Saturday, April 17, 2010

Peddling My Talents

I can make a mean chocolate pie. It’s in a graham cracker crust and topped with an orange mousse. Unlike most chocolate pies you get, the filling is nothing like pudding. It’s a chocolate ganache that’s as thick as something the exact consistency of chocolate ganache. It also has a touch of Grand Marnier which gives it a nice hint of orangy-alcoholiness. I got it from a French desserts recipe book and everyone who has tried it has loved it. I can also make brownies, crepes, vegan peanut-butter fudge, madeleines, and chocolate eclairs. Not only can I make them, I actually like doing it. I especially like sharing them with other people because they usually like them and that makes me happy. So what does this have to do with Ecuador and learning Spanish? A means to an end, honey, a means to an end.

I decided that one way to raise money for my trip to Ecuador is to peddle my dessert making skills and start a sort of dessert of the month club. Each month or so I’ll offer a different dessert (for a reasonable price) and take orders from anyone who wants one. That way I can make a whole bunch of one thing at a time and not have to worry about whether or not people will actually buy what I make. Cuz I won’t make it unless they buy it, get it? Plus it has the extra added bonus of making me eat lots of leftovers and half-successful dessert attempts so that I’ll get big and fat in time for bathing suit season! Oh. Wait. That’s a bad part.

To go along with this part of my project, I thought it’d be nice to post my favorite recipes here on the blog. That way the people who aren’t close enough to take part in my dessert of the month club can still try out what I’m makin’! Plus, there’s the added bonus of undermining my plans by making these desserts available for cheaper by allowing people to make them themselves at home. Oh. Wait. That’s a bad part, too. Oh, well, too late now.

Chocolate Orange Ganache Pie (without the orange mousse because it’s too much of a pain to write it all out here; besides, the pie is just fine without it thankyouverymuch)

1 store-bought graham cracker pie crust (I don’t know how to make them and the store bought ones are great anyway, so why not?)

1 pound chocolate chips (can any recipe that starts with a pound of chocolate be bad?)

1 cup heavy cream (likewise for the cream)

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (I’ve used salted butter with the result that No One Cares.)

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (experiment with different flavorings, I suggest mint or raspberry)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (did you know that when you add this stuff actually matters? I’ve always belonged to the ‘combine-all-ingredients-at-once’ school of cooking but it turns out that doesn’t always work)

So, basically you heat up the cream, sugar, and butter till the butter melts and the cream almost boils then you pour all that over the chocolate in a big bowl and let that sit for 30 seconds to soften the chocolate then you mix it all up and add the vanilla and Grand Marnier (or whatever) and then pour it in the pie crust and let it cool. And stuff. I can never get all the bits of chocolate melted with the cream mixture itself so you might want to let the bowl of chocolate warm up a touch in a warm oven or over some hot water or something but it really doesn’t matter because the extra bits of chips aren’t really noticeable in the final pie. Isn’t it funny how adding an ‘e’ after letters makes them sound different? Or possibly sound differently. I’m never sure about adverbs. I hope they’re easier in Spanish. Shows you how little Spanish grammar I know at this point. I’d better get back to studying.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Iron Man part three- The Quest for Peace

With my decision to quit grad school prematurely, I saw free time opening up ahead of me in which I could do some serious work on my language skills rather than just puttering around with my old textbook and muttering to myself. It occurred to me that if I’m gonna go, why not go all out, baby? So I started looking at Spanish immersion programs in South America. (I would’ve looked at Spain too but I don’t like sounding like I have a lithp when I thpeak Thpanish.)

At first I was interested in training only, but then I started to look at longer-term volunteer programs where I’d be immersed in the language and culture, get some Spanish training, but also be doing some good. I finally found a program that seemed to suit me right down to the ground. It’s 2 ½ months in Ecuador working in a mental health clinic and actually getting some degree of clinical experience rather than doing construction or baby-sitting or whatever. I was stoked when I found it and I pretty much still am. Here was a way for me to work on my Spanish while not losing my clinical skills and actually adding relevant work (volunteer) experience to my C.V.!

The down side of the program is that it’s unfunded, so I have to pay them for my room and board and sundries. But the up side is that most programs are like that, only twice as expensive as this one! Woo-hoo for me, y’all. Initially, I thought I’d be doing this some time in the Summer of 2011, but with one thing and another my plans got changed and the date is moved up to Fall 2010.

Now, I am not without qualms about this whole plan. For one thing I have mixed feelings about eco-tourism and philanthro-tourism (if I can call it that) because I always suspect that more could be done with money that I donate than with money that I spend to visit myself. However, I rationalized that through volunteering abroad in this way, I was not only helping the organization where I worked, I was also preparing myself to do important work back here in the US. I am aware of some of the needs the Spanish-speaking community in Waco has with regards to mental healthcare. I suspect that the need is present in most other American communities as well. So if this 2 ½ months volunteer work helps me to meet needs back at home, that balances out the fact that, strictly speaking, the money I spend could go further if I used it in other ways.

There is still a lot of planning I need to do, but this really makes it feel as if my Iron Man goal is within reach. I don’t expect to become fluent exactly, but I believe I’ll reach a level of proficiency that will serve me well and *possibly* allow me to look for work as a bilingual therapist at the first of the year.

