Duo the Dungeon Keeper (aka: Learning Languages)

So I’m fluent in Spanish.

Mostly. I mean, I can follow the majority of a conversation, and speak well enough to be understood, and read and write in Spanish. Sure, there’s a lot more vocabulary to learn, and plenty of idioms that I’m not familiar with. But for the most part, I’m fluent.

So now what?

It’s on to German! Or I should say, back to German. I studied it for a year in high school, and learned how to say Guten Morgen, and count to 20, and basic words, like girl and boy. The vocabulary of a two year-old, basically. Then a few years ago, our public library introduced free Rosetta Stone for all. Wow! I jumped into German lessons here and there, and managed to increase my vocabulary to that of an almost three year-old.

Then they cancelled Rosetta Stone and replaced it with Mango Languages. Let me just say that replacing Rosetta Stone with Mango Languages is like replacing a Tesla with a 1998 Ford Taurus.

A week ago, I discovered an app called Duolingo. (Yes, I know, I’m kind of late for that party). It’s designed to work a lot more like Rosetta Stone. But instead of costing a gazillion dollars, Duolingo is free!

Except that it’s not.

Yes, you can use the app to study languages without paying any money. But what you save in money, you lose in time. Duolingo’s mascot, a seemingly innocent green owl named Duo, is actually the prison guard appointed to make sure you never escape the Duolingo dungeon.

Duo is very skilled at guilt-tripping you into making sure you log in and study. He is worse than any helicopter mom hovering over your shoulder to make sure you get your homework done. It’s time for your daily German Lesson! Take 5 minutes now to complete it. If you ignore Duo, he’ll let you know. If you need to watch more commercials to earn more health points so you can keep taking free lessons, he’ll let you know. If you drop out of the top ten, he’ll let you know.

My teens pointed out that the internet is all abuzz with memes about Duo and his Duolingo reminder notifications. Here are a few of my favorites:

15 more correct answers, and I release your family!

If that’s not bad enough, once you’re in the dungeon, Duo forces you into the pit, where you must compete with other language learners around the world. Stay in the top ten for your level for the next week, and you’ll advance to the next level! So I pulled on my boxing gloves and tackled my Deutsch lessons each day, eager to discover what surprises awaited me when I made it to the Silver league. Would I get a super-secret bonus lesson? A shiny new badge on my profile? Full health points for a month?

No. All I won was the chance to get on the leaderboard to advance to the next highest league. Apparently, this morning, I dropped out of the top ten, and I’m out of health points. So now I get to watch more commericals just to get to the German vocabulary of a 4 year-old.

I like Duolingo. I think I might actually be learning stuff. Not a lot of German, but plenty of stuff about how to reel people into using your app and trap them there, and encourage them to watch commercials or buy your product (which probably costs as much as the Tesla of language apps, Rosetta Stone). Maybe I can steal borrow some of Duo’s ideas and get rich off of my own app, once I develop one. See? Learning new languages can be good for you.

Cheers! (aka: A Beer-y Tasty Project)

Twitter is good at reminding me of things I may have missed out on, like rocket launches, or Trump’s latest blunders, or finales to TV shows I’ve never watched and don’t care about. It is especially good at reminding me about little-known holidays, most of which are probably made up by companies trying to sell their ice cream, or pancakes, or greeting cards.

Well apparently, a couple of days ago, I missed out on a big one. National Beer Day. Right? I mean, you’d have to be from Jupiter, or perhaps living in a cave to miss out on such an important occasion. Yesterday, I made up for it, though, by enjoying a nice cold bottle of Mexican beer from Trader José. Olé!

Brewski

Now here’s a confession. The very first time I tried beer was around 3-4 years ago. It’s true. I spent most of the first two decades of my adult life surrounded by very conservative, teetotalist Christian friends. When we used to get together, the strongest thing we ever drank was double shot espresso. Somehow I managed to start tasting and enjoying wine over the years, but not beer. A glass of pinot noir or chardonnay is a great companion for solitary moments with a good book and indie rock music. But there’s something about beer that screams of social outings, soccer matches, and fun. So I kept putting off that first drink until I was in an appropriate social situation for trying it out.

