Tag Archives: spanish

Getting Ready For The Trip Home

Flag-map_of_Paraguay.svgThere won’t be any more updates from your South American correspondent for a few days, as we’re packing in the morning for the final leg of our Paraguayan journey and will be on the road and in the air.

Honestly, I feel like I have severely under-blogged during this trip. Reading the posts I’ve written gives me some mixed reactions. I am not sure I have been fair enough to Paraguay, and I freely admit that some of my reactions to this proud republic are too narrow-minded—I don’t want to sound like I’m passing judgment on a country or its customs from a 20-day stay.

It may be only as populous as two Iowas, but it’s as big as California, and there is far more that I don’t know and have not seen than what I know and have seen in this isolated, wonderful country hidden in the most remote corner of these two American continents.

Anyway, I am sure I’ll write one or several blog posts about Paraguay after I get back home. Future topics to look for:

  • The chow of Paraguay, or how I learned to share a cup and sip from the same metallic straw as others without a qualm. Not to be confused with the “chau” of Paraguay which is how they say goodbye. Adios, Spanish students, means “hola” in Paraguay.
  • The Jesuit ruins of Trinidad, or how important it is to do routine maintenance on your stone roof (or maybe how European architecture of the 1700s was no match for the climate of Paraguay).
  • The angel of death for Paraguayan tree frogs—the strange and awesome hunter (who also freaks out and has odd fears) that is my son’s and daughter-in-law’s cat.
  • My impressions of the capital city, where we’ll spend two days before winging our way back to the United States.

I also may make “Paraguay: The Movie.” I shot some video that I have not had time to look at or edit, so we’ll see.

Anyway, it’s been a blast. Our time last year in Norwich, England was my first extended stay in a foreign land, and Paraguay feels 10-times as foreign as the UK—it’s about as foreign as you can get in this hemisphere. I’m sure parts of Africa or Asia would seem even more alien, but besides Haiti, I don’t know if there are lots of places in the Americas or the world that feel further from Los Estados Unidos than Paraguay.

Of course, I freely admit that’s a uniformed opinion. Give me a break. It’s a blog. (Inside joke for Jon and Nalena).

The fact that it’s not Iowa is not a criticism of this contradiction of a country that manages to be simultaneously huge and tiny (big on land, not densely populated).

"Flag maps" of Paraguay downloaded from Wikicommons.

“Flag maps” of Paraguay downloaded from Wikicommons.

It’s good to get away from home, now and then. It’s good to experience a country where you are the outsider, an oddity.

I saw a rather ignorant Facebook post the other day from someone who passed on along a meme to the effect that English ought to be required before a person could get a USA green card.

I did not repost. I was repulsed. That would exclude my grandparents, legal U.S. residents who spoke only Hungarian. That would have excluded many WWII refugees or the Hmong from Laos who were our allies in Vietnam. I suspect it would exclude some ancestors of the person who posted the meme.

It’s good to be in a place, now and then, where English is not only not “the” language, it’s not even one of the two. Paraguay is the only American country that preserves its indigenous tongue as a major, official, national language.

Maybe we should have all been forced to learn the pledge of allegiance in Cherokee. I hope Paraguayans have a pledge that they recite in Guarani.

Anyway, I’ll be very glad to get home to my familiar haunts in Iowa. But in just tres semanas, Paraguay has changed me. Among other things, it has reminded me how much more I have to learn to claim I can even start to speak Spanish.

So, no, I don’t think adult immigrants to EE.UU should be forced to prove that they speak English any more than I should be forced to prove fluency in either Spanish or Guarani should I decide to make the other red, white and blue country my home.

Anyway, end of rant and tangent. I didn’t want to get preachy or political in this post. Mostly, I want to say muchas gracias to my son; his lovely bride; his loca gata; and the mysterious, friendly, beautiful, complex and iconoclastic people of Paraguay.

I’m sure I’ll have mas to say before I’m done writing about Paraguay. I’m sure that even then, I’ll have left too much badly said or unsaid.

For now, chau, chau.


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Puerto Rico a State? Yo digo que está bien

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Do I think Puerto Rico should be a state? Si. Does it matter? No.

Because, I’m not Puerto Rican. The future of that island should depend mostly on the aspirations and desires of the Americans who call that slip of volcanic land home. Mostly—although the U.S. Congress has to agree.

Tuesday, they, the Puerto Ricans, voted in a referendum on statehood. They’ve done it before, but this time something different happened. Statehood won. Well, hip, hip hooray, I say. Even though, my voice doesn’t matter.

The historic vote Tuesday doesn’t lead automatically to statehood. States are admitted to the union by acts of Congress, and Puerto Rico also elected a governor who does not favor statehood—so whether a proposal is moved in Congress and how Congress reacts is up in the air.

But, I would like Puerto Rico to be a state for several reasons.

