Learning Spanish

I took 6 years of Spanish in Junior High and High School. I remember almost none of it because I never used it. Now I have a little Junior High schooler of my own and we are starting up the language lessons. I still feel that Spanish is a useful second language for Californians despite my own history.
From the recommendation of a friend, we are trying out Duolingo. I’m moving along fairly quickly through the basics levels so far, so maybe all those past lessons haven’t completely vanished from my brain. What I like is: that it’s free, that the kids and I can all have it on our own devices to work at our own level and pace, but I can create a ‘classroom’ to see what they’re doing and how often they are working on it, it’s simple to use and fun enough they are doing lessons without my nagging.
The plan was to just try it out over the summer, but I already like it enough that I’m sure this is what we’ll use for the school year as well.
Duolingo tells me I’m 4% fluent in Spanish so far and offers to post this info to LinkedIn for me. Do you think anyone would find that impressive?


My Favorite Science Podcasts

I’m getting behind on my podcast listening, but I just can’t bring myself to cut back on any of my favorite shows. They are all so awesome. Science is another subject I follow a lot of podcasts about, so here are the ones that have earned their place in my podcast feed.

Are We Alone – The weekly podcast from the SETI Institute. They sped much less time talking about aliens than you might imagine. Each episode has a theme, where they examine some aspect of life on Earth, often looking at human psychology, or culture, and how that may (or may not) give us insight into life elsewhere in the universe. There is usually a good dose oh humor mixed in.

NOVA Science Now – These are very short podcasts, usually between 1 and 6 min long. They are often teasers for NOVA shows, but I always take away an interesting tidbit of information.

Science Talk – The podcast from Scientific American. Need I say more? Well, I will. These are about 30 min long, and again sometimes act as teasers for articles in the magazine. Even so, they spend enough time on each topic to really do it justice, and I never feel like I need to run out and buy the magazine if I want to understand what they were talking about.

Skeptoid – More of a critical thinking podcast than a pure science one, but I’m still putting it into this category since the creator and host, Brian Dunning, applies the scientific method to his analysis of the topics he covers. These are generally under 15 min long, which is nice, but I’m amazed at the amount of research that mush have gone into them. He often covers topics about mythical monster sightings and UFOs and such. I’ve begun to skip those since I’m not all that interested. My favorites so far is his series on logical fallacies. Sometimes I hear an argument that sounds off to me but I can’t put my finger on why. Now I know why, and don’t get sucked into nonsense as easily.

TED talks – Only a subset of these could really be called science podcasts, they also cover topics about world affairs, culture, music, etc. I just listened to one today with young homeschool kid talking about sustainable farming practices. How cool is that? Apparently the video version is even better, but I’m usually doing something else while I listen to podcasts, so I stick to the audio. Even with just that, these are almost always powerful, moving speakers.

WNYC’s Radiolab – If I had to pick a favorite off this list, this is the one I’d pick. These are so well produced, so entertaining, I have trouble turning them off when I finish my workout or drive before the episode is finished. Just the other day I listened to “Lost and Found”. It was amazing, partly because I have a horrible sense of direction, and it made me feel a little better about that. There is a place in Australia I might need to visit. But the closing segment, which is not about someone physically lost, but more metaphorically lost, gave me goosebumps and I got misty eyes it was so wonderful. Here it is if you want to check it out:
http://www.radiolab.org/media/audioplayer/player5.swf(function(){var s=function(){__flash__removeCallback=function(i,n){if(i)i[n]=null;};window.setTimeout(s,10);};s();})();

60 Second Earth, 60 Second Mind, 60 Second Science -these are also all produced by Scientific American, and as the titles suggest, they are one minute podcasts about the environment, psychology, and science respectively. Always fun snip-its of information here. As I was linking to them just now, I see that there is also a 60 Second Health, and 60 Second Space. So I’m off to iTunes to get those!

If you have a favorite science podcast I didn’t mention, please tell me about it in the comment section. (I really shouldn’t ask you to do that as I don’t know where I’ll find the time to listen to any more than I already do, but I just can’t help myself.)


Learning to Ride: No pedals required

Image: graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I guess this isn’t a new idea, but I’d never heard about it before. Learning to ride a bike without any pedals on it. Frankly, it sounded like a stupid idea to me when I first heard about it, but now I’m a believer.

My brother in law thought this would be a great way to teach my oldest daughter to ride a bike. I’d had no luck getting her to try learning at all, she was pretty fearful about the whole thing, so I said, “Why not?” Now in an amazingly short amount of time, she is riding all over the place, with pedals now – no training wheels ever.

