REUNION (AtoZAprilChallenge)

a-zchallengeAlthough I currently face many frustrations in my work, I love the teaching that I do. I get great joy from helping people express themselves. In my current position, that often means encouraging students to discover ways to express themselves in English, even when they lack the confidence to try. For example, I often hear students say, “Teacher, my English is poor.” I finally realized that I heard it far too often, and many of the students who said it actually had English speaking ability that was quite good. So I finally challenged them to change what they said, AND I made them rehearse it with me before they got away. Now, I have them say, “My English is pretty good, and it’s going to keep getting better because I will keep practicing.” It’s great to see their faces light up when they go through rehearsing that response.
One of the biggest joys of teaching is when a former student goes out of their way to visit me. This was the case last Friday when I had a reunion with Jessica, a bio-technology student I had in a required English class three years ago. She was a junior at that time. She is now completing her Master’s degree doing work in cell biology. She will graduate in June and has just completed the oral interview for continuing for her PhD.
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What is especially touching about these photos is that she brought her graduation garb from home because she wanted pictures of me with her. She told me, “I didn’t get any pictures with you when I graduated from Ming Chuan, so I want to have a graduation picture with you now.”
When she posted the above picture on Facebook, she wrote the following:
Last Friday, I visited my favorite teacher, Deb Kraklow.
We haven’t seen for a long time.
We prepared pasta salad for our dinner together.
I am very pleased to be able to see her again because she always gave me encouragement and gave me a chance to speak English.
We chatted about our lives and I explained what I studied in my graduate school totally in English.
I was afraid to speak English before.
But now, although only in simple sentences, I can tell her what my research is.
If I had not met her, I’m still a girl who afraid to speak English.
I really appreciate her.
 

And I really appreciate Jessica. I couldn’t believe it when she told me during dinner that she wanted to try to explain her research to me in English. Jessica’s research examines the link between type I diabetes and osteoporosis and explores alternative treatments methods that could someday help treat both diseases. As you can imagine, explaining all of that in English is quite a challenge, but we worked together to piece it all together, and it turned out great. She was excited about it, and I encouraged her to think about trying to pursue writing her research in English as well to get even more exposure. I can’t wait to see if she tries. Of course, I’ll be willing to help her if she does.

One more fun fact. Because of her Facebook post, a couple other students have approached me about a reunion. I only taught English to the biotechnology majors here for two years, but it’s a special group to me. In a few days, I may be sharing another reunion experience I had a year and a half ago, with a group of biotechnology students from my first year here. In addition, I have a couple posts planned for next month that tell about my birthday celebrations in Taiwan. Two of them feature biotechnology students. AND Jessica is already working on a plan for my birthday next month.

Even without the birthday plan, I will always have the lovely memories of a week ago when Jessica visited me and shared an evening of reminiscing and research. There are many students who will always be part of my life, and Jessica is definitely one who will always have a special place in my heart.

 

 

Joyful Jessica: AtoZ April Challenge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few months ago, a new coffee shop opened a couple blocks from our apartment. It was intriguing to watch as it came into being. It wasn’t easy to tell at first what it was, but the back counter had some suspicious looking things that led me to believe that it was a coffee shop. The shop is located on the route that David and I take to the bus in the morning. When we walked by, we noticed lovely potted flowers in front of tables full of a variety of packaged food items, like crackers, cookies, snacks, and the like. Eventually, it was clear even to me that coffee was certainly a part of this blossoming business. So one day I stopped in. My ability to sniff out new coffee haunts had not failed me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI know very little spoken Chinese, and my ability to recognize written Chinese is so limited as to be almost non-existent. Still, Jessica (the proprietor) knew enough English that I could go in and order coffee. And it wasn’t long before I was a regular, taking my netbook and a few work projects to her shop two or three times a week. She and her niece, Polly, were very friendly, and I felt very welcome in the shop. Since Jessica had left school several years ago, she was unable to keep up with her spoken English as much as she would have liked, as most of her friends from school had moved away, some of them abroad. Still, Jessica wanted to practice her spoken English, and I enjoyed giving her that opportunity while learning more about our common passion–coffee.