First, its status as a “Commonwealth” is a holdover from the Spanish American War. Maybe for some U.S. overseas territories, which are small in size and population and whose long-term status is not settled, separate statehood makes little sense. But for Puerto Rico, as big as an eastern U.S. state and as populous as many U.S. states, continued status in Commonwealth limbo simply because we conquered them at the end of the 19th Century makes little sense. It’s been well over a century. We need to decide what to do, long term, with Puerto Rico. Marry her or dump her, I say, and I prefer marriage. I think there are really only two real options—let Puerto Rico go and become independent, or let it join the union. So my first reason for wanting Puerto Rico is that it resolves a long-term historic artifact that needs resolving. Let these American citizens fully participate in governing America.

Second, I like Puerto Rico. That’s truly a trivial point, I know. But my daughter-in-law is an American from Puerto Rico, my son got married there, and I would prefer not to need a passport to go back there, and I would like to go back there. Puerto Rico me gusto mucho.

Third, it gets at an issue that bugs me, a bit. Are we an English-speaking country, bilingual or multi-lingual? When this issue gets raised, the people raising it usually want English as THE official language and are loudly complaining about our patchwork culture. That’s what bugs me. I hate the simplicity and smugness of the American=English equation. But there is a nagging part of me that sees the efficiency of having an official language and having that language be English. The founding documents and all the laws of this union can then legitimately have their “official” versions for legal purposes.

So, to be honest, although I know it puts me in a political crowd where I rarely land and usually avoid, I would not fight an English-as-official-language law—if it were done well. That is a big if. If the proposed law didn’t seem anti-immigrant or anti-Spanish.

Anyway, there is a feature of such a law I would want included that I’m sure would inflame passions, but still is appropriate. If I were to write the English as Official Language law, I would include a second official language. Si, esta español. Why? Well, for one thing, Spanish has been spoken in territories that are part of states of the United States longer than English has. And the burgeoning Hispanic population of the U.S. means it’s becoming a more popular language. But, I would be willing to give Spanish, as the second official language of the United States, a secondary status. That is, it would be OK if debate in Congress were required to be in English, and if the federal courts always based their rulings on the English-language version of any law that comes before them. An official Spanish translation of any federal law would be required, and of any state or local law if more than 2.5 percent of the population of any jurisdiction self identified as primarily Spanish speaking would have to have an official Spanish translation—but the English-language document would be the legally binding one. So the U.S. would have two official languages, español y ingles, with English having a legal “preferred” status based on its historic importance. Finally, I would recognize the right of Native American nations to legally conduct their business in their indigenous languages, as long as they prepare an official English version of laws and regulations for the understanding of the larger culture, and would specifically legalize and support the provision of government services in any language required by the needs of the person interacting with the government. In other words, yes, a German-speaking Iowan could request—and get, a German translation, or Urdu or Chinese or whatever. Having an official language should not traduce other tongues.

Yeah. The debate over the legal status of Puerto Rico would certainly raise the Spanish question. I would want to clarify in law that the people of Puerto Rico can happily prattle on in their odd, but nice, abbreviated Spanish (why do they drop the s in muchas gracias?) and not worry that English will be imposed on them. It hasn’t taken root in 110 years, so let’s not go there now merely due to statehood.

Anyway, as noted, my vote for Puerto Rican statehood doesn’t count. Nor should it. I do have an opinion, that Puerto Rico would be better served as a state—but that’s an outsider’s opinion.

Like Puerto Ricans in national American elections, my vote doesn’t count in this decision that ought to be by Puerto Ricans. I am not even sure where my daughter-in-law lands on this debate—and her choice is way more important than mine.

But, that’s the final reason I favor Puerto Rican statehood. Right now, we have millions of American citizens who could constitutionally run to be President of the United States (they are citizens by birth born on American soil) but who can’t vote for President.

Name Puerto Rico a state—if Puerto Ricans decide they want to continue to be Americans. Their votes for President and in Congress should count, too.

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Hey, Shawn, How About Journalism at MMU?

An open letter to Shawn Johnson:

Dear Shawn,

Hey kiddo, it’s not good that you have to give up a career that you’re so good at when you’re barely out of your teens, but we both know that gymnastics is a game for the young. So sorry to hear that your knee won’t let you continue competing at the Olympic level, but somehow I don’t think we’ve heard the last from you.

Anyway, I read that you’re examining your options, including the possibility of college.

Do the college thing, kid. The time is now and it won’t get any easier later on. No, you don’t “need” college in the sense that others have to attend to lift themselves up to a higher career—but, college will round you out in many ways, give you more insight into life, and give you a bit of a break from your very public career.

No doubt you’re going to hear from lots of colleges, and will have your pick of places to study. You seem to be exactly what most colleges would love to have—an energetic, determined, intelligent young woman. Never mind that you’re also wealthy and famous—if you were nobody, you’d still be somebody.

