09 January 2011

Broccoli with Cashew Butter Sauce

I adapted this recipe from AllRecipes.com. I reduced the amount of butter and substituted Worcestershire sauce for the soy sauce (as I’m allergic to soy). I actually don’t like broccoli very much, but I really liked this recipe, and we will be sure to repeat this in the future.

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01 January 2011

Goals for 2011

I’ve just finished a yummy lunch of black eyed peas for good luck. I hope you are having a Happy New Year’s Day.


12 December 2010

The value of stuff

I was only a block away when I noticed it. My hand was bare. I frantically searched all of my pockets. Then I turned around and retraced my path. My ring was gone and I had only lost it sometime between the dentist chair and a block away.

The ring did not have any precious stones, nor was it gold. It only held sentimental value for me. This ring was the only thing that I wore all the time, even when bathing, even when swimming, even when sleeping. It was a gift from my mother.

I am actually surprised that I had not lost it earlier. Having lost over 40 pounds in the last few years, the ring was loose on my hand.

Back at the dentist’s office, the staff was so kind to let me interrupt the new occupant in the chair and even helped me look for the ring. But I never found it.

I was a bit melancholic the day I lost my ring. Afterwards, I started thinking about the value of stuff. I valued this little ring highly and am now sad that it is gone. And I have stuff in boxes and on shelves that I know I would not miss were I to lose them.

I still subconsciously check that the ring is still there on my hand, when it no longer is. Now I am more determined now to free myself of stuff I don’t value anymore.

08 December 2010

Do or do not. There is no try.

Sunday night, my family and I went to the Zilker Tree Lighting Celebration here in Austin. It was also a chance to chat with Randy, from Yearlyglot, who happened to be visiting the capitol city this weekend. As we chatted, he asked me, so you’re learning Spanish? I answered, Yes, I’m trying to learn Spanish. He quickly pointed out that I shouldn’t say “try”. And I agree.

This is something that I have been trying to get out of my everyday vocabulary, here in my writing, as well as my everyday speech. I made the conscience decision to do this a few months ago. I find it creeps in to my speech in other ways. “I’d like to do that.” “We plan to do that.” etc.

Thanks Randy for pointing out one of my own pet peeves about myself. I am not just trying to get it out of my lexicon, I am doing it right now!

03 December 2010

Why do kids learn language so easily?

I’ve been observing the growing language skills of my 2-going-on-3 year old. I’ve been taking notice of how he has moved from one and two word sentences to expressing more complex ideas like supposed events that will take place in the future.

Watching him acquire the English language has made me reflect on my own second language acquisition of Spanish. Not only is he quite talkative around people he knows well, he also experiments with sounds and sentence structure. He freely talks to me. When he makes a grammatical or pronunciation error, I correct him, and he enthusiastically will repeat the correction.

What my son has is a lack of fear in learning English. He knows that I will not ridicule him for saying something incorrectly. He has confidence in his current abilities, too. This is the key, so I will repeat: he is confident and lacks fear about learning English. We should all be this way when we learn a second language.

It’s interesting to note that my son is resistant to me speaking to him in Spanish. He’ll say, "Oh, mama, don’t say that." or "I don’t like that." He has a basic need to learn English because of his environment. He doesn’t need to know Spanish, and is not really motivated to learn. I can get him to watch Plaza S├ęsamo with me. But, I think, for my son, that is really the motivation of seeing Elmo, not learning Spanish.

I personally don’t buy into the common notion that as we age, our ability to learn a second language decreases. I have read recommendations on parenting websites that you should start exposing your child to foreign language learning and experiences before age 2 or else the brain will not be capable of acquiring a second language as easily.

One person who has learned multiple languages as an adult, and debunks this theory, is Benny Lewis. He has a wonderful website, Fluent in Three Months, where he tracks his 3 month language missions and travels around the world. If you are interested in learning a second language, or need a confidence boost, Benny is the man to read. I have just downloaded his Language Hacking Guide, and I’m looking forward to reading it this weekend.

With inspirations like Benny, I know it is possible for me to become fluent in Spanish. And I will continue to watch and admire my son as his English proficiency grows, and will model his enthusiasm and confidence as I work towards my own fluency in Spanish..