Toast beer diversity

My first beer was a Budweiser, and I liked it right away. Since then, I’ve begun keeping a spreadsheet of my beer explorations, and rating their flavors (Hey, I’m an INTJ, okay? This is what we do). I’ve learned that I really dislike IPAs and bitter beers. Bleah! But I really enjoy light beers and beers with a fruity twist. My absolute favorite type of beer? Pilsner. Yummm….I am tempted to end the experiment right here and only drink pilsner-style beers from now on. The very best pilsner I’ve had so far turned out to be the original pilsner beer — an import from Czech Republic called Pilsner Urquell.

Pilsner Urquell

Of course, there’s still a lot I don’t know about beers. I could probably do some Beer 101 reading to learn more about the different types, how they’re made, and what the heck is even in beer. I could probably also try visiting some of the many local breweries where I live. But that sounds a little intimidating to do alone, so maybe I’ll just stay home and sip another cold, frosty bottle of pilsner while watching a tennis match on TV. After all, beer doesn’t really require a Twitterized special occasion for us to celebrate it.

One last note — a few days ago, while I was at Trader Joe’s buying my single bottle of Trader José beer, the clerk studied my face, then asked to see my ID. When she saw that I am 42 years old, she laughed. “Seriously? Oh, come on!” So I guess that’s another good excuse to keep going with the beer tasting project. Getting carded by people around my own age makes me feel young. I’ll drink to that.

Cheers!

 

Graupel, Great Books, and Growth (aka: Don’t Stand Still)

Last week, something bizarre happened where I live. It snowed. Okay, fine, it wasn’t exactly snow. More like an enormous amount of hail that dumped all over the city ground during an intense thundershower. But there was so much of it, that it blanketed the streets, piled up on the sidewalks, and led to car spin-outs and a very long commute home.

On the news later that evening, the weatherman referred to the weird snow/hail/white stuff as graupel. Small pellets of soft hail. All around town, people were shoveling grapuel from their walkways. Kids — and adults — were throwing grapuel balls and forming little graupelmen and making grapuel angels on the ground.

Graupel

I had so much fun saying the new word I’d learned, that I kept repeating it. “Hey kids, did it graupel at your school today? Don’t forget your gloves — it might graupel again today!” (Seriously, it’s fun to say. You should try it. Graupel graupel graupel).

Learning new words still gives me a little thrill. In fact, learning almost anything gives me a thrill. There is something so satisfying about downloading new tidbits of information into my ever-expanding database of knowledge. Some of those new skills and ideas get lost in an overcrowded folder somewhere. But others invade my mind like a virus, affecting the way I once thought and acted.

When I read a good book — not just entertaining light fiction, but good, hearty literature — I am often presented with new words, or esoteric phrases, or ethical dilemmas that challenge me, forcing me to dig in, to question and refine my own beliefs. Same goes for a well-made documentary, film, or other work of art. These experiences won’t let me stand still. I can feel myself stretching until I have reached such dimensions that I could not go back to being my old self if I tried.

New Dimensions

It is easy for us to stand still, to grow complacent with our stagnation, to drift through the routine of our days while allowing ourselves only the passive entertainment of cat videos and humorous memes. Even I am prone to that, nodding my head to cheap pop music, or absorbing myself in shallow reading. It is like lying on a warm beach, licking an ice cream cone. Panacea to the everyday stresses that afflict us all. It is not a bad thing.

