Monday, December 31, 2007

New Things

I’m not really into New Year’s resolutions. Last year, I had all kinds of good intentions, and as it turned out, I had my hands full just dealing with my family and work. There were visits from friends and family, and we went on a few trips, but there wasn’t much room for anything extra.

This year, though, I do have a couple of things I’d like to work into my life. For one thing, P and I are going on a budget. We’ve only been on it a week so far, so it’s too soon to know how that will go, but I like the idea of a little self-imposed discipline. I’m hoping it will reinforce some of my positive money-management skills and curb some of my unhealthier impulses.

The second thing I want to do is read The Economist on a somewhat regular basis. Oh, I’ve been down this road before. We were strongly encouraged to read it when I was in graduate school, to keep up on current events. I subscribed for a while, but it was hard to get through and I didn’t read it often enough, what with having twins and all, so I canceled my subscription. I’m not sure I would have paid to re-subscribe, because it’s not cheap, but then I found out I could use my extra frequent-flier miles. So this week’s issue is now in my purse. Along with my issue of, um, Entertainment Weekly. Right. But once I get through that, I really will read The Economist.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Few Musings on Language

For someone who is hell-bent on teaching her children Spanish, never mind the fact that I’m a professional translator/interpreter, you would think I’d have done tons of research on the subject, but I haven’t, really. Other than a few articles I’ve read online and in the newspaper, and the information I learned at a wonderful conference on the subject where I was lucky enough to interpret, I really haven’t looked into it. In my case, I’m going mostly on my own experience and what worked for my parents, and what I’ve seen work or not work for others.

My parents used what is now known as the one-parent-one-language approach with my brother and me, though I’m not sure that term existed back in the seventies. We lived in the U.S. until I was eight, and the rule was: Spanish with my mom, English with my dad. Period. The other unbreakable rule was, nothing but Spanish was to be spoken at the dinner table. They were absolute hardasses when it came to both of those rules. If we spoke English at the table, they pretended not to understand and we had to repeat ourselves in Spanish, with their help if we needed it.

There are a lot of things I remember about learning both languages growing up, and the emotional pull of those memories is pretty strong. For one thing, I remember not liking the feeling of standing out. When we lived in the U.S., I really wanted to speak what my friends at school spoke. I didn’t want to be different. I spoke to my brother in English, and that was our special language. When we moved to Costa Rica, the tables were turned. Then we had to speak English at the dinner table. All of a sudden, Spanish was the language that made us fit in, and my brother and I started speaking Spanish with each other, which we still do today. Speaking English would feel unnatural at this point.

My parents owned a business and made an OK living, but they were the kind of people who didn’t need much and actually did without a few things so that we could afford others. Our house was not in the greatest shape and they weren’t so big on home improvement, even though that would have been money well spent, but boy, they made sure we traveled. When we lived in the U.S, we traveled to Costa Rica, and vice versa. The connection to our family, languages and cultures was incredibly important to them. So were books. As a child, I remember all the stories and poems my mother read us in Spanish. In Costa Rica, there was exactly one English-language bookstore in the country when we moved there, and those books were not cheap. Yet my parents took us there regularly and there were no limits on what we could buy. We took Spanish classes in California, and in Costa Rica my parents paid a bundle for our education at a chi-chi bilingual private school (I hated it, which is another story, but I realize I got a great education). When I hear so many second-generation children with surnames like López and García say, “Gee, I wish my parents had taught me Spanish,” I’m all too aware of the tremendous effort it takes to make it actually happen.

Right now, Primo and Secondo speak way more Spanish than English, which I love. I’m strictly enforcing the “Spanish with Mama” rule, and I also plan on being a hardass about it, though I sometimes feel like I’m being rude when we’re out in public. I’ve seen several parents relax that rule, then relax it some more, and it seems to me that then it’s all downhill from there. The boys’ babysitter doesn’t even speak English. Their language skills are coming along and they amaze me every day.