30 November 2010

Two steps forward, one step back

Yes, I know the saying is the other way, but my way is much more optimistic. Often when we have setbacks, we feel that we have slipped immensely and have failed. But we should realize that a setback is only a setback. We can continue on past a temporary failure or glitch and still enjoy the road, and realize our end goal.

Given that I’ve been ill for the last few weeks, I will be restarting my pushup challenge from the beginning again. Hopefully my energy levels will be up enough to start again this next Monday. I don’t feel like this is a major setback in any way. The pushups will still be waiting for me when I feel better.

The time away from the gym has given me opportunity to formulate other goals. One thing that I have started working on is brushing up on my Spanish.

About 6 years ago, I took 3 out of the 4 Spanish classes offered at my local community college. My abilities have been languishing since my son was born, and I wanted to refresh what I knew and improve beyond that. I hired a tutor to help me review and I quickly went through all 18 chapters of my Spanish textbook. I signed up to take the B1 level exam in Los Angeles last week.

In hindsight (because that is always 20/20), I think that my review was a little rushed. I had about 6 weeks to prepare. When I got to the exam, I was fatigued from illness, and lacked the conversational confidence I had even a week prior. So, I’m not really sure how I did on this exam. I hope I passed, but if I didn’t, it will give me a diagnostic on my abilities.

Now I’m trying to formulate my Spanish related goal for next year. Even if I didn’t pass the B1 exam, I may try a higher level exam next year, like the C1. Or I may set other goals, like being able to hold a conversation for X number of minutes, or being able to watch a movie with captions turned off, etc. My ultimate goal is fluency, but how I will measure this is still to be determined.

So, proposing un brindis, here's to temporary road blocks and set backs, and the journey ahead.

18 November 2010

Look for an opportunity to be remarkable

Inspired by Srini Rao’s talk, Don’t Look for a Job: Look for An Opportunity to Be Remarkable, I reflected on the many opportunities to be remarkable. If you haven’t seen this video, I recommend you take a listen to what Srini says. His remarks are valid for both college students as well as seasoned professionals.

I’ve thought about ways I’ve tried to be remarkable in my own life, and what might apply for other situations as well.

Work life:
  • Look for ways to stream line processes. Oftentimes, a certain process exists in a company, because “that’s the way we have always done this.” Be an innovator and a problem solver and look for ways to automate tasks, or cut out the fluff. I’m a software tester by profession, and I really try to automate 80% of my tasks. This lets me focus on the remaining 20%, which is usually the really hard stuff.
  • Question whether you really need to be at that meeting. Unfortunately, some companies have many meetings, and there exists the culture of having pre-meeting meetings. If you don’t really think you need to be there, say so. Ask if you can just get the summary of decisions made. This way, you will have more time to...
  • Focus on your most important project. If you don’t know what this is, ask your manager or boss. Find out what the most important thing is that you need to be working on today, and work on fulfilling that. When I arrive at work each morning, I ask myself this question. I periodically will discuss this with my manager to make sure that our goals are synchronized.
Now I realize that these tips are probably not what Srini had in mind. I assume that you already have a job, and are looking for ways to be remarkable there. I also believe that there are ways to be remarkable beyond the 9 to 5.

Life in general:
  • Give your stuff away. This last weekend, I was gathering up our old baby gear, and was planning on taking it to a local resale shop to see if they needed any of it. Some things, like portacribs, are not accepted at Goodwill, so, I might as well try to make a buck if I can. I have also asked other expectant parents if they needed any of this, but hadn’t found a good home for everything. But, then my partner, D, asked an expectant co-worker if they needed anything. She said yes, and was so grateful for the offer. Her husband has been out of work, and they only had bought a crib. I feel so helpful that I can give them our old car seat/stroller combo, as you need a car seat to leave the hospital with your newborn.
  • Invite people over. Whether for a meal, or to stay the night, people thrive on human interaction. Make memories for your family, and have a great time.
  • Learn a foreign language. You will not only gain the ability to speak to more people on planet Earth, you will also expose yourself to new cultures and new ideas. And this makes it more fun to...
  • Travel. Everyone loves to travel, right? The best way to do it, though, is to avoid packaged tours and cruises, and get into the daily lifestyle of your destination. This, again, expands your mind as you learn how other people live and think. You will find that this exposure will change you on the inside. After living in Germany for three months, I again yearn for another opportunity to submerse myself in another culture.
I’m sure there are lots of other ways to be remarkable in your life. I’ve only scratched the surface.