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.

Apples to Apples (aka: Dealing with Unpleasant People)

Do you ever find yourself in situations where you have to get along with an unpleasant person?

Believe it or not, in real life, I usually get along pretty well with most people. Whether or not we share the same background, or socioeconomic class, or culture, I can usually find common ground and hold a decent conversation with them. The trick, I think, is understanding. When I make it a point to try to understand the person I’m speaking with, it paves the way for positive interaction.


Today, I had an unfortunate encounter with an unpleasant person.

No wait. Let me reword that. Today, I had an unpleasant encounter with a person. Because we are all people, and our bad moments do not necessarily make us bad people.

I went to a Meetup event, which I do from time to time, or else I would have zero social life (other than kids and water cooler chats with coworkers). This particular meetup event was for the purpose of speaking Spanish with other Spanish-language learners and native speakers. These events are often low-key — a couple of hours of exchanging polite, informal conversation with people of all ages, walks of life, and levels of Spanish.

For most of that time, I chatted with a group of three other people. We sipped coffee and tea and talked about all sorts of topics — pets, travel, work, music, even politics. We didn’t always agree, or share much in common, but we were able to enjoy one another’s company while helping each other to fill in that occasional Spanish word or phrase that eluded us.

That was the pleasant part.

However, after the others left, I turned toward the two remaining speakers, who had been engaged in their own conversation. It didn’t take long, however, before I noticed how one of the speakers was quite opinionated. Which only bothers me a little. The part that bothered me a lot, however, was that he gave of this air that his opinions were the only ones that counted. To top it off, he also had a tendency to not only correct other people’s Spanish, but to do so in a rather superior way, often cutting them off mid-sentence, and adding how he can’t stand it when people say things a different way, because it’s so wrong.

Still, due to my desire to get along with people, I continued to smile and ask questions, and encourage the flow of conversation. Perhaps, I thought, he was on the autistic spectrum, which could account for his hard-to-stomach interpersonal skills.

The last straw, however, came when the other speaker and I were discussing the importance of being familiar with the various ways Spanish speakers talk. I suggested that the most important thing about language is not to always speak with the best grammar possible, but to know how to best speak and be understood within a group of people. Well, he not only shot down my idea, but attempted to invalidate it completely. This happened more than once in the conversation. While I am perfectly at ease with differences of opinion, or with considering new facts that I may not have known, I cannot tolerate blatant disrespect.

“You know,” I finally said, when tactful hints failed, “you’d be easier to get along with if you were willing to admit that you don’t know everything.”

Now here, many intelligent people would say, “Well, of course I don’t know everything! There are many things I don’t know.”

But this guy says, “I know a LOT of things. I’ve taken some doctorate level classes.”


Just like that, I was done. Conversation over. The moment people demonstrate that they are not willing to learn, or to consider that they may not always be right, is the moment an exchange of ideas between intellectuals becomes a pointless waste of words. And honestly, life is too short for that.

My parting words? “I find your arrogance unpalatable.” To which, of course, he responded that he found me unpalatable. I laughed. It was like saying goodbye to an egotistical child. Too bad. His Spanish was actually pretty good. I could have learned something from him.

I guess I’m pretty lucky. I don’t often have to deal with unpleasant people. At least, not on a regular basis. Most people I encounter are generally pleasant. Or at least, polite. Coming across one who behaves to the contrary is like finding an apple with a worm inside. That person may actually be pretty decent once they cut away the bruised, wormy spot. Who knows? It’s not up to us to cut it away. Perhaps it’s not even up to us to point out the worm (though I did, in no unclear terms).

The part that is up to us is how we choose to react. When we encounter arrogance, or rudeness, or lack of respect, are we able to find the strength to respond with politeness and positivity? Or do we respond in kind, and expose our own wormy parts? (We all have wormy parts, buried deep inside).

Honestly, I’m not sure how I did today. Was it wormy of me to call him out on his arrogance and rudeness? Or did he need to hear it? Later, we exchanged messages on the Meetup app, both apologizing for our part in the conversation that went sour. Which was cool. We could have just as easily have never spoken again, in any language. But part of being a good person is being forgiving, and offering people a second chance to prove that they’re willing to cut the worms away.

Muchas Gracias, Dr. Seuss (Reflections on Learning a Language)

Okay, I am really not sure if I am ready to do this – at least not well, but I am going to attempt it anyway. Today, I shall write a blog post almost entirely in Spanish. I welcome corrections from Spanish speakers, but please be kind, as I am still far from fluent.

