Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks – Learning Spanish

Spanish language school in Vitoria

Spanish language school in Vitoria (Photo credit: Zador Spanish schools Spain)

Today I started my first in-class weekly Spanish lesson.  The class had 20 students, all of them younger than me and most by more than a generation.  I was the only one who had never taken a lesson in Spanish or traveled to a Spanish-speaking country.  The pace was quick, but the instructor, Carlos, repeated everything in such a clear voice I could hear his enunciation without a problem.  I couldn’t always repeat it properly, but I tried my best.  the amount of vocabulary he covered in two hours was mind-warping.

By the time 2 hours had passed we had covered introductions, asking for and giving addresses, adding and subtracting up to 100, the sounds of the vowels and the alphabet.  Whew!

Then he had us take turns being characters reading dialogue from a script.  There were times I felt tense, but I’d much rather learn in a classroom than become flustered on a foreign street.  I wonder if there is any way to make this learning easier?  Any suggestions from those who have been there?

 

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Remembering a Wondrous Surprise

I went to bed February 23, 1981 expecting to have a restful sleep.  The night got cold and the fire burned so low the house chilled to 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit), about the temperature inside a refrigerator.  When I awoke, Walter was snoring, his head buried under the heavy covers. I reluctantly pushed myself out of bed into the otherwise quietness of the night.

Wrapping a nearby sweater around me I made my way to the wood stove: only a few dying embers remained. Coaxing the flame, I added some wood, and then straightened to get more when a sharp pain pierced my abdomen.  Once it eased off I gave it little thought.  I put another couple of pieces of wood into the stove and planned to go back to bed when a second more forceful pain made it clear I was in labour.

I shook Walter awake, but just as he was putting on his pants I realized we wouldn’t be making it to the hospital.  Still in a sleepy daze, one leg in and one leg out, he started to panic.  When a third contraction started the baby down the birth canal, I kept one of my legs on the floor and the knee of the other on the bed.  Walter hopped about wanted to know what to do: boil water, start the car, what???

The next contraction pushed the baby’s head out.  That got Walter’s attention!  He grasped the small head wanting to pull.  I ordered him to let go.  He fretted and fussed about how to get me to the hospital with this head sticking out.  I told him to calm down and make sure the baby didn’t fall onto the floor!  On the next contraction the baby slipped out without harm.  Walter, pale and limp, sagged onto the end of the bed in a heap.

I gathered up the baby, patted it gently until it cried, and then with the cord still attached wrapped it in a blanket.  By this time, Walter had recovered enough to get his pants on, and to ask about the sex of the baby.  Neither of us had paid any attention during the birth.  Unwrapping the blanket, I was overjoyed to finally have a daughter.

My next thought was: a daughter – what did I know about raising a girl?  Lord, help me! Holding His miraculous gift, I prayed to be worthy of her, to know how to love her and that she would grow to know she was abundantly cherished.

I had a custom of giving older siblings a present from a new addition, so Walter got the boys up to greet their new sister. They crowded around oohing and ahhing as I pulled a chocolate bar for each of them from beneath her blanket.  It was the first time she impressed them, but not the last.

After getting everyone dressed, we drove to the hospital.  The nurses checked the baby and deemed her a healthy girl: 9 pounds, 6 ounces.  Some days, times and events stick in your memory like a hot brand searing your brain, like a meteoric impact crashing into your heart:  the birth of our daughter that cold winter’s morning, February 24th, 1981, did that to me, and for me, and I’ve never been the same.

The Road Home

The road in from the highway was hilly, narrow and barely graveled.   Half rotted timbers from the original log road broke through the dirt in places and the ditches were overgrown with weeds. In spring, buried culverts swelled the road in mounds that looked like beached whales sunning in the middle of nowhere. These bulges remained until the frost completely left the ground then descended to almost level by midsummer only to be heaved up again in the winter.  The effectiveness of the culverts suffered as years without proper maintenance passed.

Travelling on the road in the summer produced a cloud of dust that followed a vehicle like the exhaust of a jet engine.   With care, two could pass, but it left occupants in a choking, dust cloud for several seconds. It also meant driving nearly blind until the dust settled.  Graders came down the road at least once a summer hauling weeds and dirt up from the ditches and spreading a lump of debris on the center of the road, including embedded rocks.  These rocks could be as high as 18 inches although it usually was more like14.  Passing a grader meant taking a chance driving over the hump and then clinging to the margin of road remaining.  Until the grader made its exiting pass the road was practically a one way street.

Soil on the sides of the road varied from sand to clay to black muck.  The corner where the concession road broke off to our side road was entirely black muck.  One summer a ditch clearing backhoe got sucked in by the muck.  In trying to make corrections the rear of the machine slipped sideways and got sucked in even deeper.  The hapless operator radioed for help before climbing out of his sinking machine.  By the time two large trucks arrived to assist, the rear of the trapped backhoe was barely visible and it had started to tip onto its side.  With little room for manoeuvring the men pondered logistics, situated their trucks as effectively as space allowed, and then attached chains from the backhoe to the trucks. 

Diesel engines strained unsuccessfully at the load, their exhaust crowding the air with spent fuel, their wheels digging into the logs beneath the surface of the road.  Visible tremors hammered the area shaking dead limbs off surrounding trees sending flocks of birds skyward.  The backhoe sank further into the muck.  The owner arrived and after some discussion he climbed through the muck, and got into the partially submerged cab.  The crew balked but the owner pressed them to pull as he revved the backhoe’s sinking engine.

The wheels of the large trucks sent clots of dirt, logs, and stone flying.  The owner, his determined face barely visible inside the cab, gunned the backhoe’s engine. Muck started spraying out from behind the submerged machine sinking it deeper.  It looked like the muck was about to swallow both machine and man when it suddenly released its hold.  The backhoe sprung to the road causing one of the rescue trucks to plunge into the edge of a diagonal ditch.  Its liberation was not nearly as dramatic, but the damage to the road during this whole operation was substantial.  Two loads of gravel made a cosmetic repair, but the road continued to sink over the remainder of the summer.

 Where and when was this road?  In a third world country?

No, it was Northern Ontario and it was the road that led to the path into our home in the late 1970’s.  That path led to our one room house where we lived with our children, a handful of animals, and a lifetime of memories.

Retired and ready to live!

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  How often we have heard these words then gone back to the old (normal) way of living?  My first year of retirement has been a year to truly recognize this new freedom, get some fluff taken care of, and learn to live in a brand new way.  I’m finally ready to be free of the restrictions of being identified by my job title or the expectations those paying my salary.  My pension may be small, but I want to get the most out of it.  The question is, “Now what?” or even. “Now where?”