Shawn Johnson

From her official web site, http://www.shawnjohnson.net, picture of Shawn Johnson. Future Mustang?

Anyway, here is more of my unsolicited advice: I think you should study journalism and either business or English, and minor in Spanish, at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids.


Well, for one thing, it’s Iowa. As an Iowan yourself, you understand that this state might not be heaven, but it can be welcoming and embracing. It’s easy, in Iowa, to find people who will care about you and help you discover yourself.

That genuine Iowa niceness is boosted at MMU by its traditions. We’re a practical university, a place where people train for careers, but with a strong liberal arts flavor. We like to think we’re educating the whole person, and not just preparing a good future employee.

You, as a person who can open many doors, need to engage in your mind at a place that will embrace you, but also put you in the same boat as everybody else.

That’s another reason to consider MMU—because it’s not the Ivy League. You don’t need to attend Harvard to open doors. You need to study at a place where you can learn deeply, sure, but also be out of the limelight for a while.

I think MMU is that kind of place. If you studied at MMU, you’d be close to family and friends, but not too close. Cedar Rapids is small to a young lady from Des Moines, but we’re not Dubuque or Waverly—you’d still have all of the diversions that a Midwestern city offers, although, granted, in the setting of a small Iowa town.

Again, that might be a refreshing change.

Anyway, I realize this is an incredible long shot. So, assuming you might attend Northwestern or UC Berkeley or some other more nationally-ranked school, I still think J-School might be a good move for you. After all, it’s likely you’ll engage in some form of media career. By studying journalism, you’ll learn more of the law and history governing media, stuff that you’ll want to know. In addition, if the journalism school you attend is anything like MMU, you’ll become a better writer—and being able to write for yourself, as well as express yourself well, are keys for your future.

In any case, if you study journalism while aiming for a future media career, combine that with something else. My suggestion is English because a sense of narrative, being grounded in classic stories and classic story telling and, again, advanced writing skills will be invaluable to you.

Business, too, is a good choice—as a young woman of means, you need to understand how business woks. Even if the only company you ever run is “Shawn Johnson, Inc.,” you’ll control and need to rationally deploy assets in a way that benefits you (and, I hope, the world).

As for a Spanish minor, love or hate the reality, it’s America’s second language—and as a primary, natural first language, it’s as global and widespread as English. You open up all kinds of new avenues for yourself if you can speak Spanish. Finally, study Spanish because fluency in a second language simply gives you a deeper and better understanding of English—you have to tune in to and understand the structure of language itself in order to learn a second tongue, and in studying Spanish, you’re really vastly improving your facility in English.

Sorry to hear about your knee. And I would have loved to see you return to compete in the Olympics in London. Along with all Iowa, I cheered you in China, and I’m anxious to see where your life will take you.

And remember, even if you don’t go to MMU, think journalism plus—journalism as a major with a second major and a minor in some language other than English—wherever your academic ambitions take you.

Finally, you probably don’t need it from me, but you are facing your own adversities—an unwanted life change that is tough even for a fortunate young woman such as you. Good luck, kiddo. And thanks, on behalf of all Iowa, for the pride we’re already felt in one of our state’s favorite daughters.

Best wishes,


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New Years Blog Resolutions


Leaping into leap year. Tristan hops over his mom. Yes, I'm sure grandchildren (and plants) will continue to be features of this blog in 2012.

I’m not really big on New Year’s resolutions. Not that I’ don’t buy into the ideal of self improvement or making changes for the better, but the whole New Year’s thing is so artificial anyway.

We celebrate an arbitrary day when the sun’s tilt on the horizon is frankly not at any astronomically significant point. We’re past a solstice, long away from an equinox, and thus we are noting another orbit from a really odd point in the planet’s journey.

So be it. Rather than make any general life resolutions, what do I resolve for this blog?

  • I will update at least twice a week. That’s an easy one, since I’m pretty much on that pace anyway. I absolve myself in advance for any travel weeks—the week in March I plan to spend in England, or if I do RAGBRAI again this year, don’t count—but otherwise I’ll share my life’s journey at least twice a week. Last year, WordPress tried to encourage daily updates, but I didn’t’ attempt that in 2011 and won’t in 2012. But I won’t let the blog languish, either.
  • I will crack 12,000 views in 2012. Not a lofty goal—plenty of bloggers have tens of thousands of views each month—but I had more views in 2011 than in 2010, and have had just over 9,000 this year so far. Unless there is a huge spike, I won’t make 10,000 this year. Next year, let’s see if I can get 12,000.
  • I will leave Sarah Palin out of it. Unless Mitt Romney picks her as his running mate, I think her moment in the sun, which lasted surprisingly long, is starting to pass. Let it go.
  • I will write one blog post in Spanish. Just for Nalena. And I promise it won’t be about bananas. I have to work up to that one. I hope to take another Spanish course at MMU, probably in fall 2012, and will try to write something in Spanish that makes sense. I’m sure in the years since I took a Spanish course my skills have rusted, but on the other hand, there’s still some Spanish lurking in my skull and I’ll try to shake some out.