(Se puede escuchar esta entrada aquí):

Bueno, no sé la razón por qué todavia pienso que estoy tan lejos de hablar con fluidez. La verdad es que ahora, yo puedo entender mucho, y soy capaz de expresarme en alguna manera, aunque a menudo cometo errores o digo algo de una forma sencilla aunque en ingles, lo hubiera dicho de una forma mas complicada. Quizá es que siempre me he encantado el lenguaje, y a las palabras. De mi propia idioma, tengo una gran maestría, y supongo que hasta el dia cuando mis habilidades con castellano son el igual de las con ingles, yo pensaré que mi castellano no es muy bien.

el conejito

Como yo escribí en una entrada anterior, he estado estudiando castellano desde niñez. En aquellos dias, todo lo que yo tenia para aprender el idioma fue un libro muy chistoso por Dr. Seuss que se llamó The Cat in the Hat Dictionary in Spanish and English. A causa de aquel libro, me enamoré de una idioma.

Estas dias, todavia estoy estudiando castellano. Pero ahora estoy aprendiendo por leer libros mas grandes (Isabel Allende, a este momento), leer y escuchar las noticias, mirar programas y deportes en la television, escuchando y cantando canciones (como La Araña Pequeñita. Sí, es verdad. Una canción muy profunda, ya sé. Violenta, tambien. ¡Pobrecita araña!).  Ademas, yo practico por leer y escribir poesía en castellano (algo que me cuesta hacer, porque poesía es casi una idioma por si solo).

¿Y cuando hablo con otras personas? Ayyy…pues, eso es un poco más difícil. Para empezar, estoy una persona muy timida. Aún cuando estoy rodeada por otra gente, yo apenas digo nada – ni siquiera en ingles. Sin embargo, tengo suerte de tener un trabajo en que tengo oportunidades una vez en cuando para hablar castellano con los niños pequeños y sus madres. Estoy aprendiendo mucho de ellos, y asimismo, ellos están aprendiendo ingles de mi. De hecho, recien yo tenia una conversación con una de las madres en mi programa, durante que ella me preguntó muchas preguntas sobre el desarollo de su bebe. Claro, es la naturaleza de mi trabajo para responder a tales preguntas, pero yo no sabia que yo podia hacerlo en castellano hasta que lo hice. ¡Qué sentimiento de éxito! Tal vez todavia no tengo una gran maestría del idioma, ni puedo hablar con fluidez (ni escribir buen poesia, tampoco), pero puedo hacerlo. Puedo hablar castellano, la lengua bella a que yo he amado ya desde niñez. Y tal vez un dia, yo llegaré a estar menos tímida y hablar más con otras personas hispanohablantes, y si estoy tan afortunada, yo llegaré a cumplir mi sueño de viajar a un otro pais para estudiar el idioma un rato por una escuela de lenguas. Pero por el momento, voy a seguir estudiando y practicando castellano, y cantando La Araña Pequenita, y me intentaré sentir contenta con todo lo que he logrado desde aquellos dias cuando yo era niña, estudiando español con Dr. Seuss. (Muchas gracias, Dr. Seuss!)

La Araña Pequenita Cat in the Hat Dictionary in Spanish

The Sun and The Moon

    The Promise

When you are an eagle

soaring round the mountains high

I will be the winds that lift you

I will be your summer sky

When you are a cloud

sprinkling rain upon the land

I will dance beneath your shower

I will hold your watery hand

When you are a flame

throwing heat and blazing bright

I will be your embers

glowing red throughout the night

And when you are the ocean

choppy waves and salty foam

I will smooth the shores before you

shine my light and guide you home


    The Sisters

She is larger than all

golden, glowing arms

that light the air

and caress the earth

The growers’ delight

queen of spring

and glory of summer

goddess of the sky

She scoffs at her sister

whose small, gentle hands

glow soft and silver

through the night

But the sister smiles

for she is ruler of tides

prize of poets

and the song of every lover


    Las Hermanas

Ella es más grande que todos

brazos dorados y brillantes

que iluminan el aire

y acarician la tierra

El deleite de los cultivadores

reina de la primavera

y la gloria del verano

diosa del cielo

Ella se mofa de su hermanita

cuyas manos pequenas y suaves

brillan tenue y plateado

durante la noche

Pero la hermanita sonrie

porque ella es soberana de las mareas

el premio de poetas

y la canción de cada amante

The Best Spanish (?) Rice Ever

Okay, so it is totally conceited to refer to my own recipe as The Best Ever. And it is ridiculous to call this Spanish Rice, as I am 98% certain that people in Spain do not prepare rice dishes like this. Really, it is Americanish Rice. But that sounds dumb. So do other cheesy Spanglish/Mexamerican recipe name ideas, like Fiesta Rice, or Tex-Mex Rice (I am SO not Texan!). Whatever. Let’s just call it arroz. Now let’s cook, because I’m hungry.

