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.

Moolah (aka: A Love Letter from your Lord and Master)

MONEY.

That got your attention, right?

After all, most people love money. Worship it. Are loyal slaves to the Almighty Dollar. You love it so much, you even give it cutesy nicknames. Cash. Bucks. Dough. Dead Presidents (Okay, that one’s not so cute). You are cr-razy about money! And why? Because you’ve got to have:

Big houses, fast cars

luxurious treasures

Jewelry and fame

and all of life’s pleasures

That about sums it up. You humans are like a bunch of Sims. As your material collections grow, your happiness points increase, too. At least, until you begin to crave even more. The problem is, wanting more stuff means you need more and more and more cash. So many people are willing to do just about anything for cash. Don’t believe me? Just look at what you’ve done for money.

Poured coffee, shoveled snow

Asked, “Do you want that order to go?”

Mopped floors, cleaned up waste

Chased the cheese in the same rat race

You certainly didn’t do those things for the fun of it. You did it to pay the rent. You did it to buy that 52-inch smart TV with a voice-activated remote control. You did it to pay off the credit cards you maxed out when you traveled to Ireland last year. You still do it. Every morning, you drag your carcass out of bed before the sun is even awake, gulp down some of that expensive dark roast coffee you’re addicted to, then head off to work in your cubicle jungles, your retail stores, your banks and and booths and stations. To make the world a better place? Nope. You do it because Little Ethan needs to play on the best competitive youth soccer team. Because Little Sarah needs that expensive algebra tutor. Because you simply must own a home on the expensive side of town, so that Little Jack and Little Ava can attend the best schools.

And why do you spend money on sports, and tutors, and outstanding schools for the kiddos? So they can get into the best, most expensive colleges, of course! And why do you want them to go to the best colleges? So they can get jobs one day, and make lots of — let’s say it unison — MONEY!!

*Rolling my eyes*

You think that it’s going to end. That one day, you’ll look around and be satisfied with everything you acquired. You’ll be King or Queen of your own small kingdom, famous in your own small circle for all you’ve accomplished. Success! Or is it?

Hahaha, no way. It never ends. Because a cushy retirement takes money. Spoiling your grandkids takes money. That trip to Fiji you’ve been dreaming about takes money. Money is your master, and you are a servant for life. Money has owned your soul since the day you met me at the crossroads and signed on the dotted line. Don’t remember? Well, money also has a way of making your memories a little hazy. Pretty effective strategy, right?

So, Servants, go out into the world. Make transactions, place your bets, purchase those lottery tickets. Every quarter you insert into the slot makes you weaker, and me more powerful. Serve me as I deserve to be served, with passion, with devotion, with desperation for more. What, me — the root of all evil? Think again, humans. It’s the lack of money that drives you to commit atrocious acts. So go ahead — earn some more. Amass your fortunes. Quell that endless hunger that burns inside of you. Keep running, little rats.

Cha-ching! (I love that sound)

Sincerely,

Lord Moolah

See the World! (aka: Living Vicariously)

“I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum.” ~George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life)

George Bailey See the World

When I was a teenager, I often fantasized about traveling the world. I had a long list of places to go, languages to learn, foods to try. I begged my dad and stepmother to send me away to a boarding school in some faraway country (okay, this was partially because I hated living with them). They just laughed and mentioned this silly little thing called money.

Ugh. Money.

That has always been the Big Obstacle. Every time I managed to begin stashing some away toward international travel goals, some monster would come along and eat it up. Monsters such as bills. My college expenses. Kids’ extracurricular activities. Home maintenance. Kids’ college expenses.

Those vivid dreams of walking through streets in London and Barcelona, touring Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, sipping coffee at a French cafe in Paris, climbing the ancient stones of  Macchu Picchu, became smaller and more distant as years passed, and life kept sending more monsters to get in the way. I learned to feed my hunger for travel in smaller, more attainable ways, like studying languages, eating foods from around the world, and watching House Hunters International. (Hey, that show can be pretty addictive!).

See the World travel

Recently, I sent my 16yo daughter off on her first big international journey. She traveled with a group of students to Beijing China, then stayed with a host family in Jinan. Each day, she sent me photos and stories about her adventures abroad, which I ate up with relish. Finally! Although I am still stuck here, working hard to provide a good life for my kids, at least my children can live out my dream, and I can share in them.

