documented her journey on her blog, A Stroke of Hope.  Allie still struggles some days with confusion, fatigue, and a residual lack of motor control.

Yet somehow, God in His wisdom is asking this family to go through still more.  They must once again wait on His timing, and trust His will.

To all of you, Hannah, Allie, Aaron, Nolan; Cheryl and Rodney, Aric and Lucas; Joni and Ricky, Kelly and Emily and Matthew; and all of yours; we love you all and pray God's comfort and peace as you walk this path.

There are so many good and applicable Bible passages I could insert, but I'm going to include here my favorite, from way back when I was in high school and we sang a choral rendition of these verses in choir. During my high school and young adult years, the following words seemed to speak to the emotional earthquakes and roarings with which adolescence is fraught. 
Psalm 46:1-3
God is our refuge and strength,
         A very present help in trouble.
 Therefore we will not fear,
         Even though the earth be removed,
         And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling.  
Hannah, you, and all of your family, are going through a very tangible and horrific kind of earthquake and roaring.  But I think the words very picturesquely capture what you must be going through.  Remember that God is your refuge and strength, even amidst such mind- and heart-shattering times.  Even when the metaphorical waters roar and mountains shake, He is with you, carrying you through it all.

Readers can check on Hannah at her Caring Bridge sight.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


I'm really not very technologically inclined.  I do blog, but that's only because Blogger does everything for me.  I just click, and type, and there it is.

But through the years of blogging, I've periodically had to mess with the HTML stuff, if the formatting of something periodically freaks out on me.  I'm not really very comfortable doing this, because I just don't have room in my head to store the translation of all the symbols and doohickeys that make up the HTML language.

So how it works for me, when I run into some sort of formatting difficulty on blogger, is to find something that is working correctly in a different blog post, or a different part of the same blog post.  I then click the little HTML option, find the code for the section I want to emulate, copy and paste that section, and then tweak it for the part I'm working on.

Most of the time that works reasonably well.

This last week, the gadget that links the ads for my Amazon associate account stopped working.  This is a handy little thing that doesn't really earn me any money, but it potentially it could.  I started it for my book review blog, so that if anyone was interesting in purchasing a book I reviewed, they could handily go to Amazon to purchase it.  And if they did, after coming from my link, I'd conceivably get a small portion of the profits for my part in the promotion of the product.  Now in reality, I don't have many readers, and those who do read are primarily low-budget, used book types like myself.  (Or kids looking for answers for their school assignments.  That's a big part, too, for some of the titles.  I can always tell when a certain school district or area has assigned a certain book.  All of a sudden I'm hit with people from the same geographic area checking my review.  Some of them are even silly enough to ask me for specific information about the book.  "What are the major themes in The Evolution of Calpernia Tate?" for instance.)  Since Amazon waits to send any "income" until an associate has earned at least $10, I'm still waiting to see that first payment.  Right now I'm sitting at about the $7 mark, so I have yet to see any earnings.  But it's still fun to include the links, so I keep on doing it.

So anyway, as I was saying, the gadget that Blogger provides to handily link these Amazon products, stopped working.  I went to Amazon associates customer service and asked what the deal was.  But since the gadget is apparently provided by Blogger, Amazon couldn't help me any.  But they did send me a link to some of their own gadgets and widgets and doodads.  So I went to their page and explored a few of their options and nothing worked exactly the way I wanted it to.  One option provided me with the same frame my Blogger widget did, but I couldn't wrap any text around it.  And who wants a big blank spot in their blog?  Not me, anyway.

I was getting a bit frustrated, until I suddenly remembered my former HTML experiments and thought to myself, "Ahaa!  I can do this!"

I simply took the "embed" HTML from the Amazon associates page, and pasted it in the HTML section of my post.  Then I copied and pasted the HTML code from a successfully posted Amazon Associates ad. 
I figured if I could compare the two, I could easily change the few things that were different.

But alas!  It was not to be so simple.

(OK, in this part of the post, I had actually included the html as I saw it, but in the Compose window fo Blogger.  I figured then it wouldn't be translated into anything, but still show the code.  But when I ran the preview, there wat the two adds.  One with text wrapped around, the other without.

So you'll have to trust me that the are very different.  Instead of just a few little differences to iron out, hardly anything was the same.  The entire set-up was done differently.)

These babies are quite different. What now?  What now?  What to try?

But wait.  This is like a math puzzle, or a problem on a standardized test.  Look for the patterns.  Figure it out, Mary.

