On Learning Spanish

I have a story about learning Spanish…..

I took a couple Spanish courses in high school and enjoyed it, so when I went to uni for languages, I took a bunch more. I was to the point where I could have decent conversations in the classroom, and could understand a fair bit.
However.
One year my parents and I are in a Florida supermarket. My mom is searching for her butter-like margarine that will melt when she puts it on toast. Now if you knew my mom, you’d know this was very important to her….. ūüėÄ ¬†So I go to ask the guy stocking the shelves, but he indicates he only speaks Spanish. So, being the educated lady I am, I start to speak Spanish with him. The only problem was, I didn’t know how to say “butter”. It had never come up in my school teachings about El Cid or Spain or any other normal topic taught in Spanish courses. To make matters worse, I also didn’t know the word for toast, or melt.
What I did know was the words for ‘hot bread’ and a heckuva lot of hand gestures.
The poor stock clerk had no idea what I was talking about and soon, he had a couple coworkers trying to understand me and my crazy-talk, and finally he beckoned his English-speaking boss over, who recommended a kind to my ever-persistent mother.

For that reason, I will never forget the Spanish word for butter ever again: mantequilla ūüėÄ

Quiet

In the country, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by quiet.

Sure, you hear crickets, cicadas, tree frogs, but you also notice a general hum so deep it’s almost dizzying.

It doesn’t turn off.

You tilt your head to triangulate its origin, to no use. It feels as if your ears are being pulled backwards, stretched, straining, listening from the back of your head. You hear it even where you don’t.

After a while, you start thinking again. 

But not in the regular way, not linear.

Like your ears were stretched in new directions listening, your mind is stretching, hearing its subconscious mumbling. Seemingly random, encompassing almost embarrassing extremes, you are sure it is only showboating; there is no way your stream of consciousness is that obtuse!

It is, and it’s beautiful.

Here, these sparks are your originals, your treasure chest of creative thought. These tingles of innovation, of personal discovery, of reassuring empathy. In between the crickets and cicadas and tree frogs, more than any other thing, they are who you are.

A Straight-forward Guide to 2013 Car Shopping: How We Found a Great Car!

So I know I haven’t written a post in a while, but we recently bought a new car and I was asked to help guide a friend in his search. ¬†I thought maybe some of this could help others looking for 2013 car models as well! ¬†Plus I did a lot of typing just now, so I want to use it to help more people!!

 

So….. we had more than 22 candidate vehicles¬†ūüėÄ:D

I’m kind of a strong (read: obsessively)¬†organizational person, so here is how we ended up deciding to buy our brand new 2013¬†Nissan Altima. ¬†My bf’s Mazda Protege 5 lasted him since 2002 with good maintenance, so understand we probably did a lot more homework with the hopes of keeping this car as long (or nearly as long) as the last one. ¬†We may not have been correct with all our data mining but I’d like to think we were pretty close, and the opinions stated below are from our experiences with the cars and preferences, and won’t necessarily be true for you.

To explain the pictures below, the one that says Safety at the top is the top of Page 1, the one that continues the same format from “Honda” down is the bottom of Page 1, then the third picture is the shortened list from the ones we actually were most interested in, and our test drive notes.

Top of Page 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bottom of Page 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What we did was look at each manufacturer and list the vehicles they had in the categories we were interested in (sedan, hatch, SUV). Some we knew already were crossed off the list – Subaru for example had an unfavourable test drive (engine revving sounded whiny), and the Honda Accord – just from sitting in it. So we didn’t waste time with them in these lists.

Next we listed all the safety ratings. All the 4/5/4 numbers you see are out of a potential 5/5/5 (front impact, side impact, rollover impact) rating. If it got a 3/5 for any of them, we considered it a safety risk and crossed it off the list.

Then we compiled all the Rollover percentages and Gas mileage. The gas mileage is in three numbers: City MPG, Highway MPG, and Combined MPG (you might find if you only ever do City driving, you might not care about the Highway or Combined numbers. We do a combination of both so we looked at all of the numbers). There were a couple of vehicles that had such bad gas mileage we crossed them off the list (GM Terrain) and the Acuras only take Premium gas so we crossed them off the list as well.  Oh, and the Ford Taurus was bad on gas too, so it was nixed.