Over the weeks since her shop has been open, she and I have become friends. She can practice English, and I can have her delicious latte. Until recently, I was always having hot latte, but as the weather has warmed up in the last couple of weeks, I had the pleasure of having her iced lattes as well. So refreshing!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut one day, a really great conversation took place. I mentioned the writing group to Jessica–the one with the college students that I mentioned a couple days ago for the letter G. The group had met in a couple of other coffee shops in the area, but we hadn’t really found a home that was comfortable. Jessica was thrilled to have our group come on Tuesday evenings. Even more exciting, she wanted to join the group herself and work on her English writing. It was a match made in heaven.

The first thing Jessica wrote for our writing group was a short piece about her coffee shop. She wanted to post it on her Facebook page. I include it below to show you how her shop has changed since the flowers and packaged food that she started with.

My name is Jessica. I love coffee, so three years ago I got a shop to sell coffee and brunch. I bought a coffee machine, because I hope that good coffee would make my guests happy in the morning. My dream came true; my business got better and better, but I started having trouble with my machine. The side that made the steam stopped working, and the parts needed to be changed. I was so sad because I didn’t know how to solve it. At the same time, the lease on my store expired, and I needed to find a new store to rent. 

Without a coffee machine, I’m using paper drip to make coffee. Although paper drip is a good way to make coffee, it can’t make crema. Obviously I need a small coffee machine. That’s why I’m learning about coffee machines now. When I get a new coffee machine, the coffee will have a deeper flavor, and I will get perfect crema. 

I’ve also decided to sell different merchandise. Instead of brunch, I will just offer coffee and clothes. I invite you to visit me at my new shop to have a cup of coffee or tea. You can also see a variety of fashionable clothes that can suit your life.

I had never heard about crema before, and Jessica did her best to explained it to me in English. It was great because it was clear to me that our regular conversations were making her more confident about expressing herself in English. If you are interested in learning more about crema, I found this interesting page.

https://www.sweetmarias.com/library/content/espresso-almighty-crema

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy husband, David, took the pictures above that show the coffee shop in its early days. So tonight while I was writing part of this post at the coffee shop, he came along with me to get some updated pictures showing the coffee shop with its new focus: a selection of clothing and accessories.

I love the cute handbags that look like foxes and owls. The other thing I like is that there are a couple partial mannequins that “model” a couple outfits. I’m impressed with how often Jessica changes their “look,” and the lovely bright colored scarfs and necklaces she uses to accessorize them. Coffee and clothing isn’t a common combination, but Jessica makes it work, and I enjoy all the color and texture that the clothing brings to her coffee shop.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJessica told me that her friends often ask her why she’s so happy. She tells them it’s because “I don’t have time to be sad.” She looks on the bright side of life. But that doesn’t stop her from being a compassionate and generous person. I have been so touched by the way she has opened her shop every Tuesday evening to the writing group, including free tea to everyone. Those who order coffee get a discount. Jessica works hard to improve her writing. She also continues to expand her vocabulary. Sometimes, when she and I are having a conversation, she will use her phone to look up a new word in English. One of her customers has also joined the writing group. It’s become a great place where students and community come together around the desire to improve their written and spoken English, and I am honored to be part of it.

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10246575_237262193144357_4338164945583312658_nThis morning, when I finished my class, I checked Facebook, and saw the picture you see at the right. I sent her a message right away! “Did you make that?” She responded, “Yes, I have a machine.” Tonight when I was there, she told me that she was so happy to have this for her breakfast this morning.

She is also delighted to have the opportunity to improve her English. She never dreamed she would have an American friend with whom she could practice. And I have to say, I’m pretty happy to have a Taiwanese friend who shares my passions of writing and coffee.

Thanks, Jessica! I’m so happy to count you among my friends!

Instructional Igloos: AtoZ April Challenge

a-zchallengeI teach a lot of writing classes to first and second year English majors, but I also teach one English language class to a group of 4th year Architecture students. Even students who aren’t English majors have to take four years of English (or test out of them). In these courses, we technically cover all four skills–reading, listening, speaking, and writing, but it is a challenge because of our class sizes, which range from 40 (if we get lucky to 70). As you might imagine, it’s quite a challenge. Most of our general English classes are taught to groups of students with similar majors and are very general in content. That is to say, that we have a series of in-house textbooks that are used with all students, regardless of their majors (again, this does exclude English majors). For those of you who are aware of my “textbook project,” the purpose of that project is to update these general materials, but that’s a topic for another post. After all, I’ve just finished a very long first paragraph and haven’t even mentioned igloos until now.

