Monday, December 31, 2007

Family All Around

The holidays haven't always been a joyful time for my husband and myself. The ocean dividing family and friends in Germany and us in Seattle has been palpable at times - thick and all-consuming. And just because my family lives in California doesn't mean we see many of them more than once every few years!

But over the years we have found ways to make this divide less heart-breaking and more heart-warming. Telephone calls, little packages sent back and forth, Skype and, of course, visits have all made our living apart a little less silent and lonely.

The hardest time of the year for my husband has been Christmas. Although we get into the spirit as soon as we can after Thanksgiving, it just doesn't fill the memories which my husband has of Christmas back home. Drinking Gluehwein, munching on freshly roasted nuts and the chatter of other holiday wanderers all warm the spirit during the holidays in Germany. The smells, sounds, sights and overall spirit during Christmas is simply indescribable. They have an uncanny way to make you forget that it is freezing cold outside and that your toes are about to fall off.

Here in Seattle things just aren't uniform in the way that they are in Germany. In part this is a good thing: due to the mixture of cultures and traditions and religions, everyone has their own idea of what warms the heart during the winter holidays. But in other ways it means there is no central location where the trappings of Christmas are displayed in all of their glory as is the case in Germany.

Personally I am not very religious (spiritual, YES, but organized religion and I are still having deep discussions). So it isn't that I want religious symbols plastered around town. But sometimes I would like to have a kind of uniformity of sorts that goes beyond the secular-ness of Santa in his red and white suit and the hammering of holiday songs about snow from the big department stores reminding you that there are only a few days left before gift-giving time (and that they have 70% off everything)!

There is something missing in a country which claims to appreciate and cater to all. I do believe that the United States as a whole really does want to do good by all of us and I DO appreciate that fact that there are so many different holiday traditions celebrated right in my neighborhood. However, what I can't stand is that without the lack of unity of celebration, big business has taken over the holiday season as its own, demanding that consumption be the unifying God of this holiday season. "We can't sing about Jesus Christ so how about 'Santa Claus is Coming To Town' during your holiday shopping spree? And did we mention that we have 50% off everything?"

I guess what each of us does in the United States to avoid the commercialism of the holidays is to create our own little cocoons of spiritual replenishment; to surround ourselves with family and friends and warm conversation; to find others in our towns and cities and join with them to celebrate as it feels most comfortable. And to let others celebrate next door and down the street and across town as it feels most comfortable to them. Sure, things may not be created for us in a uniform way to just step into. But in the end it is worth it as long as we don't let commercialism fill the lack of one uniform tradition.

For us, Christmas this year was especially warm and lively. My mother-in-law flew over at the beginning of December and spent the holidays with us (see photo above of her and I in the kitchen after Christmas dinner)!

I think she had a fine time spending the holidays with us and I know that we won't quickly forget the smells of Vanilla Kipfel, Mandel Hoernchen, Huehner Frikasee, Kohl-Rouladen and much more which she made for us. I think my husband simply died and went to heaven each time he bit into one of her traditionally prepared German delicacies. And I'm sure he was delighted to have an expert with him in the kitchen to help prepare Rouladen for our Christmas dinner (which he does each year... followed by Mousse au Chocolat).

Having so many family members together during the holidays was extremely special. My mother and brother arrived a week before Christmas and our house warmed up even more. What could have been absolute chaos (and was at times) ended up being a lively, heart-warming, laughter-filled few weeks. We also invited our neighbor across the street to our Christmas dinner as his family was in India and he was alone that night.

As always, we combined our German and American Christmas traditions: dinner on the evening of the 24th and then unwrapping presents from family and friends after dinner. Then on the morning of the 25th, opening presents which der Weihnachtsmann/Santa put into our stockings during the night. On the one hand, it is a crazy mess of gifts and wrapping paper but on the other hand, our children won't always be this young and filled with the magic of the season.