Next we took the price – for the trim level that my bf and I would be interested in – and keep in mind you’ll be adding a few thousand for delivery of the car and taxes, so don’t buy a car thinking the advertised price is what you’ll be paying.

Some vehicles we looked at the combination of all these factors and decided, you know what? If it’s got an okay safety rating (say, 4/5/4), but high rollover percentage compared to the others, not that great gas mileage, and fairly expensive, we crossed it off the list. Nissan Rogue, GM Terrain were a couple examples of overall not being that great (on paper at least).

Next I went through each remaining car and rated them on how much I wanted to take it on a test drive to see if it was any good to drive. 1 means I really want to try it out, 2 means I can take it or leave it, and 3 means I really don’t care if we cross this one off the list. My bf did the same, and those are the numbers on the far left of the page. We added them up and the cars with the lowest scores made it into the first column of the Short List page (under “2” which represents the total score of 1 from bf + 1 from me). Second column are the ones that are next in line to test drive, and so on. The ones in the last columns we didn’t really care about.

From that short list (Optima, Focus, Elantra, and Altima), my bf did some research into the major complaints from recent years on http://www.safercar.gov/

The Optima didn’t have any complaints (makes sense, safest car at 5/5/5). The Focus didn’t have 2013 model data but had some steering and engine complaints from past years. The Elantra had a weird complaint(s) of the sun roof randomly breaking into tiny pieces, not sure how recent that was. The Altima didn’t have any 2013 complaints, and the only complaint from 2012 was that the gas and brake pedals were close together – something they changed in the 2013 model.

Below those notes in blue are some notes in black – those are my test-drive notes. Sorry for the chicken-scratch handwriting, I thought I’d be the only one reading it¬†ūüôā:)

Each one is separated into PROs and CONs. I ran out of space so I put the Altima at the top but then didn’t need the CONs column because we didn’t have any!

A couple things I noticed in a few vehicles: passenger side seat adjustments are often manual, even when driver’s side has power adjustable seats. This annoyed me a lot because I want to be comfortable as well as my bf does! ¬†Hello, equality! ¬†(especially if you consider how many people shop for cars with their partners, who will often have just as much say in the final purchase as the main driver……. come on marketers wake up!) ūüėČ;)¬†As a result, I started taking note of how much visibility I got as the passenger since I was often sitting low in the seat and couldn’t adjust it – so you’ll see notes like “40% or less car-view” which means: when I’m looking straight ahead of me how high does the dashboard come up into my view out the window? ¬†How much “car-view” do I have when seated normally?

Seat comfort was very very important to us, because we plan on doing road trips and a lot of 1.5+ hour drives. The seats in the Nissan Altima were designed by NASA engineers to be zero-gravity and when we sat in them our jaws dropped open – it was like sitting in a couch it was so comfortable!!!! ¬†After the test-drive, my bf asked me, “So….. can we buy it?” and I immediately said, “Yes.” ¬†He’d asked what I thought about buying the KIA Sportage (the first one we test-drove – before these charts were even created – and we really liked it, but didn’t like the gas mileage) and the Hyundai Elantra previously but we weren’t ready yet to make those decisions. ¬†After test-driving the Altima though, it was obvious to us that it was an easy choice to make.

Now, when you consider the price difference between the Hyundai Elantra (~25,000$), the KIA Optima (~33,000$), and the Nissan Altima (~29,000$), personally obviously we’d suggest the Altima because of a few things – we definitely liked the drive the best, it’s cheaper, has better visibility, and feels lighter to drive than the Optima. The Optima wasn’t bad, and had a great turning radius, but felt like you were driving a really safe heavy brick!

Our second choice probably would have been the Elantra. We really didn’t see why the Elantra was so much less expensive than the Optima, because it was really nice to drive too. The sunroof is double and the best of them all (not that that’s necessary, but still!)……the drive was a little stiffer than the Altima (sportier feel) meaning the gas/brake pedals and steering wheel were a little harder to move. Some people like that style, we didn’t mind either way, but it was a definite difference in feel.