I find my own experience learning two languages as a child both encouraging and scary. For one thing, though I never really rebelled, I remember that feeling of not wanting to feel different. That’s kind of hard to counteract. Plus, Spanish was hard when I was very young. English was easy. That was what I wanted to speak. Also, we moved to a Spanish-speaking country when I was eight, which made all the difference. That will most likely never happen for my kids, so I feel like I’ll be fighting an uphill battle, especially once they start school. I listened to an awesome program on NPR the other day that referred to that as a “tidal wave” of English. The speakers also talked about making the second language fun. I’m as obsessed with books as my parents were. I just dropped a chunk of change on books in Spanish at the bookstore in Costa Rica. The boys’ great-aunt and great-uncle gave them $30, which I spent on more books in Spanish that I found on Amazon. I tend to buy books every time someone gives them cash. My in-laws believe in buying them bonds, I believe in books.

Reading what I’ve written, it strikes me that I may be taking all of this too seriously. It’s just so important to me, for many reasons. Obviously, for one thing, after all of my parents’ hard work, I got my MA in Conference Interpretation, an achievement which makes me incredibly proud. It wasn't easy. But I don’t just want my boys to learn Spanish because it’s useful. Much of my family doesn’t even speak English. And it’s a part of my heritage, and therefore theirs as well. My dad constantly told my brother and me that we had the best of both worlds. And though it might have sounded cheesy and made me roll my eyes as a teenager, he was absolutely right.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Physicists and Interpreters Do Not Think Alike: Exhibit A

P: The decimal point key on this computer is stuck.

Keen: [Pause] You mean, the period?


It’s such a mental transition for me, coming home after a trip to Costa Rica. I get so comfortable there, settle back into the language, the comfort food, the music, the places I knew growing up. I can slip into speaking Spanish the way I grew up speaking it, rough and slangy, instead of using the more polished, neutral version I’ve learned to use as an interpreter.

There is last-minute shopping so I can stock up on tons of coffee, rum and Salsa Lizano. Packing is always an ordeal. Then there are the tearful goodbyes, which make me sad because I never know when I’m going back. It just feels so far away, even though my trip to LA was longer than my trip to Costa Rica. Maybe everyone feels this way about where they grew up, maybe it’s not just me. Maybe I just feel like the cultural and emotional factors make it different. I don’t know. I can’t quite explain it, but it gets me at a gut level

I get to the airport, check in, and feel myself starting to break away. I’m on the plane watching the in-flight movie, and part of me is still not quite there. Then I invariably land in Miami. Maybe that’s one reason I hate that airport so much—to me, it’s that no-man’s-land, always halfway between one of my homes and the other.

And then we staggered home at 1:00 a.m., and the transition was complete, though a little bumpy. Primo has been waking up at 4:00 for the past week and has been inconsolable and then just wakeful. And yesterday I had such an awful allergic reaction to something that I dragged myself to Urgent Care, mostly because my eye was just about swollen shut and I had a translation due at five. Now I’m happily doped up on steroids.

Today is much better. Primo slept until 7:00. I feel much better. I have a large cup of coffee in front of me. I’m ready to rejoin the world, I think.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Back to the Land of No Internet

My mind is mush, partly because the twins have caught my cold and have been having a few sleep issues. Like waking up screaming bloody murder in the middle of the night. And partly because I found some awesome rum & coke in a bottle at the grocery store and, well, I'm on the beach. It just seems like the thing to do.

I meant to get one more good post in before I leave for my brother's tomorrow, but I was just too busy enjoying my vacation. Did I mention the rum & coke? So I'll be incommunicado until I leave for the U.S.