One of the departments at our University is architecture, and it is a five-year program. So when these students are in their fourth year, they aren’t following the typical senior schedule (which doubles up some course hours for a few weeks to allow for an early departure a few weeks before actual graduation). In addition, various majors have varying reputations for their interest in learning English, and let’s just say that architecture students have had a reputation for not being terribly interested in English. This is where I come in. Two years ago, I was approached about incorporating some architectural materials into the textbook project (which is no problem, since I plan to incorporate a bit of all departments into the upper division books). But more than that, they wanted to pilot an English course that was more focused on the needs (read interests) of their students. This may come as a major shock to those of you who know me, but I took it on, starting with that second semester two years ago. For the two academic years since that time, I continue to have these fourth year students, and I am already scheduled to have them next year.

From the beginning, I met with the Chair and other members of the Department of Architecture faculty to map out a more specialized course for these students. One of the main concerns was that students were unable to talk about their architectural designs in English when they went to conventions and conferences. So after some basic experiences with speaking in front of the group in English, their presentations over the course of the rest of the semester will be to do just that. They will present their presentations as if they are hoping to win a contract for such a building. For example, three of my students are going to present their ideas for nature centers, so those three students will all present their designs on the same day, in a competitive format to try to convince me, the pseudo investor, that their design is worth pursuing. We have six students who have designs for art museums. I also have students who are renovating space to use for businesses. There are lots of options, and I’m trying to set this up to be interesting for everyone and help them get over their fear of speaking in English. Of course, they also have to learn enough English of the architectural variety to be able to talk confidently about their designs.

As a result, I am always on the look-out for things that might be of particular interest to them. We’ve looked at interesting restaurant designs. We’ve done a project where the students work in groups to prepare a PowerPoint presentation about an architectural structure of their choice. I will also show them snippets of videos that explain particular architectural methods or periods. One such snippet had to do with igloos. I chose igloos because the way they are built is quite interesting, but more importantly, many of my students have never seen snow. So igloos are especially fascinating to them. Although, I try different things with different groups, the igloo has been one constant through the three groups I’ve had so far. In fact, I am planning to add some supplemental materials for next year to help focus on building reading skills and build on the interest that these frozen structures bring out in the students.

Here is one of the videos that give a sense of what’s involved in building an igloo. I think it’s safe to say that even in the US, most people will have to wait until next winter to try this at home.

Hot Pot: AtoZ April Challenge

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I haven’t written too much about food in Taiwan, but today seemed like a good opportunity to write about hotpot. It is common to see hotpot restaurants around Taiwan, and it’s a traditional part of many family meals during the Chinese New Year.

Like many other places around the world, the winter in Taiwan was unusually cold and long this year. Without central heat in our apartment, we do everything we can to keep warm. One of the best discoveries this past winter was making soup a regular part of our diet, soup based on the Taiwanese hot pot.

I have eaten at several hot pot restaurants in Taiwan. When you arrive, you are shown to a table where there are cooking pots set right into the table top, one for each person. They are individually controlled. As you sit in front of your hot pot, you wait for you liquid to boil. Sometimes, you just start out with hot water. I’ve had a tomato based sauce one, and it’s not uncommon to start with a chicken stock. The wait staff brings each person a table laden with mushrooms, tofu, seafood, various greens, and ample cabbage. You will usually find an egg at your place as well. You then order a meet or seafood to go with your vegetables and other items. You also get a choice of a couple different types of noodles or a bowl of rice. Choices include such things as beef, pork, lamb, shrimp, and clams. Depending on where you go, you can encounter all kinds of interesting possibilities.

Sometimes, it can seem that we actually eat too much when we go to a hot pot, even if we could avoid the self-serve ice cream that’s available. So the idea of getting some of our favorite hotpot ingredients and making it at home was very appealing during the cold weather. David made big pots of soup with lots of cabbage (one of my personal favorites), and we can enjoy it for several days. It’s not quite as interactive or authentic as the real thing, but we enjoy it.

Here is a video about hotpot in case you want to see it in action.