Anyway, I hope I can at some point in 2012 make you laugh, make you mad, make you glad that you share this journey on planet Earth. I started this blog as an experiment just to see what blogging is like and for.

I guess I feel that the experiment is worth continuing. And I hope some of you, my readers, agree.

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On the Verge of Spanish

Table Card

I created posters and a newspaper ad to promote a new Spanish program at MMU. This is a simplified version of those, which might be used as a "table card" in our dining areas. If not, at least it's here on my blog!

I’ve been pleased at the reaction to the upcoming Spanish program at Mount Mercy University.

We’re having students plan their courses for next year, and I don’t know what the situation is overall, but quite a few communication students have inquired about taking Spanish courses.

It seems only fitting that a Midwestern university offer at least a Spanish minor, so I’m thrilled that the program is being launched here. It won’t exactly give us a competitive edge, since Spanish is taught at many Iowa colleges, public and private—but, lacking the program seemed like a deficit here.

Foreign language is not required at MMU at this point, and I’m not sure it ever will be. However, we’re working pretty hard to be more global and multicultural in our education, and the number-two language spoken in the U.S. and Iowa should be something that we offer.

Starting next year, it is something we do offer. That’s nice.


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Be It Resolved in 2011:

OK, I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. New Year’s itself is arbitrary (I was disappointed that Vietnam began to celebrate the western New Year this year—that country is on the lunar calendar and usually celebrate a completely different date, which is fine with me).

I guess I’ll accept, however, that the concept of “year” is a natural and useful one, and even if New Year’s Day is a totally arbitrary date, it’s still an opportunity to look back, look forward and think about change.

What does Joe resolve in 2011? Let’s see:

• I resolve to enjoy more travel with Audrey. We got a good start in 2010—little trips to Omaha and Kansas City went well, Jon’s wedding in Puerto Rico was our biggest adventure in years. To be honest, I can be a stressed, grumpy travel companion, but when I relax and let myself “go with it,” I like seeing new places and people very much. We’re going to England in 2011—not exactly the dark side of the moon, but another sign that Audrey and I are getting to be more of a travelling couple. Since we are making more journeys anyway, my resolution is approach them with an attitude that makes them as mutually pleasurable an experience as I can. In 2010, we got our passports. In 2011 we finally start to use them. Fun be the journey.

• I resolve to make healthy lifestyle changes. I could articulate this goal as a 10 or 15 point weight loss, but one of the reasons that I naturally distrust New Year’s resolutions is that such a goal is both common and not commonly achieved. But I’m 52, I have marginally high blood pressure, I weight over 245 pounds and it is time for some changes. Rather than state the weight loss as the goal (even though it is), I want to focus on the steps. What life changes can I make that will result in weight loss? Well … 1) The law of seconds. Supper is one of the most dangerous meals for me, it’s often home cooked, yummy and I’m very hungry by the time it comes around. My “law of seconds” is an attempt to make a personal, enforceable rule that will reduce my calorie intake at my largest meal of the day—simply put, I can pick only one meal item to have seconds of, and the second portion can never exceed the first. 2) Related rule. No more than 2 treats at any Mount Mercy event. The law of seconds does not apply to Club Friday—only one time through the line from now on. I can have 2 cookies or 2 servings of whatever at a faculty meeting but no more. (I’m trying to remember a easily enforceable number that will help me make healthier eating choices while avoiding the “D” word—can you guess the number?) 3) I’ll change up and add to my exercise regime by starting to use some weights at the gym and by jogging at least 3 times a week when the weather allows. Before the weather allows, I will use my Nordic Track at least 3 times a week for 20 minutes each time.

• I resolve to resume some self-study that I’ve been neglecting. I started months ago to read a “How to Play the Piano” book, but have let that fall aside. I’ll try to get back on track by making myself work at it for 25 minutes 3 times a week. I also have neglected estudiar español, and intend leer dos libros en este ano para practicar mas. By the way, Word caught on that I was typing in Spanish, so now it’s marking all my English words as spelled incorrectly. When I punctuated with a period, it switched back. Interesting.

• I resolved to continue enjoying my minor photography hobby. It’s been a good creative outlet in 2010, and photographing my own plants is a way to enjoy my own gardens—the point of having a garden. Sorry, blog fans, if you’re bored by flower photos, this won’t be your favorite blog in 2011—but you probably already know that!

Well, that seems like a daunting enough list for me. We’ll see, looking back in 2012, how it goes. I hope for all of you is that you have a positive attitude, good fortune in 2011 and a happy new year.

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