Usually I checked for the differences.  The things that seemed out of place in the code.  But this time almost all of it was different.  Maybe I had to look for the meager similarity, instead.  Upon closer perusal, I noticed that the similarity was the part between the quotation marks.  Although the info was different, both sets of code had the quotation marks and the stuff inside the quotation marks began with http://.  Ahaa!  A web address.

Well, it was worth a try anyway.  I simply took the format that worked the way I wanted it to, but replaced the web address from between the quotation marks with the one from the code Amazon had suggested.

And voile!  I did it.  And since then, I've done it two more times.  I am so cool! 

Of course, I can't really figure out how to spell voile! or how to get the little accent I guess I'm not really all that cool.  Live and learn, live and learn...

Celiac Awareness, The Virgil Crest Ultra Marathon, and Dedication

Some of you may remember me periodically blogging about gluten free blogger, Pete Bronski.  Mr. Bronski is a writer.  He's written a handful of books about adventure sports.  I read Hunting Nature's Fury, which he co-wrote with storm chaser Roger Hill.  I was unable to ever get the one I really wanted to read, At the Mercy of the Mountains, since no libraries in the statewide network have it.  Drat!  It's that mountain thing, again.  One can't drive back and forth over Washington's Cascade Mountains all one's early years without absorbing a bit of fascination with the majesty and awe of mountains.

Mr. Bronski also does freelance writing for magazines of similar vein.  And he engages in various extreme sporting events and includes reports on such activities in his blog.

I know of Pete because I follow his blog, No Gluten, No Problem.  I am a frequently commenter.  I periodically write to ask him questions about celiac related topics.  So throughout the years we've developed one of those strange virtual acquaintance things.

Pete and his wife, Kelli, have authored two cook books.  I own, Artisanal Gluten Free Cooking.    You can find more information at the link.

I hope to get their second, Gluten Free Cupcakes, soon.  I thought I had reviewed it when we had it from the library, but I see I haven't reviewed any books since June.  (Yikes, am I ever behind!)  You'll have to follow the Amazon link for the reviews there, but I really liked this book.  I don't bake cupcakes often, (like, never?) but during the weeks we had this book from the library, Louisa just went to town.  We had a different artistically invented variety of cupcakes every night for a while.  I am in awe of the ways the Bronskis incorporated such a variety of ideas in to beautiful, artfully presented recipes.

A week ago, Pete ran his second Virgil Crest Ultra 50 mile marathon.  Besides running for his own adventure, Pete also uses his races to raise money and awareness for Celiac disease.  Last year, he ran in spite of a gluten reaction, and finished in 11 hours and 34 minutes.

This year Pete's challenges were different.  Instead of a mere gluten reaction with which to contend, the mountains and hills were saturated and slippery with mud.  But on top of that, Pete had spent the previous ten days dealing with a mysterious illness. In his own words, written the Wednesday before the September 24, race, "So to recap: since just this past Thursday, I've seen my primary doctor, an ER doctor, a dermatologist, an opthalmologist, and an infectious disease specialist. Those five doctors have variously diagnosed me with: a staph infection (not it), Lyme disease (also not it), contact dermatitis from poison oak (doesn't explain my systemic symptoms, and which, by the way, doesn't grow in New York!), a bad spider bite with systemic reaction (it's not a spider bite, trust me), and a contact dermatitis allergic reaction and bad drug side effects/allergy (possible, though I'm still skeptical)."

In spite of all, Pete finished the race.  Again, I'll use his words, "I crossed the finish line in 12 hours 15 minutes. I had finished. Not only that, but I was only 30 minutes behind last year's time. Given both a) the muddy conditions and b) my recent illness, I was more than thrilled. It was the most difficult day of racing, and the most painful and hard-earned finish, I've ever had. By a long shot. And it felt good. (That sounds crazy, doesn't it?)"

Great job, Pete!  What an achievement.  But yes, it does sound a bit crazy.  To get the full impact of his physical condition, the condition of the trails, and his race day, You'll have to follow the links I included above.  Wow!  That's some dedication!  Or just plain crazy.

I believe you can still give money to celiac research via Pete's First Giving page.  Check it out to support celiac awareness and research.

The Magic Meadow

Most homeschool families are familiar with the biographical and historical picture books of Ingri and Edgar Parin D'aulaire.  Besides the historical value of the biographies of notable historical figures such as George Washington, Pocahantas, and Bemjamin Franklin, the D'aulaire's are known for their vivid lithography.  Their biography of Abraham Lincoln, for instance, won the Caldecott Medal in 1940.