 

Farther to Go!: AtoZ April Challenge

a-zchallengeI have known for a couple of weeks now that my post for the letter F would be about Farther to Go! The “brainchild” of Joycelyn Campbell, the big idea of Farther to Go! is that we can “learn how to use our brains instead of our brains using us.” She has developed a variety of materials, techniques, and courses that combine the best of what neuroscience has to offer about habits, consciousness, and creativity. It is impossible for me to do it justice in one blog post. It’s really important to check it out for yourself at her website: http://farthertogo.com.

I thought that maybe the best way to give you an idea of what is possible with Farther to Go! is to just make a (partial) list of how Joycelyn’s synthesis of neuroscience, habit, and story is changing my life. In no particular order, I offer my list: Ten ways that Farther to Go! has changed my life.

 

  1. I now view interruptions in a different way. I don’t let them hijack me emotionally. Rather, I see them as opportunities to renew my focus.
  2.  I look at my depression differently. I have learned to THINK about it differently, and that’s made a world of difference.
  3. Related to #2: After more than twenty years on anti-depressants and several unsuccessful attempts to taper off of them, I am now medication free. (If this were the only benefit of Farther to Go!, I’d be sold, but it’s only the beginning.)
  4. I intentionally develop habits that allow me to free up the conscious part of my brain for more important tasks.
  5. For the first time in my life, I am maintaining an exercise program that works for me. I’ve learned a technique from Farther to Go!, involving IAP (Intention, Attention, and Perseverance), and it has made a huge difference in my life.
  6. I have learned that I have a story about everything in my life. It’s normal. We’re wired for story. Knowing about how the brain constructs stories helps me see my life differently.
  7. I’ve learned it’s possible to create my stories instead of just letting stories happen to me.
  8. I have rediscovered the part of me that can make things happen. She is now the protagonist of the stories I will write create that will lead me to the life I want.
  9. I have an opening scene for a story in which the protagonist (the part of me that can make things happen) is poised for action to get what she wants.
  10. I now view life from a “get better” rather than a “good” mindset. With that mindset, I can try anything, because I don’t have to be good at it, I just have to be willing to get better.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a lot farther to go, but the changes I see in my life keep me going in the midst of setbacks and frustration. Stay tuned to find out what my newly resurrected protagonist takes on in her upcoming adventures. Almost anything is possible when I start using my brain, instead of letting it use me.

Embracing Exploration: AtoZ April Challenge

 

a-zchallengeThis post could have an alternate title: Eliminating Erasers. But the story would be the same.

I have been experimenting with ways to get my writing students to get away from writing for the sake of correct grammar and unusual vocabulary to first seeking ideas and opinions they want to express, and THEN using grammar as a tool for making their ideas more understandable to their audience. Audience? They look at me with blank stares when I suggest such a thing. I collaborated with my daughter last semester to give students an experience of audience.

But the point is that real writing involves prewriting–a form of exploration that helps the writer excavate the thoughts and ideas that are deep within the unconscious part of the brain. Prewriting is about discovery, about finding out what one really has to say, what the message is that he or she wants to convey. Trying to write something without doing that exploratory work first is like trying to build a piece of furniture without taking measurements and making a plan. It you just start cutting the wood and nailing pieces together, it’s not going to be very functional nor aesthetically pleasing.

The sad thing about most of my students is that they’re terrified of making a grammar mistake. Giant fear #2: They don’t have enough vocabulary. And these two fears immobilize any exploration of ideas. It’s not their fault. I understand that when learning English as a foreign language, it seems like it’s even more important to make sure you are mechanically correct.

That’s where the “eliminating erasers” title option comes from. In Taiwan, there isn’t a pencil case in a classroom that doesn’t contain an eraser and a correcting tape (or wite out), along with the requisite pens and pencils. It took me a while to understand how deeply being correct was culturally embedded. Particularly because I didn’t teach writing until my second year here. I tried teaching the writing process. It was like another foreign language, and then I realized that they were approaching each step as if it were a final draft. That they had no concept of a first draft. AND that most of them hated writing enough that all they wanted to do was get assignments done, not necessarily become better writers. Spending the first semester on the writing process helped, but only to a point–because they will do the assignments I give them because I give them, but they won’t buy into the spirit of the process. And when I ask them to go from their first draft to a new revision, I see many of them just give me another copy of what they gave me the first time. So frustrating.