The Recipe

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 cup long grain rice, uncooked

1/2 cup chopped onions

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 jalapeño chili, chopped

1 Tbsp. chili powder

1 tsp. cumin

2 cups chicken stock

1 can or 2 cups chopped tomatoes

1 8oz. can tomato sauce

1/2 cup fresh cilantro

salt to taste (plenty–at least 1 Tbsp.)

My Not-Quite-Spanish rice, after I cooked it for lunch today

Before cooking, create a Pandora music station based on Johannes Linstead, Jesse Cook, Armik, or Ottmar Liebert & Luna Negra. Trust me…this will make the cooking more fun and the food more flavorful. Next, follow these directions:

In olive oil, brown onions with rice, jalapeño, garlic, cumin, and chili powder. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, or until rice is cooked. Remove from heat and stir in fresh cilantro. Enjoy as a side dish, or add a can of black beans or cooked, chopped chicken to serve as a main dish. Or roll in a tortilla with refried beans and cheese. Just enjoy.



Why Yes, There is a Point to Telenovelas

This week, my kids and I are home on vacation (hooray for the Presidents!). The children are busy playing video games, as the weather is too cold and foggy to go out. As for me? I have been curled up in bed, drinking tea, and doing what any normal American would do on such a day. Watching telenovelas.

(Okay fine, so maybe it is not such a normal American way to spend one’s time. But when have I ever been normal?)

Now for those of you who are all, “What the heck is a telenovela?” imagine a cross between a soap opera, a cheesy romance novel, and a radio melodrama. Really, most telenovelas are so awful, I can hardly make it through an entire episode without cringing. But every now and then, I come across one that captures my attention. Currently, I am twelve episodes into a program called Eva Luna, which has the typical telenovela romance storyline: a handsome, wealthy man and a kind, beautiful poor girl fall passionately in love and carry on a secret romance, even though discovery would result in disaster for both. Yes, the acting is often lousy, and the plot sometimes makes me groan, but still, I am glued to my seat.

Now before you mistake me for one of those stereotypical, shallow    soap-opera fans who only tunes in to drool over the hot male actors, I  should explain what drew me to telenovelas in the first place. Remember when I mentioned how one of my lifelong goals has been to speak Spanish fluently? Well, it is impossible to become fluent in a language that you never hear. A friend of mine once suggested that watching television programs in Spanish is a good way to pick up the language. And so I have tried watching everything from Plaza Sesamo to absurd game shows to partidos de fútbol en español. But somehow, it is the zany, drama-filled, hopelessly romantic world of telenovelas that draws me in. Maybe because telenovelas are filled with such vibrant, colorful characters and intense passion. Or maybe it is because telenovelas give us a chance to root for the underdog, or to believe in the impossible, or to hope that above all, love will prevail.

Or, I don’t know, maybe sometimes it is the hot male actors.

Side Note (and Rant): On the not-so-humorous side, I am intensely bothered by the emphasis on a European standard of beauty in many telenovelas. With so many beautiful people with brown skin, black hair, and brown eyes, why must the stars of these dramas constantly have pale skin and light-colored eyes and hair? Why are darker people cast only as villains or servants? It is so archaic and demeaning, and really, worthy of a blog post of its own. Coming soon…

Popcorn for Dinner (aka My Family and Me)

First of all, this is me, Tiare. You say my name like this: Tee-Air. Unless you speak Spanish, in which case it is Tee-AH-ray. (I like that way better, but we’ll go with the original).


If you want to know more about me, well, read my About. But I will give you this random detail: I am crazy about coffee and tea, and I eat popcorn for a meal at least twice a week. Popcorn, mmmmm…….

Now take a peek inside our living room window, and you will find my family (probably gathered around the television, playing video games. Or frantically racing around, trying to find matching shin guards or missing clarinets or gymnastics leotards or field trip permission slips, because we are about to be late for something).

Here’s what we look like when we are NOT running late for something:


And that’s my family. Now quit peeking in my living room window.