But until reading about their lives in order to write this post, I didn't realize how very prolific was their body of work, and how interesting their backgrounds. 

Edgar was born in Germany, but was of Swiss citizenship.  His father was Italian, and his mother appears to have been an American who lived in Paris.  Both his parents were artists.  Edgar studied under Henri Matisse.

Ingri was Norwegian.

After they married and came to America, both pursued careers in art.  They were drawn into the world of Children's literature by the director of the New York Public Library, and worked together to produce eventually 27 picture books.

They seem to have specialized in the folk tales and historical figures from their combined cultural backgrounds, producing stories of Norwegian, Swiss, and American heritage, and also an extensive book of Greek Myths.

A few months ago, before the school year started, I took my elementary aged kids to the open house at their school.  The school librarian had placed a couple of boxes of "free" books in the hallway.  Even though I was in the thick of weeding out our home library, I simply could not pass it by without taking a peak.  And as any true bibliophile can understand, it's pretty hard for me to take a peak at a box of old books without finding at least a couple that simply need to come home with me.

One of the books I found in these boxes was The Magic Meadow by Ingri And Edgar D'alaire.  This book presents many apsects of Swiss heritage, including the story of William Tell, the freedom loving representative governmental system of the Swiss cantons, the rugged beauty of the Alps, and a snippet each of folklore and the history of tourism based economic development.  And as a constant backdrop, through it all, flows the quaintly beautiful lithograph illustrations.

I'm not sure how the D'aulaires managed to come up with a story that included so much, but somehow it all holds together.  As are most of the D'aulaire books, this one, too, tells a sweet story with lasting value at many levels.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

One of the Fragrances of Autumn

I'm making green tomato mincemeat today.  When my kids get home from school, the house will be filled with the tangy, sweet, and spicy smell of the mix, simmering on the stove.  My house will smell like a Yankee Candle.  But besides filling my kitchen with the rich aroma, my work will yield jars of savory, sweet goodness to use during the winter.

What is mincemeat?  I can't say I've ever had the genuine article, which is apparently made with meat pieces and suet.  What I make is primarily sweetened and minced green tomatoes and apples, along with raisins.  It is then stewed in a tangy spice mix until thick.  I can it, and occasionally take out a jar to use as fillings for pies, coffee cakes, muffins; or even as a topping for plain muffins or toast.  It lets me recapture those autumn fragrances all winter long; and the smell will give a warm and homey feeling to the kitchen on a cold and blustery day.

The challenge for me most years is having enough green tomatoes and apples available at the same time. I won't use grocery store apples for this, but wait for those times when somebody has too many from their own tree to use for themselves.  This year I bought several bags from Janice B.'s trees at the Nazareth bake sale.  Joe's mom had brought me a bunch of green tomatoes, but I didn't have time to make the mincemeat that week.  Now those tomatoes are all turning red, so they will become spaghetti sauce instead.  When I mentioned to Jan D. on our morning walk yesterday that I was disappointed I didn't get my mincemeat done, she said she had plenty of green tomatoes left.  Wow!  She sent them over with her daughter yesterday afternoon.

I got this recipe from my mom, and I believe my grandma made it the same way.  I certainly associate it with Grandma's house, but perhaps that is a fabricated memory.  Here's what I believe is the the recipe the way I originally got it from Mom, but I've added commentary within parenthesis.
Green Tomato Mincemeat
8 c green tomatoes
1tbs salt
Mince the tomatoes, mix with salt, and let stand for 1 hour.  Drain well.

1 tsp cloves
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice (I have this crossed out on my recipe.  I don't know why, but since it's crossed out, I don't use it.)
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
2 lbs currants
1 lb raisins (I never keep currants on hand, so I generally use 2 lbs of raisins and omit the currants.)
4 c peeled and minced or grated apples
6 c brown sugar (I cut the sugar to 3 1/2 cups.  Again, I don't remember why.  But it is plenty sweet this way.)
1/2 c vinegar

Stir tomatoes into the rest.  Cook slowly for 3 hours (or so; watch carefully so it doesn't scorch.  I've done this in a crock pot. Probably one could bake it, too, either within a pan of water, or with one sitting on a different rack.  I'm notorious for letting things scorch on my stovetop, so this step is the hard part for me.)

Pack immediately into clean and hot jars.  Arrange pre-heated seals and rings, then tip upside down for a few minutes.
Or process in canner 30 minutes. (I've never processed mine, and although the experts would frown upon this, I've kept it for up to 2 1/2 years.  It's always stayed good.)