I started by telling students that I would not take off points for grammar mistakes. That it was more important go get ideas than to worry about grammar, at least for most of the process. They weren’t sure they believed me. So the next step was to give them two bonus points on their final exam essays if they didn’t use erasers or wite-out. Gradually, I started including it in my opening day lectures, and I constantly reinforce it. NO erasers or wite-out in my classes–ever. You don’t need to worry about mistakes when writing. You can fix things later after you plan with ideas.

I mean it would be nice if I could give a demo on how to do free-writing. Oh wait! I did that. I set a timer for seven minutes (after demonstrating the process to them). I told them to write as quickly as they can without worrying about grammar, without even thinking. I went so far as to tell them that if they had a thought come to them in Chinese, they could write the Chinese, rather than try to think of an “easier” English word to substitute for the thought they were having.

They can’t do it. They want to believe me, they really do. But they are convinced that it is just a process that makes them spend more time with writing–something they want to avoid. Luckily, I recently had one student who totally got free-writing, and found herself making those discoveries that can happen when you just play with words and ideas. She had an experience of embracing exploration. Amy was so excited, she came to tell me about it. And she was excited enough that when I asked her to share her experience with her classmates, using Chinese, she animatedly spoke for several minutes. You could see light bulbs going on all over the room. (Another sadness is that they can’t always understand everything that is said in English, and they are too timid and embarrassed to admit they don’t understand.) Amy was even excited enough she visited another one of my classes to tell them of her experience. In the picture below, she is visiting one of my other writing classes to share her experience.

I’ll be honest. I had to really push the students to get up and get close enough to see her when she actually “wrote fast.” I also had to push them to ask her questions–even in Chinese. But the experience (and the prodding) was well worth it.

I am fortunate to have a few students who “get it” and are willing to share their experiences like Amy has done here. Other students have written to me, thanking me for helping them to change their ideas about writing.  It’s a slow process, but if I can help even a few students find their voices instead of practicing memorized grammar rules, I feel like I’ve made a difference. I’m willing to eliminate a few erasers on the way to leading students to embrace the process of exploration,

 

 

Detours: AtoZ April Challenge

a-zchallengeSo many ideas, so many plans, and it seems that one should be able to map a path to the destination one wants and just go from point A to point B. Of course, one would expect a reasonable number of glitches and obstacles to navigate along the way to impede one’s progress (hopefully only temporarily). But for some reason, Life’s not that easy. But the lack of direct routes from our ideas to our imagined destinations has both its good and bad points.

We all know the bad points. The perceived waste of time and resources as we seemingly roam without purpose or direction. Years can pass, and we are left to wonder where all the time went, and why we don’t have more to show for it. But that attitude ignores the good points, which are the amazing discoveries and activities we can enjoy during these wanderings.

I have rarely taken a direct route anywhere. And for the most part, that’s ok with me. The side trips of my life are what have added color and texture that I may not have found any other way. All the planning in the world would never have brought me to Taiwan. In fact, it’s hard to think of myself imagining anything like teaching writing in a foreign country. So if I couldn’t have imagined the life I’m living now, I couldn’t have plotted my way to it.

So, while I can’t say I’d want to totally avoid the twists and turns along the path I’ve travelled, sometimes, it seems that I could have saved myself a little time and grief along the way. Sometimes, I see a nice glittery idea and I jump in and go with it, not realizing that it is likely to take me miles and miles out of my way, and add months–if not years–to my travel schedule. It took me until I was nearly 50 to get my B.A. And it may take me a few more years to build the part of my life that I am now dreaming about. But it’s ok. I’m going to make sure I enjoy the journey as I travel toward the destination.

As there is less time left in this journey then when I started, I want to find a little balance in how much diversion I add to the trip. Less glitter, more substance. I want to enjoy the side trips, but maybe I will take fewer of them. I want to explore new ideas, but I will be more selective about which ones make the cut. I will take on less, so that what I do take on can be more fully enjoyed. But whenever something unexpected comes along in the course of my travels, I will look for the unexpected delight and not just see the inconvenience. Detours can lead to unexpected delights. I’m willing to see where they lead.

Castle on a Cloud: A Musical Exploration of Clouds

I haven’t been participating much in the current musical projects lately, but the one about clouds jumped out at me. Partly because it fell on the C day of the AtoZ April Challenge. And even though I didn’t use it specifically for that post, I am happy to do a musical bonus and share a few songs I like that contain cloud references. Clouds have variety–shape, intensity, the weather they signal. The songs here show a similar variety.