But something burning inside me refuses to allow myself to stay the same. Train yourself, it says. It will not allow me to be content with an outdated inner database, watching graupel fall and calling it snow. Eating sugary, processed foods and convincing myself that it’s good for my body. Doing nothing at all and saying that I am becoming a better version of myself.

gears turning thinking ideas

Today is Tuesday. Some say it is the dullest day of the week — not bleak enough to be a Monday, nor hopeful enough to be a Friday. I say that Tuesdays should become our most productive day. We have shaken off the sleepiness and are ready to learn, ready to challenge ourselves, ready to shine. So let’s log back into those free online classes we’ve been ignoring. Let’s buy ingredients and actually try to cook that intriguing Thai vegetable soup recipe we found last year on Pinterest. Let sunlight fall on the pages of a new Great Book filled with ideas and words we’ve never heard before. Try a new piece of equipment at the gym. Read some opposing political viewpoints and let it shake up your own prized worldview. Let’s get out there and help each other grow toward our fullest potential.

Just don’t stand still.

Giving Up is Easy (aka: Why I don’t Lent)

Christians around the world have observed Lent, aka “The Great Fast” pretty much since Jesus ascended into the clouds. The idea is fairly simple: for the 46 days leading up to Easter Sunday, Christians choose to fast. The way that looks may differ, depending on one’s flavor of Christianity. For example, many Catholics choose not to eat meat on Fridays during the Lenten period. Orthodox Catholics take this to a whole new level, abstaining from all meat, oils, even eggs and dairy for every day leading up to Easter (They also celebrate a different Easter, but that’s another story). Evangelical Christians as a whole do not traditionally observe Lent in any organized way. However, many choose to “fast” from something else they consider important, such as alcohol, social media, or sex.

lent-cross-2

Regardless of how the fast is observed, the underlying principles are the same. Lent is a time to make oneself uncomfortable, just as Jesus was uncomfortable roaming about in the desert for 40 days with nothing to eat. And in our discomfort, we can learn to refocus our energy on God, to face our demons of complacence and gluttony, and to forgive the offenses of those who have sinned against us. It is not only just an exercise to see if we’re strong enough to give up something we hold dear; it is also a chance to hit “Reset,” to renew our spirits and get back on the right track.

I know that some of you readers may have already dived into your 40-Day fast with enthusiasm, and are already tweeting or blogging about your great journey through the desert after giving up coffee, chocolate, or texting. As for me? Well, I don’t plan to give up anything.

Yes, you read that correctly. I have zero plans to fast. (I know, I know. Sinner! )

abstaining

Here’s the deal. I have learned that I am a highly adaptable human being. Give up things that I once held dear? Break old habits? Abstain? No problem! I once spent more than a year abstaining from most food. It was oddly easy, and for the first (and last) time in my adult life, I got to unlock the achievement level of Skinny. These days, I eat food, but I’m abstaining from simplex carbs and real sugar, so that I don’t accidentally fall into the pit of Diabetes. I am also happy to eat mostly plant-based meals, so giving up meat is not a struggle, either.

Sex? Ha! I will win an abstinence from all forms of sex contest Every. Single. Time. Grandmaster level of sexual abstinence. Give up social media? Been there, done that. I even gave up the social without the media. Alcohol? Who needs it? Caffeine? I’ve been a decaf coffee and tea drinker for months now and don’t miss a thing.

fasting-noeating

I guess if I were going to really give up something I am attached to, then it would be giving up computers or reading. But these both have too many loopholes, like cell phones (technically not computers) and audiobooks. Also, giving up either would jeopardize my career goals, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what the church has in mind.

Anyway, fasting doesn’t work so well for the highly adaptable. Giving up is far too easy to do when you refuse to become attached to necessities or vices. Don’t hold on too tight, and it’s easy to let go when the time comes. Even during Lent. The harder thing, for me anyway, is learning NOT to quit. Learning not to shrug my shoulders and walk away from everything and everyone. Learning that maybe, some things in life are worth holding onto.

Miss Know-It-All

I’m almost certain that the first word I ever spoke was “Actually.”

Actually, you can’t catch a cold from cold weather.

Actually, there is no solid evidence linking coffee consumption to stunted growth.

Actually, it’s only a myth that sitting close to the television will damage your eyesight.

According to my parents, I was actually a frustrating kid to raise.