I'm not sure that we will ever have a Christmas like the one we just had. But rather than regretting that it is over, I cherish the memory of it. I am so delighted that my husband and I can truly bridge the expanse of space and time of our two countries, families and histories. After it was all over, as we were driving back from the airport after dropping off my mother-in-law for her flight back to Germany, my husband and I looked at one another and agreed that it is the fact that we are from different countries and cultures and traditions which makes our lives so much richer and fabulous. Yes, it is all very bitter-sweet at times but we wouldn't change a thing.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

L'amour à la (AOL) française

As many of you know, the "technology company" which I often referred to as my place of employment was none other than the glorious America Online (AOL). Our group was purchased by another technology company in August, so I no longer work for AOL. I have spent close to 10 years working for AOL, helping to create and test the many language databases which are developed for the T9 product (which many of you will find in your cell phones for text messaging!) . In fact, when I met with Tommi earlier in the year, he jokingly said that he wished we'd develop our T9 software to support bilingual entry for cell phones, so that he could message in both Finnish and English at the same time. I was delighted to inform him that we DO have a bilingual program in place. It is just a matter of the OEMs putting it on their phones. :-)

After a recent round of layoffs (2,000 people worldwide), the AOL France team decided to go out with style (we would expect no less from the French!). Check out this fabulous video from the AOL France team (lip-synched to French Eurovision 2007 song from the band Les Fatal Picards). And yes, if you think you are hearing a bunch of code-switching between French and English, you are right! This is a delightful example of fun, fun, fun code-switching! I wish we'd have thought to have done something as wild and crazy when AOL sold off our group to another company!

The password for the video is: aollover .

L'amour a la francaise from pyc on Vimeo.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Compassionate Life

I was on vacation from the middle of August until the middle of September - ahhhh, vacation. The space and time to think again. To actually read a book and to breathe deep, deep breaths, those breaths which actually fill the bottoms of my lungs. The time to taste the subtle richness of a coffee, the smoothness of melt-in-your-mouth ice cream, laughter with family and friends, the scent of new landscapes, the sounds and sensations of different locations. Since we always take our vacation in big chunks of time (this was a "short" three-week vacation) we have the luxury of slowly getting used to this state of mind over the course of weeks.

It is almost always on vacation that I feel myself transforming back into what I like to call "myself." It is a slowing down, an embracing of the realities of where I happen to be standing at that moment and the ability to listen and understand it.

While on vacation I had decided to read two books which I had purchased in Seattle: "The Well-Adjusted Child-The Social Benefits of Homeschooling" by Rachel Gathercole and "Real Food-What to Eat and Why" by Nina Planck. I was NOT disappointed as I slowly made my way through each book. Both point toward something I had been longing for but was unable to grasp: getting back to basics. One book reminded me of the value of family and the bonds that form there each and every moment we are together. The other reminded me of the importance of food and the need to get back to the basic elements of it which means getting as far away from processed foods as possible. In my hectic life, I often forget the importance of home-cooked foods (be it cookies or dinner or a snack of carrots and hummus). I don't agree with everything that Nina writes in her book (I prefer to avoid meat more often than not) but all in all it was a good reminder to get back to foods that are real (we have even started purchasing raw milk from a local farmer and are drinking it as-is (no heating it first) and making some fabulous yogurt and kefir. I look forward to making some cheese!).

Then, a week into our vacation, while browsing through Bookshop Santa Cruz (yes, you guessed it, this book store is located in the heart of fabulous Santa Cruz, California - our vacation was visiting my family members who are spread out between northern and southern California) I spotted a book that Alice had reviewed for Multilingual Living Magazine titled, "Eat, Pray, Love-One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia" by Elizabeth Gilbert. On a whim I purchased it. In fact, my husband purchased it for me.

Husband: "You want to get that book?"
Me: "Well, I donno. Alice said it was good and here it is as a favorite pick by one of the book store's employees. It must be a good book."
Husband: "I think you should get it."
Me: "Yea, well, it is pretty expensive. I can just borrow it from the library when we get back."
Husband: "We're getting it for you." He takes it off the shelf and as he turned to go to the cash register, I beamed with an excited smile.

That night I started reading "Eat, Pray, Love" and my life started changing.