My brother's neighbor does have a wireless connection, but it's password-protected. I've been so tempted to go knock on their door and beg for the password. Instead, I think I'll just relax and enjoy.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Evils of Free Trade (Or: Why I Have No Internet Access)

So, I really have no interest in writing a manifesto on the pros and cons of free trade. This isn’t that kind of blog. And God knows, I’m certainly no expert, and I know it’s a complicated issue. But this is more of a personal anecdote. It’s 9:00 p.m. and the boys are in bed. I’m at my brother’s house. P just arrived, on no sleep for the last 24 hours, so he’s in bed. My brother has been working early morning shifts, so he’s in bed. My SIL is at the beach on a work retreat for a couple of nights. My mom’s reading the paper. So it’s just me and my computer--no Internet--in a very quiet house. It’s lovely, actually, and though I’d normally probably be online, I’m just sitting here writing this, which I will post later, and drinking my rum and Coke. I have no translations to do, so I’ll read for a little while and go to bed early.

In Costa Rica, there is one large state-owned company (read: monopoly) that provides all telephone, cell phone and DSL service. You need it, they’re it. They’re also the power company. Since my brother lives in a remote enough area that he can’t get cable, DSL is his only choice for Internet service, which means going through them. No choice. He’s called and been told he’s not close enough to one of their sites. He’s pointed out that his next-door neighbors have DSL. They’ve told him they’ll look into it. Repeat those last three sentences on an endless loop for a couple of years.

So if you Google CAFTA, you’ll get much better information than I could give you. My simplified version is, Costa Rica was the last holdout in the region, and a couple of months ago the country held a referendum on free trade. This was an incredibly contentious issue and it was all people could talk about for a long time. You were either really, really for it, or really, really against it. According to my family, it was the kind of thing you couldn’t bring up at dinner with your friends if they held the opposite view and you wanted to remain friends. Opening up the telecommunications market is a big part of the deal, and although the phone/power company is a dinosaur and hideously inefficient, they’ve managed to convince a good segment of the population that the company is our “national heritage.” Don’t let the foreigners in, or sell off the country. Patrimonio nacional. I first learned that phrase in that context, which kind of cracks me up. Anyway, the referendum passed, by a very narrow margin. Both my brother and SIL voted for it.

My SIL works at a local hospital, and after the referendum, one of her patients—who also has an important position in the phone/power company—brought it up with her. He couldn’t believe she had voted for it and started joking with her. “How could you vote for that? I can’t believe you would do that. Bad for the country.” After a little while, she’d had enough and told him, “Do you really, really know why I voted for it? Because I’m not sure that you do.” So she told him about the years of calling and calling and trying to get DSL, and apparently, he was contrite and kind of mortified. He told her to bring in the paperwork and give it to him. She said, no, really, you don’t have to do that. He insisted that he would personally take care of things and promised her they would have DSL the following week. Finally, she agreed and took him all the paperwork.

I laughed when I heard that story. But that was a couple of months ago, and obviously, my brother and SIL still don’t have DSL. So last night I asked my SIL to tell me the rest of the story.

Nothing ever came of it, she said. She heard him complaining in the hall one day recently about how all people ever do is ask him for favors. She snarked back something about how maybe people shouldn’t make promises they don’t intend to keep. Now he avoids her like the plague.

Next up: No, Really, You’re Next On the Waiting List
(Or: Trying to Get a Cell Phone—A Two-Year Adventure. My mother’s story. But hey, she has DSL, so maybe she should just shut up already.)

ETA: Obviously, I'm now online. And I do have to admit that those four days without access to the Internet or my cell phone were pure bliss. I took a quick break and ran to an Internet cafe for a quick look at my e-mail, and it was back to reality, which I didn't really want.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Things I Learned About Traveling Alone With Twins