The concept is that learning to ride a bike with no pedals separates the steering and balancing part of the learning process from the peddling part. Training wheels do that too, but they teach balancing last, whereas a bike with no wheels teaches peddling last. I learned to ride with training wheels, and I remember how terrified I was at the idea of those trainers coming off. I think that peddling is nothing compared to the difficulty of learning to balance. After watching my daughter learn to ride this way, I wonder why anyone tries to learn to peddle before they can balance.

An important key I should mention is that when her bike had no pedals, her seat was low, so she could easily stop herself by putting her feet down, and she had good brakes. So she’d scoot around on this thing, looking kinda silly, but when she came to a little downhill area, she’d coast, and keep her feet up. Just a second at first, but gradually longer and longer (actually not all that gradually, she extended her coasting time with feet up quite a bit in a matter of days) until she could turn, and stay balanced the whole time.

So when her uncle put the pedals back on, now she didn’t need a downhill to ride anymore. She had power to go uphill too if she wanted. And that’s all there was to it. She was riding. What I noticed was that when she came to an uphill that forced her to go slowly, and she began to wobble – this is the part where I distinctly remember panicking as a child learning to ride, and I’d stop to put my feet down from fear of falling over – but she didn’t. She wasn’t concerned at all. She knew how to stay up just fine. She even knew, on her own from her coasting practice, that all she needed was to get up a little more speed to make the balancing even easier. It was so cool to watch.

This kid is quite a little creature of habit, and I’m so thankful that we will never have to break her from relying on training wheels. I fought tooth and nail to keep mine when I was learning, and I’m thrilled not to have to live that again from the other side.

I was looking for a link about this concept to include (I decided it wasn’t necessary – just google for info if you want to know more), and was surprised to find a bunch of places selling special bikes with no pedals on them for this purpose. So in case anyone doesn’t know it – you can take the pedals off a regular bike. No need to buy a special ‘balance training’ bike or anything like that. But I highly recommend this method!


What I’m Up To

So I keep thinking about ideas for blog posts that I never actually write. Trying to remedy that little problem and get into a better schedule. To begin with I’m just going to do a little roundup of where I’m at on my various projects I’ve talked about on the bog so far.

* I haven’t done anything more with the remaining silk from our silkworms. I didn’t have enough of it done in time for the county fair, and I’m still undecided about what exactly I want to do with it. I ended up with maybe half a dozen or so cocoons that never hatched, so I want to try reeling those in the more traditional way, but probably not right away. Have a lot of other stuff on my plate right now.

* I finished an approximately 7000 word short story, and am in the process of editing it. I’m excited because it’s the first fiction project I’ve finished that’s more than 100 words in a really, REALLY long time. Yea!

* After our trip earlier in the summer, I never got back into working on The Artist’s Way. I’ve done a little journaling, but really, I should try to do that more regularly too. Or maybe not since I used what used to be journaling time for working on my story. Humm. . .

* I’m inspired by my the blog of my favorite amigurumi designer (If you either don’t know what that is or don’t have a favorite, go look – all kinds of cuteness and fun.) I’m going to start sharing a little of my fitness journey. Don’t worry, I’m thinking just once a month saying a little something about how my exercise and weight are doing. Hopefully this will keep me paying attention (I’m distractable if you couldn’t tell.) Also by keeping it to only once a month I want to avoid obsessively weighing several times a day and the kind of OCD crap I’m prone to. Generally I have a tendency to all sorts of unhealthy habits on both ends of the dieting/exercising spectrum when I think no one will notice. Maybe if I pretend people are watching, I can keep myself more moderate and honest.

* The self-led writing class is plodding along. Mostly reading so far, although I did join the Internet Writing Workshop; I haven’t really participated yet. The format isn’t instinctual to me, and there’s a lot of messages to get through, so that’s a learning curve. I need to give myself an assignment I think.

* I’ve gotten the nicest and most encouraging rejections for two flash fiction pieces I sent out awhile back and I was torn about reworking them (as the editors encouraged me to do) or just send to other markets. So they’ve just been sitting here. I think I’ve decided on sending them out for another round. I just can’t think of anything more to do with them. They say all I’m really interested in saying, and I think if I try to expand they’ll just ramble. If they don’t find a home soon, you’ll see them here!

* I’m making an I-spy quilt for my littlest. Seems kinda a shame to make a simple square quilt with my snazy new machine, but I have a plan for a little wall hanging that maybe I can get fancy on next.

Now, time to do dishes.