There is a part in the book where she spends time at an ashram in India. By the time I finished that part of the book, I was trembling. It is hard to explain why it impacted me as it did. Perhaps it was because by the time I got to that part of the book we were visiting my mother and brother in my childhood home (one which is filled with ambivalent memories thanks to the endless arguments of my parents as I was growing up) which always leaves me feeling a little exposed and raw.

Or perhaps because it resonated with the years I spent practicing Zen Buddhism, which included visits to Green Gulch and Tassajara Zen Centers. For anyone who has spent time at these two zen centers, they are the real deal: up before sunrise to meditate for hours, silent meals, working in the garden for much of the day, crashing onto your floor mat at the end of the day from sheer exhaustion. There ain't no way you can escape yourself at these places no matter how hard you try. I was 17 and 18 years old at the time and a wore a scarf on my head for over a year as a kind of "leave me the hell alone because I am trying to figure out who I am" gesture.

For whatever reason, there was a moment while reading the book that I suddenly experienced an overwhelming rush of compassion; compassion for myself, my family, for humanity as a whole - a level of compassion which I don't think I have experienced before. It was a total, complete and in some ways spiritual wash which came over me at that moment and I couldn't remember what it was like to NOT be completely compassionate in all ways, shapes and forms. It was a kind of embracing of the world and a love for everyone in it.

At that moment I felt it just taking over my every cell without any urging on my part. It reminded me of zen koans (which I read incessantly during my zen Buddhism phase of life): that kind of sudden realization which takes place in a different part of of our being than our mind - a whole body experience, if you will. Like the pure satisfaction we experience when musical notes resonate in perfect harmony. We know what we would like to hear (or what we don't like to hear) but it isn't until those notes resonate perfectly that we experience an absolute whole-body-and-mind fullness from the wash of the music.

I still have no idea what caused the perfect blend of words, thoughts, experiences, mistakes, hopes, dreams, tragedies in my life to cause this moment to happen but whatever it was, I was left feeling like I was viewing everything in life from a completely different vantage point than before. My struggles for different things and desires in life just melted away and I was left with a combination of humility, understanding, calmness, love, joy and gratitude.

I'm not sure how long this state of being will last. A few aggressive Seattle drivers, a nasty coworker, the hectic schedule of life could very easily knock me off my balance. But for now I am so honored to have this opportunity to experience this way of experiencing the world.

Let's put it this way: the other day when someone raced in front of me and cut me off in a big gas-guzzling SUV and then proceeded to flip me off (yes, even Seattle has those people), I found myself looking at that outstretched middle finger and feeling nothing but deep compassion for that person; compassion for what must be going on inside that person which would urge him to act that way. I actually understood exactly how caught up he must have been in his own world, where doing such things was his only way of making himself feel whole. Is that not something to feel compassionate about!?

There have been times recently when my husband expected me to react a certain way to something he or someone else said (based on how I usually react) and instead, when I didn't react the expected, pre-compassionate-me way, he gave me a big smile. Smiling back in return I said, "Remember, I told you! I have changed!"

Oh - and some fabulous music!

My favorite right now is Joe Purdy: You can listen to his songs on his website. My favorite albums of his are "Only 4 Seasons" (I love the song "Why You") and the other album "You Can Tell Georgia" (the song "Can't Get it Right Today" is great).

And another great band is Nickel Creek! My mother and brother introduced us to their music while we were visiting.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Monolingualism is a Curable Disease

Thank you Rubén Rumbaut for using this quote in an email correspondence: "Monolingualism is a curable disease."

When I first heard this quote a few years ago, I felt that the word disease was a little too strong. Disease sounds so deadly! Like an epidemic. But isn't that what monolingualism is in places like the United States? As we have also heard (and which Rumbaut reminded me): "America is a language graveyard."

Think about what that means! America is a place where languages go to die! They perish, bit by bit until they no longer exist. The sad part about that is that these languages are usurped by another language: English.

Being that America is such a land of immigration, this seems to strange to me. And, as Rumbaut has pointed out, immigration is what keeps languages alive and flourishing in this country. A generation or two later and languages will most likely have all but died out. Immigration across borders keeps the language influx thriving.