Well, anyhoo. That’s what I’ve decided to do this fall. I’m planning tentatively to go from September to November. In the mean time I’m continuing to work on getting my Spanish up to par and figuring out how to pay for it all. But more on that next time.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Iron Man part two


Not only did my Iron Man dream come back, it returned with renewed vigor. I started thinking about what to do with my Spanish as well as how to get it where I wanted it to be. It seemed to me that if I were to become bilingual (technically trilingual since I parlay French pretty well) I should do it with the goal in mind of being a Spanish-speaking therapist. As already established, I love languages but I’m also pretty interested in other cultures so working with clients from a different culture would just be super-neato-coolio! Yay me!

There was my “what” and a few “whys” (the “who” is a British rock band featuring Pete Townsend, but that’s not important right now) so I needed a “how.” To address that question I have generated a brief list of ways to become fluent in another language. Feel free to use these and pass them on to others.

1. Be born in another country.
This seems to be the best way to become fluent in another language. I’m amazed at the kids I met in Europe who could already speak French, German, or Spanish from an early age. It made my pitiful efforts at their languages look pretty weak.

2. Have parents that speak another language.
Have you ever noticed that almost everyone in the world who speaks a language other than English *also* has parents who speak that language? Coincidence? I think not.

3. Be a super-genius.
This one is especially helpful if you want to rule the world in addition to being a polyglot (I’m looking at you, Alison).

Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t born in another country. I was born in this country. Also, my parents don’t speak another language. They speak this language. And I’m not a super-genius. Yet.

So I have to learn my second (that is, third) language the hard way. By learning it. Here are a few of the things I’m doing to work on my Spanish.

1. I bought My Spanish Coach for my Nintendo DS (I have a Nintendo DS). I’m currently a third grader and proud of it. I recently learned that the Spanish for Celery is apio, as in: No me gusta el apio. Gracias de mantenarle alojado de mi. (I don’t like celery. Please keep it far away from me.) You can see how this knowledge would come in handy in a therapy session.

2. I bought La Santa Biblia and read a bit of it each night. This idea I got from mi madre (that is “my mother” for you poor ignorant wretches). She bought a side-by-side English/Spanish Bible and has been laboriously translating it like a fourteenth century monk. I point out that the English translation is three inches to the left but for some reason she sees value in understanding it from the Spanish. The silly goose.

3. I talk to myself. In truth I already did this. The only difference is that now instead of carrying on conversations with myself that most people around me can understand, I do it haltingly and in a foreign tongue so that I look even more like a Pentecostal schizophrenic.

Mas next time.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Iron Man part one

A few years ago I sat in my tiny Waco, Texas apartment watching coverage of the Iron Man triathlon in Hawaii. I was a couple of months into the clinical psychology program of Baylor University (that school being the lead weight at the center of the rubber sheet that is Waco – half the town orbits around it) and trying to get used to being back in school after three years in the Real World. I was pretty excited about the Baylor program but also apprehensive. I was thinking that, if things were going to get as tough as the 2nd and 3rd years said they were, I needed something in my life besides school to keep me sane.

This isn’t heading where you think. It’ll be a cold day in… well, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be much of an athlete – tri-, bi-, hept-, dec- whatever. But as I lounged on my Ikea couch and snacked on something unhealthy I was inspired by the way the Iron Man participants dedicated themselves to this one big goal and by the inspiration many of them seemed to draw from it. I wanted a goal like that; something just for me; something fun but challenging; something big enough to be hard but manageable enough that I wouldn’t just give up. And grad school didn’t count. There was only ever one thing that seemed like a real contender. I thought of something that had been an almost-goal of mine for a few years already. I decided I would finally learn Spanish.

It strikes me as funny that we speak so many different languages in this world. You would think that, from an evolutionary perspective, more of them would have died out. I mean, do we really need Portuguese? The Americans I know who’ve studied it say it’s a mix of French and Spanish. But the French think it’s more of a mix of Spanish and English. I can only assume that the Spanish think that it’s a mix of English and French, unless they just want to be contrary. Anyway, other than scholars studying writings in their original languages in order to get some nuance that is untranslatable, what is the point of having all these languages?

Let alone studying them. This from a former French major. Who used to bring home language-study tapes from the library to listen to when going to bed. Who’s tried to learn at least a handful of words in the mother tongue of every foreigner she’s ever met. Who is writing a blog about learning Spanish. There may not be an evolutionary need for all these languages, but that doesn’t keep me from wanting to know them all. They’re like Lays potato chips: you can’t have just one.

Well, my Spanish Iron Man didn’t get off the ground very far. I signed up to audit an intermediate Spanish class that fall (having already taken an intensive beginner class in college a few years before, and acquitting myself quite well thankyouverymuch) and promptly dropped it when the predicted grad school insanity picked up. I kept the text book and looked at it every once in a while just to make sure that, Yes, la casa still had quatro habitaciones on page 10. And I found little opportunities to speak Spanish here and there (“Si, I would indeed like more salsa, thank you.”) and to add a few words to my vocabulary. (“’Dar un silbido’ means ‘to whistle’? Really? How lovely. Thank you Veggie Tales!”) But they didn’t add up to much. Basically, I forgot about my goal or at least set it aside for another time.

That time came a few weeks ago around the time that I decided not to finish grad school. Something about my deteriorating physical and mental health – not to mention hygiene – suggested grad school was no longer the path for me. And no sooner did I start to seriously contemplate leaving this crucible but my Iron Man plan came back to mind.

More next time.