Making My Own Writing Class

I was at the bookstore shopping for a gift, but because I can’t help myself, I also visited the writing advice book section. I’ve been hesitant to sign up for a writing class because I don’t really have the time to get to one (unless my kids could come with me – ha!) and I don’t want to spend the money. I’ve looked at a few online classes, but about a year and a half ago I took an online writing class and, frankly, it was a waste of my time and money. I had books at home that gave me the same information. What I had hoped the class would give me that a book could not was feedback about my writing. At best I got “This is fine.” or “Good work.” Not what I’d needed.

So there I am looking at writing books, thinking that a few of these will probably tell me what I need to know to move to the next level in my writing. A good friend at A Fortnight of Mustard told me about an online critique group she likes. So there’s some feedback for me. Lastly, I’ve redoubled my efforts to write every day. I’ve let my journaling slide a little in this effort, but I feel okay about that. If I’ve had the kind of day where I can only squeeze in 20 min of writing time, I’d rather work on an article or a story that I’m excited about than a journal entry.

That’s my plan. Read books. Join a writing critique group. Write more.

I guess time will tell if my plan will work in helping me become a better (and more confident) writer. I’d love to hear how other writers handle their own continuing education, or if you think there’s something I should add to my plan.


Foundation Paper Piecing Quilts

I’ve recently started learning how to use foundation paper piecing to make quilt blocks. I can see why it would be really helpful for making some kinds of blocks, very complex ones, or ones with very tiny pieces especially. However, I think I still enjoy traditional piecing. I haven’t done a ton yet, so maybe more experience with the technique will change my mind, but I don’t think so. When I started traditional quilting and piecing, I fell in love with it right away. That didn’t happen with foundation piecing.

I did a few tries on my own with only online tutorials for help and they had some problems. In some cases, I didn’t use big enough scraps so I didn’t have enough seam allowances. Also I had problems with my stitching getting torn out when I tore the paper off the back.

Then I followed the instructions from Sue Garman for the 2009 Block of the Month Project over at The Quilt Show, and I did a lot better. This little house is made from her tutorial that she recommended before beginning the bigger, more complex feathered star block. The best advice was to use a super-short stitch length. My stitching didn’t tear out when I tore the paper off at the end, and that makes a big difference.


Learning Something New

I decided I want to learn to draw. I used to draw when I was young, and don’t really remember why I stopped.

treasurefield on Etsy reccomended the book “Drawing with Children” to me as a good beginning drawing book. I’m a little bumed because I got it on an interlibrary loan and so they won’t let me renew it and I’m only about 1/3 the way through. Due today.

Anyhow, I wasn’t very happy with the drawings I made as I worked on the exercises in the book, so last night I decided I’d break the ‘rules’ (or at least the suggestions in my book) and just draw something I was interested in. Sneaking over to my baby’s crib, and using what I learned so far, I drew this:

Sleeping Baby
Sleeping Baby

I broke another guideline too. The book reccomends that beginners use a felt tiped pen to draw so they can’t worry about fixing mistakes – they just have to keep drawing. But I used a pencil, and erased a lot before I was satisfed with how it looked. I would have quit before finishing if I couldn’t erase, I think. It really is a great book though, I’m glad I did those exercises or else I wouldn’t have been brave enough to even try drawing a person.

Maybe not the Mona Lisa, but for my first drawing that I did on my own, I’m proud of my little old self. I really like how the ear turned out.


Book Review Continued

We covered the lesson on “Teachability” this week from the book “Talent is Never Enough” by John C. Maxwell.

Now this is one area I don’t feel like I need much help on. I love learning, and am almost always open to suggestion for improvement. The book warns that pride is an enemy of teachability, but I have little to no pride. I could probably stand to work more on pride than teachability actually. Basically being teachable is being open to growth, and no one should ever be done growing.

I though I was fairly comfortable on the computer until I opened my Etsy shop. Then I had to learn about online marketing, about blogs, and HTML, banners. . . well, all kinds of stuff I didn’t know or care about a year ago. And its been fun, because I love to learn. Finally I found a personality trait I have that should serve me well.

I have to share some quotes from the book that really gave me the giggles. Maxwell gives a list of quote that supposedly came from real employee evaluations. My goal is to never be one of these people. I’m just going to give a few of my favorites – there are a bunch:

“Works well when under constant supervision and when cornered like a rat.”

“When she opens her mouth, it seems that it is only to change feet.”

“He sets low personal standards and consistently fails to achieve them.”

“If you see two people talking and one looks bored, he’s the other one.”

And my personal favorite, “This young lady had delusions of adequacy.”