The saddest part about this whole thing is that America has so much potential. I LOVE America. I love the cowboy and cowgirl origins: the "can do" live style and powerful independence. The ability to feel that the stars can be reached if only we give enough heart to the effort. The hippy mentality of getting in touch with the earth and treating humanity with the respect it deserves. A multitude of elements blend and collide, mesh and bounce off one another. It is a beautiful sight to witness.

Just today, while shopping for clothes, I stood in the changing room and listened to two women discussing their clothing choices in German while in the stall next to them a woman spoke on her cell phone in Italian! And later I witness two Indian women contemplating their clothing in their native language. I passed an African woman pushing her child in a stroller, donning her native clothing and speaking to her child in her language. This is all in a matter of an hour and in the middle of a large Seattle downtown department store!

But this country seems to also attract those who wish to create an artificial consistency out of the flourishing cultural and linguistic mosaic that exists here. A kind of fear seems to pervade a certain corner of our citizenry and they lash out trying to create a circle of comfort around themselves by attacking others.

As Rumbaut has pointed out - our languages are in jeopardy. There is no threat to the English language and the American culture. If anything, our children will probably not even pass on our languages if they differ from the community language around us.

So, I say to the rest of the United States, let go of your worries and embrace our country as it is and enjoy the beauty of it all. We ARE multilingual. We ARE multicultural. That is simply the reality of our land. Within these borders are languages and cultures mixing and blending with unfathomable creativity and beauty. And in the end, we will all still be Americans. Never fear! We will still have the "can do" attitude, the hippy mentality, the intertwined depth of what it means to be an American. So before we destroy that which makes us human and whole and American, let's embrace it and savor it.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Meaning of Bilingual

There is one thing I don't understand. Doesn't the term "bilingual" mean speaking two languages? "Bi" as in two or twice (which can be traced back through Latin and Ancient Greek roots) plus "lingua" meaning tongue, speech or language. You put the two together and you have someone who speaks two languages -- ANY two languages!

So, when did bilingual come to mean someone who doesn't speak the community language? When did our societies start to use the terms as a pejorative term? In the United States, it has often been used to mean "Spanish-speaker" (or whichever culture a person wishes to degrade). Which, in itself is completely contradictory... if someone lives in the United States and only speaks Spanish, then that person is monolingual, not bilingual.

Very strange how such terms come to mean something different over time.

Perhaps the word bilingual developed its convoluted meaning through its association with the word "education" as in "bilingual education"? Did people start to associate bilingual education to mean programs for kids who don't speak English and then slowly but surely the word bilingual came to mean people who don't speak English? Very ironic, really.

Very often someone will contact me at the Bilingual/Bicultural Family Network and ask why our website isn't in Spanish. The assumption is that the word Bilingual in our network's name means we support Spanish-speakers only. It took quite a few inquiries before I understood what the confusion was and then started realizing the associations that are made with the word bilingual.

I'm not saying that everyone associates the word bilingual with this incorrect definition. It is more a slow, eroding process whereby a word slowly changes its meaning purely through association -- through its association with finger pointing, scowled faces and accusations.

The same can be said for the term "multicultural" in the United States. For some reason it has come to mean "multiracial." A few months back a program came on TV discussing local schools and how they can meet the needs of their multicultural students. What the discussion was focused on was race. Not that we shouldn't be very much concerned with the role of race in our schools! But let's use terminology that really fits the description. Perhaps the word race was purposely avoided due to America's debilitating past with respect to race and humanity and was replaced with culture... something which is less precise, less clear, less assumed.

I always find it amazing that we can so easily start slipping into using words and associating meanings to words without even really knowing it, without being completely aware of what is happening. Bit by bit the words take on a new shape and we start using them in ways that mesh with the definitions that the rest of society has placed on them.

In the end words are around so that we can share meaning. Yes, who needs different languages to create linguistic confusion! Monolingual American English speakers, even when they are using simple words such as bilingual and multicultural, can cause great misunderstandings and confusions.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Library Junkie

I'm a full-on, complete, no-holds-barred library junkie! Just the smell of the place makes me swoon!