Oh, and the Ford Focus was an absolute disappointment. It looked great on paper, got all these great reviews, and then we took it for a test-drive and it sounded like it was labouring to get up to speed on the highway. Its turning radius was horribly wide, and my bf hit his knee against the median 2 or 3 times just in driving the car – the leg room was awfully small. Overall, sounded and felt like a cheap car, yet it was as much money as the Optima!

Like I said, some makes and models didn’t make it on to the page but were considered beforehand and dismissed. VW was actually one of those, because we took a brief test-drive with the Passat and didn’t really like it, it sounded like the engine was labouring. Also we didn’t think the trim of the interior was very nice, and I think they are expensive, but don’t really remember how much. ¬†And the Tiguan as you’ll see on Page 1 (bottom) had a bad safety rating and a pretty high rollover percentage for our comfort level.

Overall, my advice would be to collect a handful of vehicles you’re interested in, and test drive (with your significant other if you can/have one!) as many as you can in one or two days. You want to be in the same mind-frame so you can compare them better. If you can, drive it in day and night to see any differences. ¬†I DEFINITELY recommend taking notes because trust me, it’s so easy to get confused which one had what sun roof and which had the weird steering…… if it’s not written down. I took my sheets of paper with me everywhere so I could compare on the spot to the other cars we drove. It also shows the dealers you’re serious about buying, and I’d like to think they knew they couldn’t pull anything on us because they saw we would know if they were lying!¬†ūüėČ;)¬†¬†Some people recommended we rent the model we’re interested in buying, but at the time we were still interested in the Kia Sportage, but nowhere near us was renting those out, so that’s not always possible but would be a great idea if you can find the model you’re interested in.

Anyway, I hope this helps you get organized for your own car search! ¬†Good luck, and happy hunting! ¬†ūüôā

 

Marketing Done Right: How Starbucks Has Befriended Their Army

I have been in awe for a while over Starbucks’ ability to turn buyers into promoters, and today I received an e-mail that is a perfect example. ¬†The e-mail was as follows:

“Hi,

As you know, Canada Post is on strike. And that means, for as long as this goes on, we won’t be able to send you postcards for your birthday drink you’ve earned.

But rest assured: we’re keeping track of all the good things we’re supposed to send your way. And once the strike is over, we’ll send you those postcards you were supposed to receive – with an extended expiration date so you can enjoy them.

Thanks for your understanding and patience. And if you have any questions, please call us at 1-800-STARBUC.

Starbucks Card Team”

Just to get this straight: I’m receiving an apology e-mail for not receiving a bonus gift due to something outside of their control. ¬†Ahead of time.

Let me point out the awesomeness about this (as if it needs delineating):

  • Starbucks offers a free drink for card-holders’ birthdays: This makes people happy because they’re receiving something free; it also attaches a more personal feeling towards Starbucks due to receiving a ‘gift’. ¬†There are some who would argue this increases customer loyalty because it invokes the feeling of obligation to return the favour — which, in this case, would be returning to purchase again.
  • This drink has NO size or type limitation: this makes people feel a little giddy for ‘screwing the system’ if they want to get a Venti super-expensive fancy drink….. or, simply, allows people to get the drink they normally would choose.
  • This gift can usually be used within a month (or two?) of the person’s actual birthdate: This allows people to not feel a need to use the gift card right away (avoiding any association with stress or rushing). ¬†From the business perspective, it also allows the person more time to potentially forget about cashing in the gift.
  • They will not be cancelling (or ignoring) these usual gifts, even though an entity outside of themselves is causing their delay. ¬†They even take it upon themselves to apologize¬†for the delay. ¬†They owned up to something that wasn’t even their fault, and were the better company for it.
  • This anticipated message was sent with an affirmation that the expiration date will be extended — in case anyone was worried about getting their gift in time. ¬†This way, even these somewhat caffeine-infused worries are alleviated.

Rest assured indeed!  If Starbucks opened a bank, I would consider switching.

One Food I Will Leave for Others to Enjoy…..

I seriously doubt I will ever summon up the courage to try Balut. (a.k.a. bird fetus) ….. and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t ever *want* to.