This week, our family has been hosting a student who traveled here from China. Just as my daughter’s host family showered her with kindness and introduced her to a wealth of Chinese culture, we are attempting to do the same. My kids are getting a chance to improve their Mandarin, while our student improves her English. And I get to practice being uber-organized, to fit everything into our schedule. (Luckily, I’m usually pretty Type-A, so it’s not too big of a jump to be Type A+).

Now my daughter has caught the travel bug, too. She’s already conspiring with friends to backpack Europe and stay in youth hostels after graduating high school next summer. Eek! I am excited about her ambitions, too. The next best thing to traveling and seeing the world is to travel and see the world through the eyes of someone you love.

 

 

Stress (aka: Stresssss)

Oops…I just caught myself massaging the back of my neck. Again. And chewing on my pinky fingers. Again. Which may not seem like a big deal to lots of you, but to me, it means one thing.

STRESS.

Stress Sources

Wait, what stress? I thought I was just coasting along, my usual relaxed self. (Okay, correction: Relaxed for a Type-A personality. Relaxed for an INTJ). But we all have our own little signals that tell us when our bodies are experiencing a lot of stress. Some people overeat when stressed. Others smoke, or drink too much, have bouts of insomnia, or a myriad of other physical or psychological symptoms that spring up when our plates are just too full.

So what should we do when we recognize these symptoms? According to the American Psychological Association , we should identify the sources of our stress. Hmm, let’s see…

My oldest teen has caught a nasty case of Senioritis — that annoying and highly contagious bug that high school seniors often catch this time of year, when they feel so invincible that they slack off in school, convinced that they won’t fail. So I get to take off the sweet, cookie-baking mommy hat and put on the steel-edged hat of The Enforcer.

Stress.

My ex-husband has decided to initiate court proceedings to have my child support officially decreased, thanks to my shiny new full-time job. Despite the new job, however, it has been a challenge to keep the budget balanced while raising three teen/tweens as a full-time single parent and saving for college expenses. So a potentially big income cut would be a serious blow. I’ve just begun hunting for a second part-time job – something to help make ends meet once our household income drops. Bye-bye free time.

Stress

The older teen just headed off on an expensive school trip with his band — the only trip I’ve been able to send him on for all of high school. Senior prom tickets are really expensive, too. So is his recent dental work. Also, my teen daughter, the former gymnast, has fallen in love with dance. “Hey mom, can I take a second dance class at the studio?” And the twelve-year-old keeps outgrowing his clothes. And did I mention how much it costs to feed three kids this age nutritious, homemade meals filled with fresh vegetables? Oh boy. Kids are expensive.

Stress.

I just finished a bout of medical testing  (an endoscopy, a colonoscopy, and even a special endoscopy where I got to swallow this cool miniature camera). The doctor found nothing, except for signs of gastritis. Gastritis which sprung up around a year ago, and was likely triggered by — you guessed it —

Stress.

Effect of Stress on the Body

It is astonishing what stress can do to our bodies, even when we think we’re handling it well. Kind of stresses me out to think about it. Luckily, there are things we can do to help us manage the way we deal wih stress. Here are some great suggestions from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Regular physical activity
  • Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or getting a massage
  • Keeping a sense of humor
  • Socializing with family and friends
  • Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music

I’m pretty good with most of these, especially the sense of humor part. Very important stuff. But I still kinda suck at the socializing part. But know what? Today at work, I got to spend lots of time socializing with coworkers (in between moments of working hard, of course). And know what? It’s like a magic pill for this stress thing. Despite the enormous pressures I’m feeling, I’ve barely reached up to massage my neck or chew my fingers all afternoon.

Uh-oh — trying to come up with a nice, neat way to end this post is only adding to my stress. So I’ll just tip-toe out of here and hope none of you notice. Time to go and…

DE-STRESS

 

My Two Cents (and Other Worthless Things)

penny

 

A couple of weeks ago, I did something I’ve never done before. I gathered up a bunch of our family’s old junk — rusty bicycles, worn-out camping gear, pieces of wood from a dilapidated IKEA bed — and took it to the city dump. Yes, the dump. You see, I grew up in an old-school family, in which the women-folk did things like bake meatloaf and scrub floors, while the men-folk did the heavy, dirty jobs like hauling junk. So, other than drop off our family Christmas tree each January, I had never had the experience of loading up our family minivan with household trash and lugging it to the dump.