It’s sunny here today, but that won’t stop me from enjoying a few clouds, including this first one, with its “clouds in my coffee.”

You’re So Vain (Carly Simon)

My cacophonous experience of last night had me wanting people to get off of my cloud, too. I could really understand the feelings behind this one. 🙂

Get Off of My Cloud (Rolling Stones)

The castle on the cloud holds the possibilities that seem so far away from Cosette’s everyday life. The castle welcomes no trespassers, no intruders. The castle provides hope for a better future, a future where she can be held and nurtured by a loving parent.

Castle on a Cloud (Les Miserables)

Check out information about the band, City of the Sun here. Even though there are no lyrics, you can actually picture the clouds parting. The energy of the song is intoxicating.

“The clouds have parted, I am free.” (City of the Sun)

There is mention of clouds getting in the way, but perhaps clouds are an opportunity to see new possibilities. Get a new perspective. Maybe needing to see them from more than just “up and down.”

Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell)

Do Nothing Day: Phineas and Ferb

Here’s a song where clouds are just light and fluffy, representing fun, freedom, and a chance to recharge.

Slow down. Look around you.
Put your to-do list away.
The clouds look like sheep and vice versa.
Let’s have a do-nothing day.

I’ll be planning a do-nothing day very soon. Something to do with quilting, no doubt.

Finally, thanks to my daughter, Kate–the Collaborator–for helping me brainstorm cloud songs and finding the YouTube videos. Thanks, Kate!

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For other Cloudy music, you can visit:

Bear: http://bearspawprint.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/clouds/

Eva: http://47whitebuffalo.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/clouds-a-sound-off-of-sorts/

(Banana) Bread: The AtoZ April Challenge

a-zchallengeThe original title of this post was beginnings, but that only lasted for about an hour before its true identity was revealed in my mind.

This post truly is about banana bread, but it’s also about bread more generally–homemade bread, bread made by my husband, Dave. Dave has been using bread machines for many years to turn out amazing loaves of bread. He is known by family and friends (and even some convention goers) late 80’s and early 90’s.

It started back several years ago, when he attended SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) conventions. With the wonderful feasts prepared at those things, Dave really enjoyed the homemade bread. He figured he could make it himself. He made it periodically, the old-fashioned way. At some point between his time in the army and his time in college, he bought his parents a bread machine. Life took him away from his native Iowa to Missouri, where he lived for several years. On one of his trips home, he found that his parents never used the bread machine, and so he reclaimed it and starting experimenting with making his own bread. He was a big hit with his roommates.

His interest in conventions shifted to Klingon (think Star-Trek) conventions. Over a few years time, he attended somewhere between 6-10 of these two- to four-day conventions. When he packed, he also included two things: a coffee maker and–did you guess?–his bread machine. At each of the conventions he attended, he would make a couple loaves of bread each day for his friends. He also made coffee to go along with it. Now, I have to tell you something interesting about the coffee machine. Dave doesn’t drink coffee. He simply got the machine and all the supplies so that he could make it for his friends. As you might imagine, he built up a bit of a reputation when he went to conventions.

When Dave and I met and later married, homemade bread made him a big hit with me as well. But when we moved to Taiwan, we no longer had a bread machine. We did have a western style oven in our kitchen. (One of the reasons I fell in love with this apartment–its large, highly functional kitchen. During our first year in Taiwan, Dave made dough a few times, but we didn’t have the right pans for backing bread, but we had some awesome pizzas. But it was difficult on his wrists. So when he returned to the US after his first year here, he went to the thrift stores and came back with a bread machine. Ingredients are a little different here, but he has shopped the day markets, the night markets, the various grocery stores, the DIY specialty stores, and over time has located exactly what he needs to turn out amazing loaves of whole wheat bread with flax seed, sesame seed, oatmeal, and other awesome stuff. It’s not only a staple for us at home, but it is a regular feature of any meal where we have guests. He also takes it into work to a couple of our friends.

This is where the banana part of the bread comes in. He doesn’t make it in a bread machine, but it has become one of his specialties. While he puts some amazing ingredients in it, like oatmeal. I can do without the extra seeds and the raisins, but if he makes anything too whacky, he will make a plain(er) batch for me. As you might imagine, he has once again built up quite a following–especially in my office, where people are very fond of the portions he brings in. And if you really want to see people go nuts, give them some of his chocolate banana bread, made with cocoa powder and (if you’re lucky) chocolate chips. Awesome!