 

"According to my research, school buses can't transform into rocket ships." (Shows what you know, Dorothy Ann)

“According to my research, school buses can’t transform into rocket ships.” (Shows what you know, Dorothy Ann)

I was a total Miss Know-It-All. Sometimes, I still am. I have learned to bite my tongue when other people make grammar mistakes or express opinions based on faulty science or understanding. Mostly. But sometimes, the urge to correct wells up like a volcano, until I can’t help but blurt out that dreaded word, “Actually…”

It’s a fault that even annoys me. I mean, it’s obvious that I don’t know everything. I’m not a computer, though I live most of my life glued to one (like one of those scary teens in the book Feed, by M.T. Anderson). However, make one comment about the right/wrong or black/white way to think or do something, and my inner Siri is unleashed, spitting out alternate theories and empirical scientific evidence at 10Gb/s.

Little Miss Brainy

At times, being Miss Know-It-All comes in handy. Those Hermione Granger tendencies can really help me to do well in school or at work, especially when actual analytical thinking is required. It can also be useful having an entire dictionary/thesaurus built in to my brain when writing stories, playing Scrabble, or answering questions.

As my 11yo said the other day, “Why Google anything when we can just ask Mom?”

But it can also be a hindrance, especially in social situations. Who wants to engage in conversation with someone who refutes nearly everything, even if only to play Devil’s Advocate? According to my research, pretty much no one. Except perhaps, for other Know-It-Alls, who adore a good intellectual debate.

Lisa Simpson Know-it-All

Not long ago, someone made a comment that has swirled around in my brain ever since. “So in order to have a conversation with you, a person would pretty much have to have a PhD.” Oops. It would appear that my Smartypants ways can be pretty off-putting to other people. So I am learning – learning when to speak and when to listen. Learning when to counter someone’s faulty opinions and when to keep my thoughts to myself. Learning how to keep the volcano from erupting, no matter how much hot magma flows beneath.

After all, it may appear as though the Miss Know-It-Alls of the world really do know it all. But there is one thing we enjoy doing way more than showing off how smart we are — learning. Yes, actually.

annoying know it all

Actually, we know this, too.

How (Not) to Raise a Nazi (aka: The Impact of Parenting Styles)

nazi-soldiers“What was the Holocaust?”

It all started with a simple     question posed by my older teen. I was shocked that he did not already know. Everyone should learn about horrors of history such as the Holocaust, in order that we may learn from the mistakes of others and prevent history from repeating itself. So I spent the next twenty minutes with my teens, engaged in discussion about the Holocaust. Which led to the next question: Why would the Nazi soldiers just kill innocent people?

Answer? They were just following orders. My kids were astonished. How is it possible that a human being would commit such atrocities to an innocent person, simply because someone told them to obey? Where was their personal integrity? Where was their sense of conscience?

Like most great discussions with my kids, their questions led me to introduce them to one of my favorite topics: The Long-Term Effects of Parenting Styles. (Yes, I probably broke some archaic unspoken rule by discussing parenting with the very children whom I parent. But what can I say? I’m a bit of a rebel. Blame it on my authoritarian upbringing).

Professionals usually refer to three common parenting styles, which can be characterized as follows:

AUTHORITARIAN PARENTING

High parental control and restrictiveness. Verbal hostility, fear techniques, punitive discipline strategies (spankings, threats, etc.). Most common among households with low SES and lower education levels of parent. “Obey me because I said so and know what’s best.”

strict parents spanking punishment

Punitive discipline techniques, forced coercion, and fear tactics are earmarks of authoritarian child-rearing.

AUTHORITATIVE PARENTING

High warmth and involvement, clear communication of expectations, reasoning, democratic participation, positive and proactive discipline strategies. Most common among middle class and affluent households and higher education levels of parent.

“You may choose what to do, but understand that your choices have natural consequences.”

Authoritative parents teaching

PERMISSIVE PARENTING

Lax or inconsistent discipline, Overindulgence or indifference, a general ignorance of child misbehavior, “Laissez-faire,” lack of self-confidence about parenting. “Children will eventually find their own way.”