But, to each their own!

P.S. I was going to attach a photo, but decided it would require a warning for the weak-stomached. You can thank me later.

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Please sign this petition to help stop the killing of thousands of animals at Hamilton Animal Control

I got this in an e-mail from a friend.  I hate spam as much as the next person, but I wanted to try to get as many signatures as possible and thought this the best way.  Feel free to pass this to others.

Thousands of animals are killed every year by Hamilton Animal Control.  

Please sign this petition! 

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/ora-project-accountability-now/

This is the text of the petition:

We the undersigned, request:

that the decision of euthanization be taken collectively by senior staff at the Hamilton City pound and not left in the hands of one person; that the massive and barbaric killing of healthy animals be stopped; that the picking up and killing of pets found roaming outside be stopped; that a policy of trap, neuter and return (TNR) be implemented in place of scheduled killing; that a low cost spay and neuter be made available to help curb the pet population; that the fees for reclaiming an animal be reduced; and that the pound be opened up to the public for adoption.

Since their tragic deaths on April 29th, Treena and Britain have become angelic feline symbols for the thousands of animals killed every year at the Hamilton City Animal Control (HAC), a high intake, high kill pound. According to the pound manager, HAC receives around 5,000 animals a year, likely more. Of these numbers, the only animals who escape death are the ones saved via rescue, a HAC privilege extended only to local grassroots groups like ORA.

Twice a week, on Tuesday and Friday morning, and before the opening of the pound, the vet technician administers horse sedatives to the animals marked for death. Soon after, the vet arrives to put an end to their innocent little lives.

Twice a week, every week. The same routine of death.

HAC does not have a website or a bulletin which would allow the public to adopt directly, or even to retrieve unfortunate pets that have been picked up by Hamilton Animal Control. As per their bylaws, HAC can pick up any roaming cat. If no one comes to claim the cat, the cat will summarily be killed. The majority of the cats saved by¬†rescue groups¬†from HAC are tame, many have been neutered or spayed, and some have unfortunately been declawed. These signs point to the fact that, at some point in time, most, if not all, of these animals were someone’s pets.

To demonstrate our outrage against the senseless and unnecessary killing of thousands of animals each year at the HAC, ORA is committed to collecting your signatures for this very important petition that demands for immediate and much-needed change.

It is our responsibility to collectively solicit HAC to take the proper measures NOW and to stop the weekly slaughter of animals and of people’s pets. HAC’s manager and staff are publicly funded, and ultimately, they must be held accountable for their actions.

Please sign this petition  to pressure HAC to change their policy and stop the massive routine  killing of  innocent lives. Please go to:

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/ora-project-accountability-now/

and sign now and crosspost!

Claudia Vecchio

Volunteer Chairperson

ORA-Organization for the Rescue of Animals

www.orarescue.org

Tel: 416 726 5762

Who Could Resist?

Short post today. I’ve been reading a lot, so that cut down on my blogging, such as it is.
Really, my only reason for posting today is because I have tried to keep up with Post a Week 2011, and I think maybe I missed a week in there. Plus, I got tired of seeing people type “First” whenever they are the first to post on a blog item or Facebook update or something many people will read.

The update came from the Blue Jays on Facebook, and someone’s “First” made me mentally cringe. I decided not to bother holding back and wrote: “First? First to what? First to type “First.”? First to expose yourself as a superstitious follower of a trend no one could understand or explain as being worthy of the time it took to partake, or a narcissistic ploy for praise from all the Interwebz who will undoubtedly be jealous of your impressive ability to correctly type the letters f,i,r,s,t, and a period? Or are you referring to someone standing on first base that we should be aware of? I don’t see anyone on first, but maybe you do. So who’s on first?! I don’t know. THIRD BASE!”

Really, who could resist?
(Maybe Who could…..)