  • Waking toddlers up at 3:30 a.m. to catch a 6:00 flight makes them super cranky.
  • When traveling alone with twins, going through security is the part that sucks the most. The rest of it isn’t exactly fun, but flight attendants will at least be charmed by your babes and will also feel sorry for you, so they’ll help you out. Going through security, you walk alone. TSA agents will not be charmed. You are so not their problem. They will be annoyed, pissed off, even, as you try to deal with car seats, your stroller and wrangle twins who run away in opposite directions the second you put them down. Other passengers won’t be charmed, either. Especially when the airport is packed to the gills, you’ve waited in that check-in line for an hour and everyone, including you, is running late.
  • I have one foot firmly planted in the Combi camp and the other in the Maclaren camp when it comes to side-by-side strollers (I could, and maybe will, write about both of them later), but the Maclaren rocked on this trip. You can loop the straps of one convertible car seat over each handle and just push. It’s cumbersome, but it works really well. I don’t know how else I would have carried both of them with me. They’re huge.
  • Even if you’re running a little late, stopping at the newsstand to pick up a bottle of water for filling up your sippy cups is an excellent idea. It’ll only take a couple of minutes. If you find a concession stand that sells little cartons of milk, that’s even better.
  • Getting seats as close to the front of the plane as you possibly can while still having a row in front of you so you can stash your diaper bag really, really helps.
  • It might be a good idea to skip the pre-boarding and get on the plane last, especially if you are close to the front. This means less time on the plane for the twins. Also, flight attendants will have dealt with everyone else by then and can help you out, because you’re the only one left, and you obviously need to board. If the flight attendants give you a hand getting your crap, and kids, on the plane, it really won’t take you long to set up, especially if you can install a car seat in your sleep.
  • Take a smallish diaper bag, if you can. You will have enough crap to worry about. I carried way less than I usually do, and it was fine. I was even able to spare a couple of diapers for another mom at the gate. I guess I usually carry a lot.
  • Flying when you have a bad head cold makes takeoff and landing excruciatingly painful. I know this has nothing to do with flying with twins, but ow. Owww.
  • If you have purchased three tickets and have a three-seat row to yourself, you will still only be allowed to carry one car seat on board. Regulation: Only one car seat per row, in the window seat. I did not know this.
  • The twin that does not get to sit in that window seat will not be happy about sitting in a regular seat. It will be too big for him, and so will the seat belt. He will hate it, actually, and will scream bloody murder and claw at you in desperation. So you will end up with a 35-pound toddler in your lap and an empty seat next to you.
  • If you then board a larger plane that has a 2-4-2 configuration, however, you will be allowed to put both car seats in the middle of the 4-seat row. If your twins are tired and cranky, they will get comfortable and will sleep through the entire flight. So will you. Life will be so, so good.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Word choice

I have a really tough time saying no to work. Usually, I'll only turn it down if: 1. The pay is crap 2. I don't think I'm qualified for the job, or 3. It conflicts with other work. It's an especially difficult choice to make if it conflicts with something going on in my personal life, because I have a harder time justifying it. And I feel horrible admitting it, but I've missed a couple of my boys' appointments with the doctor. I missed my Parents of Multiples consignment sale this fall, which seems like a silly thing but it really bummed me out. Like, to the point of tears. And I was out of town for my very first wedding anniversary.

It's taken me a long time to trust that work will come. And I still don't, not completely. So when things are good, I'm often way overworked, because I feel like the lean times must be right around the corner. I've been a little freaked out lately because I'll be on (unpaid) vacation for two weeks, yet we're still paying for child care. And I don't know how slow January might be.

It wasn't until just a couple of days ago that I realized my attitude really needed adjusting. I received two job offers and had to turn them down because of my Christmas trip. I wrote one of the project managers, "Unfortunately, I'll be on vacation." Then I stared at what I had written for a long time. And then wrote, in parentheses, "Actually, not so unfortunately at all."
It made me feel a lot better, like I was finally giving myself permission to let go of it.

The year is over. I'm closing up shop, and we'll see what January brings.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Take me away

I leave for Costa Rica on Wednesday, and it hasn’t really hit me yet. Two weeks of hanging out with family and friends, a birthday party for the boys, and hopefully plenty of hanging out on the beach. Or at least near the beach, drinking beer and eating ceviche.