It was not a pleasant experience.

However, it had to be done, as our shed and closets were bursting with useless things that couldn’t be tossed in a normal trash can. During the big tidy-up, I kept coming across these tiny, annoying little disks that, in my opinion, are about as worthless as rusty bicycles and 5-year-old IKEA furniture.

Most people call them pennies. I call them pests.

It never fails. Every time I sweep the floor, there they are. Whenever I stoop down to clear out things from beneath the beds or couch, I find at least a dozen. When vacuuming the house, one must steer the vacuum cleaner around these seemingly harmless, machine-clogging landmines. And most parents, at some point, have had to fish these shiny, toxic toys out of the curious mouths of babies.

A penny for my thoughts? I’d rather keep my thoughts to myself, thanks.

Really, I don’t see why our nation doesn’t just do away with the penny, like Canada did a few years ago. You can’t buy a single thing with a penny. You can’t even buy much for one hundred pennies, unless you’re shopping at the Dollar Store. Nor can you put pennies into a vending machine to pay for parking or buy a pack of Cheez-it crackers. Sure, there are other ways to spend your pennies. You can stand at the checkout, carefully counting out every little cent while the impatient people in line behind you shake their fists. Or you can buy some of those brown coin papers and spend your precious time rolling stacks of pennies into spendable rolls.

Or you can be penny-wise, like me, and scrap your pennies at the city dump.

Once upon a time, shiny, coppery pennies were useful little coins. But today, their face-value is less than the cost of the metal it takes to make them. Okay fine, pennies are great for making wishes at fountains. Also, if you find one face-up, then you may have a day filled with good luck (debatable). But for the most part, the good ol’ penny is an obsolete form of currency. It is time for our nation use our common cents — to let go of nostalgia and embrace new ideas, like rounding up to the nearest nickel.

That’s my two cents.

I Want a Buzzsaw Louie (aka: The True Meaning of Black Friday)

It’s that time of year again. People are bundling up to stay warm in the chill air. Tiny colored lights are beginning to twinkle on rooftops. And though Halloween was like, yesterday, every radio station insists on blasting It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year eleven times per hour. So naturally, I can’t stop thinking about veggies.

Wait, what? Shouldn’t I be thinking about turkey and pumpkin pie? Shouldn’t I be obsessing over my three kids’ ever-expanding Christmas wish lists? After all, it’s only a few days until Black Friday – the most popular and important American holiday of the year! (Or so I heard on the radio, just after they played Santa Baby three times in a row). Who would be thinking about veggies at a time like this?

Me. But to be clear, I am thinking about a specific bunch of veggies – a talking cucumber, his best friend the tomato, and a bunch of squash and peas with adorable faces and vaguely annoying voices. Because the moment Halloween ends and the winter holiday season rushes in, kids everywhere contract this hideous disease I call the “I-Wants.” And nobody does the I-Wants better than those ultra-super-OMG whiny veggie brats from The Toy Who Saved Christmas movie.

Even now, I can hear it eating into my poor brain: “I WANT A BUZZSAW LOUIEEEE! ‘CAUSE THAT’S THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAAAAAS!”

Ironically, the whole Buzzsaw Louie thing was supposed to be pointing out the ridiculousness of Christmastime consumerism and greed, to encourage viewers to embrace the simpler and more meaningful reasons behind the holiday. But just the memories of it (mixed with the 52-page long wish lists of my kids and their friends) make me want to steal Christmas like the Grinch. Or better yet, invite Krampus to the next kids’ school Christmas party to shake things up a bit.

Evil Krampus

However, I will not. I will swallow my inner screamie-voice, pull out my bank card, and perform my duty as an American to keep the national economy afloat by buying more Stuff™ for my kids. I will head over to Stuff Mart (Yes, sadly, another Veggie Tales reference) soon after Turkey Day (since Mervyn’s has gone out of business, and I can’t do that open-open-open thing anymore. I tried it once at a Target, but they didn’t get it). Because, readers, that’s the true meaning of Christmas. Not the ideal meaning. Not the peace-joy-goodwill toward men meaning that we like to sing and write about. But the technicolor, battery-operated, hate-it-but-it’s-true kind of true.

On that positive note, I wish you all a very Happy (and Profitable) Black Friday!