I think you can see why today’s post had to be about bread. I thought about saving the coffee part of his convention story for tomorrow for the letter C, but I’ll just tell you an additional little coffee fact today. I told you that he made coffee at the conventions for his friends who liked it. What you don’t know is that he makes coffee for me every day now, and has the entire time we’ve been together. He’s got it down to a science. But unlike the convention days where he brought his coffee and the machine and went to it, there have been many periods of time (particularly when we were in the US) when he would actually grind the beans each day. I’m pretty lucky! His last trip to the US yielded a bean grinder, so maybe next time we make a coffee purchase we will get some coffee Beans–another B word for today.

And now for a fun: The Banana Song (about half way through the video below)! Enjoy!

 

Anticipation: The AtoZ April Challenge

a-zchallengeIt’s been a while since I signed up for the AtoZ April Challenge, and like many most things I sign up for, it seemed a long way off at first. I had plenty of time to think about it, and come up with a theme, as well as ideas for each letter. I imagined writing some of the posts ahead of time. Here was a project that I could approach in an organized way and not start each day pondering how/if/when the post would get done. That’s the fantasy version of my life.

The reality is significantly different. While I thought about this challenge off and on for weeks. made some preliminary attempts at lists–both themed and unthemed. I even typed up a draft of my 26 entry titles, but the revision process eluded me as other things came up. I still had lots of time. Yeah, that old line. Somehow, April kept getting closer and closer with no theme, not even a list that really felt right. I had already let a March challenge slip by, so I was determined not to just throw in the towel.

Over the weekend, I thought I had my A under control. I had gone through several possibilities–agenda, art, adventures, agriculture (I have my reasons). You can probably tell by now that the theme things had totally gone by the wayside. Up until last night, I was sure today was going to be adventure. But by the time I went to bed, I had changed to anticipation.

It wasn’t my original intention to include Carly Simon’s song in this post, but I realized that they had a lot to contribute to my “problems” with anticipation.

We can never know about the days to come, but we think about them anyway.

I’ve known for a long while that I need to be in the present. But still, there’s that planning thing that can distract me. I can map out all the things that need to be done, and even create lovely timelines. Almost nothing seems impossible to me with the right amount of planning. But that translates into over-planning, and a variety of options, and thinking that because I can map these things out, that means I’m somehow good at planning, and maybe I am. (It also leads to really long, complex run-on sentences.)

Anticipation is making me late, is keeping me waiting.

that’s making me late, or at least keeping me waiting. But sometimes, I get stuck in the planning phase, and never move on to execution. OK, maybe more like I have to drag myself kicking and screaming to the execution stage.There is something about the act of planning that is infinitely more interesting to me than the execution of said plans.

Yet, when I focus, I can handle the details. When I stop struggling, I can accomplish awesome things. It just sometimes takes a while to get that part of me to come to the table. But I’m starting to understand that part a little bit better. I’ve learned that she needs something “fun” to anticipate, not just the tasks involved with all my intricate planning. I’ve been making that part focus on tasks too long, and putting the “fun” too far into the future, where it ran into the danger of not happening at all. The carrot on the stick that keeps moving into the future is not a very good way to make for a pleasant present.

I also realized I needed to stop making this challenge a project. I needed to stop trying to plan it and make it fit some preconceived mold. I could go into it without a solid plan. I could be spontaneous. It was enough of a plan to just agree to write a post 6 days a week, and to follow the alphabet. Certainly, I can relax the planning part of me enough to go along with that.

Life is kind of a struggle right now, but I can make it better. I can be more reasonable about the plans, and remember that rewards cannot be put into an indefinite future but need to be part of the present. Part of the reason that it feels like I’ve seen better days is that I’m not always crazy enough to postpone the rewards and renewal of fun. Fun in the form of quilting, blogging, and mini-adventures are now part of the short-term plan, not simply a memory of the past or a remote possibility in the future, contingent on being good enough. It’s a part of making life better today, in the present. Now the part of me that was frustrated with all the tasks and little fun is starting to be a little more willing to join us at the table. The present is looking less stressful, more inviting. All the parts of me are much more willing to work together and . . . .

. . . [to] stay right here ’cause these are the good old days.