Right now I just want to go to sleep and wake up when I get there, for a few reasons. Packing and getting ready has taken a backseat to a big translation I’m working on. It’s going to come right down to the wire, and I’m beginning to think I’m going to have to finish up the editing when I get there, which I really don’t want to do. Plus, this is my first solo flight with the boys, and I’m more than a little nervous. P likes to lord it over me, since he flew solo with them the time I ditched him in the Midwest after a good job came up. But his was a two-hour flight, whereas mine is longer and includes a layover in my own personal Airport Hell. (Ah, Miami. The place I was once sent to meet two different groups of international visitors arriving within minutes of each other at different terminals. I tried, and missed them both.)

Add to that the nasty head cold I woke up with today, and I’m not looking forward to the next two days very much. But once I get there, I’ll be very, very happy. So even though it sounds like I am, I'm not complaining.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

But they don't fall down

P and I like wine. A lot. And we break wine glasses. A lot. Like, sometimes several in one night, and it (usually) has nothing to do with how much wine we've actually had to drink. Often I'll break one as I'm washing it in the sink. Also, hardwood floors and granite countertops are not very forgiving.

So even though I once drank Pinot Noir out of one of those beautiful Riedel glasses the size of my head and felt like a goddess, I know we can never buy them. It would just be sad. Instead, we get our wine glasses at IKEA, where you can get six for three bucks or something.

Well, we recently ran out of those and started drinking wine out of juice glasses, which we also started to break. But I liked those glasses. They felt a lot more stable than actual stemware. So when I saw stemless wine glasses at World Market the other night for two bucks a pop, a little light bulb went on and I bought four of them.

P is still not convinced, but I love them. The best part: I almost knocked one over the other night. And though it wobbled and spun, as I stared, mesmerized, it didn't fall over, and not a drop of wine was spilled. I'm sold.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I didn't know I missed you.

I have such mixed feelings about Southern California. I lived here for a few years when I was a child. After we moved to Costa Rica, we would come back and visit family here, and our cousins taught us all the new slang we were missing out on in the eighties: awesome, rad, and even (shudder) tubular. I didn’t stop using the word “stoked” until I was in my twenties, and only because non-Californians laughed at me when I said it. I went to college here. It was all I knew of the United States, unless you count a trip to Disney World and two weeks in D.C. when I was a teenager. I thought the rest of the country was just like SoCal, because, really, why wouldn’t it be?

Then I moved away for good, lived in Northern California, the Midwest, the East Coast, and was completely disabused of that notion. And I have to admit that my main feeling was, how nice. How nice, not to sit in traffic for hours, to use public transportation, to have real seasons with colored leaves and white Christmases and summers that are green instead of dusty brown. How nice, not to have smog that hides the mountains you know are right there, or water shortages or earthquakes or sweeping forest fires every year. And I often think, why would anyone in their right mind ever want to live there?

And here I am, in LA for a weekend trip. And now what I’m thinking is, how nice. How nice, to see my family and friends and have buried childhood memories come to the surface. To go see the snow only if you feel like it, to have palm trees everywhere, and bougainvillea in December and beautiful sunsets, and produce aisles that are overflowing with such exquisite, inexpensive offerings it makes me want to weep. To eat real Mexican food and discover new California wines. To feel the stress I brought with me from the East coast evaporate the minute I got off the plane and walked into the flip-flopped crowd. And I think, yeah, I can see why you would live here.

I’m glad I got to come back. I came to attend a good friend’s wedding and it was completely worth it even though I wasn’t even here for 48 hours. I managed to cram a lot in and even indulge in a couple of things that, at least to me, are so uniquely Californian. One is See’s Candies. I have a couple of boxes in my bag. I know you can get them online. I know I can even get them at a mall in my area, but it doesn’t matter. I got them here.

The other? God help me, it was Hot Dog on a Stick. And it was good, too. I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Now if only I’d been able to go get an In-N-Out burger, my trip would have been complete.