Difficult choice

“Hey mom! You’re the authoritative type of parent,” said my 10yo, grinning. My other kids immediately agreed, to my great pleasure. You see, there are many longitudinal studies done on the impact of the three different parenting types, and an authoritative parenting style is the hands-down winner. The research consistently shows that children raised in authoritarian or permissive families have the worst long-term outcomes – behavior problems, aggression, depression and anxiety, obesity, poor academic performance, lower sense of personal responsibility, and so on.

“So what type of parenting style do you suppose may result in the type of person who would blindly obey the orders of their authority figure without protest or refusal?” I asked my kids, cycling the topic back around the horrors of the Holocaust.

They got the connection right away. “So basically,” said my oldest teen, “authoritarian parents are raising potential Nazis.”

Perhaps so, I responded. Perhaps it is that authoritarian parents do so without really thinking through the natural consequences of their parenting choices. Without proper education, so many people are like sheep, blindly following the masses, or in the footsteps of their own parents, regardless of whether their behavior is positive or negative. And so, sadly, history repeats itself.

authoriatarian parent Homer

MY CREDS: I hold a B.A. degree in Child Development (which included many hours of research and seminars on parenting). I am a former teacher of young children and current parent to three happy, well-adjusted, thoughtful kids/teens (who apparently still think I’m a great mom, so that’s a plus, too).

FURTHER READING ON THE IMPACTS OF PARENTING STYLES:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/thinking-about-kids/201409/authoritative-vs-authoritarian-parenting-style

http://www.scientificjournals.org/journals2007/articles/1031.htm

Understanding the Links Between Socioeconomic Status and Parenting Behavior

The influence of authoritative parenting style on adolescents’ academic achievement

Parenting styles and overweight status in first grade

Impact of Behavioral Inhibition and Parenting Style on Internalizing and Externalizing Problems from Early Childhood through Adolescence

Pay Attention! (aka: Multitasking is Way Overrated)

PrintOkay. Judging by current statistics, I will only be able to keep your attention for around 8 seconds. (Or 5 minutes, depending on which link you click). Either way, current research indicates a decrease in the average adult attention span. The latest scapegoat? The Internet.

If there’s one thing humans love to do, it’s rewire our brains. And in fact, it appears that our constant web surfing has managed to do just that. It’s funny, isn’t it? We all love to boast about how we are such skilled Multitaskers. We can do half a dozen things at once! We can text a friend on our cell phones while simultaneously playing a game on our iPads, watching a streaming episode of Gray’s Anatomy on the television, and listening to our kids talk about school, all while paying attention to dinner cooking in the kitchen. We are Superhumans.

Or are we?

The sad truth is this – multi-tasking does not mean that we are performing those tasks better. In fact, the reverse is true. In the article Why the Modern World is Bad for Your Brain, neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explains why we have the concept of multi-tasking all wrong. He quotes Earl Miller, an MIT neuroscientist and expert on divided attention, who says that human brains are: “not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.”

In other words, multitasking makes us stupider.   multitasking myth

Here’s the thing: the very word multitasking was coined by the IT industry. It was meant to describe the way computer processors can switch very rapidly from one task to a next. Human brains, however, were simply not designed to do so. At least, not without a cost. In his article, You Say Multitasking Like It’s a Good Thing, computer engineering professor Charles J. Abaté explains, “As with a microprocessor, the interruption of one task requires us to remember where we stopped, so that when we return to this task we can resume the activity. The same is true, of course, for the alternate task(s). Now, whereas microprocessors are quite efficient at storing and retrieving these interruption points, brains are decidedly not.”

The bottom line here is that there is very little benefit to multitasking. While we may think that attempting to manage several tasks at once is making us more productive, the research indicates that what we are actually doing is juggling three separate tasks and executing them poorly. Want to become a more effective learner? Turn off the television. Want to perform better at your job? Stop checking your email every few minutes. Having trouble paying attention? Turn off your cell phone.

Too Many Distractions

Just as we are capable of rewiring our brains for the worse, we are also capable of rewiring our brains for the better. By living in the moment and focusing our attention on the single task at hand, we can rise to our potential.