Why Calgary (and Canada) Still Needs French in Schools

This is in response to the brief news flash I saw on CP24 yesterday, reported here.  (In searching for the article, I came across one from 2004, clearly showing the flip-flop of this province on the importance of language learning: here)

In my experience, learning languages has been a source of pleasure as well as an intellectual challenge. ¬†Because of my courses in elementary school, high school, and university, I am able to read, write, speak, listen, in 3 different languages. ¬†Sure, it’s great if I’d like to travel, or happen to meet someone whose native language is not English, but that’s not the only reason I’m glad to have had exposure to other languages.

Any good teacher/professor knows that to teach a language without introducing a culture is a serious mistake. ¬†What good is teaching a student to conjugate a verb properly when they’re unknowingly using an insulting phrase? ¬†Why teach someone a word without its full meaning as it relates to that culture? ¬†Along with nouns, verbs, and all other parts of speech, a language course offers a view from another perspective — often from somewhere far away. ¬†The beauty in this is not just a demonstration of what makes another culture special, but how similar we are.

Teaching a second language breaks down barriers of “they” and “them” and introduces “we.” ¬†And once “we” has been introduced, it can never be taken away.

Two years ago, I worked on a project researching the perceptions of students in Grade 9 French as a Second Language classes in high schools. ¬†As the study related specifically to an FSL computer program, I was mostly watching how they used their computer time.¬†¬†I’ll admit, I saw many students simply not interested in what they were learning. ¬†But I also saw the majority of another classroom fully engaged in the program, excited and enjoying their time learning French. ¬†The difference? ¬†A fully engaged teacher.

I have known so many people who look back upon their time at school and wistfully comment that they wish they’d tried harder to learn French. ¬†I can’t imagine it was because they knew the verb conjugations would be helpful to them later on in life, but probably because they realized that once we finish school and get out into the working world there are a LOT more than just English speakers. ¬†I sometimes wonder what Europeans (for example) think of us for only learning one other language in school.

Yes, I understand the need to cut costs in education (as if there’s enough there to begin with). ¬†But as my project showed, the department already suffers from a lack in funding, and cutting it out of mandatory status just further pushes it down the funding line-up. ¬†This is the first step to it becoming extinct. ¬†If people don’t push to keep French around to be available to everyone, soon it will be available to NO ONE. ¬†And that will be an embarrassing affront to all English as a Second Language citizens of Canada, if we can’t even educate ourselves in our official languages.

Besides, it’s French. ¬†Apart from a teacher and a classroom, you only really need a few classic books, a few dictionaries (which don’t need updating for decades), and maybe a handful of verb conjugating books. ¬†Hardly a big request when you consider other programs, and that, once purchased, ¬†they doesn’t require continuous updating.

I also understand the complaint that students should have a right to choose most of their courses in high school. ¬†However, I remember having difficulty cramming all the courses I needed¬†into my schedule, let alone the courses I wanted. ¬†Making French optional will result in students having to abandon it in favour of other courses that are required for their future, if they don’t plan on studying it further. ¬†The timetables are set in order to meet the required¬†courses in Grade 9, so if French is a requirement, it won’t be competing with other courses. ¬†And frankly, I noticed that many of the teachers¬†didn’t see the importance of French for students, so with that attitude, how can we expect Grade 9 students? ¬†Besides, we need to remember that French is an asset¬†for most jobs in Canada; meaning that most jobs could benefit from a multilingual employee. ¬†You can’t say that about many other courses in high school. ¬†Having experience in music will not necessarily be beneficial for most jobs outside of the field of music. ¬†Having experience in gym won’t necessarily be beneficial for most jobs outside of physical education or health. ¬†That’s not to say¬†I don’t think we need those courses (we do!). ¬†I’m just saying if the purpose of schools is trying to churn out employable students, in terms of¬†benefit for future jobs, French is an automatic asset.

I think the Calgary board who decided this must be in dire straits.  Cutting out French is not a long-term solution, nor is it easily reversible.  If funding is the issue, get raising some money.  Make your voice heard in all languages.  This is not a Calgary problem; this is a Canadian problem.

20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words from Around the World Link

Hello friends,

Just wanted to share a link I got through Stumble today for any linguistically-interested folks out there reading this:

http://matadornetwork.com/abroad/20-awesomely-untranslatable-words-from-around-the-world/

Be sure to check out Page 2 as well.

That’s all folks!