We have a shelf full of library books at home. Most are about homeschooling, a bunch are ones the kids picked out, some are learning to read books (in English, of course) and a few are novels that I've wanted to read. Then we have the whole row of DVDs: the entire first and second seasons of Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, countless kids educational DVDs (and a few oddities like Rubadubbers' "High Noon in the Bathroom" where animated bath toys have a show-down - very educational indeed), a few political DVDs which my husband picked up and finally French and Spanish movies with subtitles - my favorites!

I think we have over 80 items checked out right now and another 50 on hold.

Today I went into the library to pick up two more books and I felt a little giddy the whole time - like when I was a kid and my birthday or Christmas had arrived and there were gifts with my name on them.

We have so many libraries in Seattle that we can choose the books we want online, then ask that they be delivered to the library closest to us. Fabulous! Who needs Amazon when we can order free books from the library, have them delivered and just pick them up on the way to get the kids from daycare.

Hallelujah - I love the library!

Oh - and my kids do too. :-)

Friday, June 8, 2007

Home Depot with Kids

Last night we went to Home Depot. The kids were dressed in their pajamas before we left – preparation for the drive back when I was hoping they’d fall asleep.

We arrived just before closing, at around 8:45 pm, and rushed around chatting in German about which flowers would do best in full sunlight. We headed into the store to pay, the 2-year old in the shopping cart seat and the two boys standing on each side for the ride.

When we reached the check out area, there were only two options, neither of which were optimal (at least as far as I was concerned):

(1) Self Checkout (with which I never have any luck because I always do something wrong, like move the items slightly and the whole system seems to go berserk - I usually end up having to call the clerk and feel humiliated),
(2) a long line at the other end of the store where everyone had a ton of items, each of which were big, bulky and of varied shapes and sizes.

We opted for the Self Checkout.

At first it all went ok... I scanned each flower, it beeped, registered the price, I placed each flower in the little plastic bag. Yes! I was in synch with the system. The system and I were one.

After around flower three, things started going bad. The system blurted out something about having too many items on the scale. Arghhh. I looked down and younger son was sitting on the scale! In German I said, "Ok, Christoph, get off the scale." He jumped down with an impatient glare.

I took a quick, sideways glance to my right and saw the slowly forming line of waiting customers. I felt my face becoming a bit flushed. "Focus, stay focused!" I told myself silently.

I scanned the next few flowers, and then again, a complaint from the machine. "For god's sake, why did we get so many flowers?" I complain under my breath! I looked over at the scale again, and oldest son was leaning on the scale. Pointing to the scale, I said in German, "Patrick, look, don't go anywhere near this thing here, ok? Just stand over there."

Unfortunately, "over there" was next to the ingeniously placed "wall-o-candy," a child’s paradise indeed!

A new round of frustration began, a full-force chattering away in German. "Mama, can we have these M&M's? Just one! We'll share them." I looked over at the enormous bag of candy and to save some immediate whining, I said, "Um, we'll see, let me finish here first."

To my right, the line of customers was getting longer. In the expanse of faces, none gave the impression of taking pity on me. They looked tired, impatient and saw me and my brood as making their life less than satisfactory. And to top it off, they probably couldn’t understand a word we were saying since it was all in German.

I started to scan the next flower and suddenly the Self Checkout man was standing at my cart. "Oh no, I thought, he is going to tell me to get my act together and hurry it up!" But instead he pointed out that youngest daughter was trying to stand up in her seat in the shopping cart and that I should have known to strap her in with the belt provided on the cart. "Oh right, I said." I strap her in. Bad-mother-humiliation moment, one million and one.

I look to my left and see that the boys are happily discussing in detail which candy they are going to get. Uh oh.

A few more flowers scanned, wonderful! But I notice that the little shopping bag is full. What should I do? Should I move the bag to the side and open a new one, or will the machine go crazy? Am I allowed to put the next flowers anywhere or will the machine complain? Oh gosh, I'm not sure what to do. “Think quickly, think quickly,” I tell myself.

I feel wild and crazy, so I put the flowers on the scale but OUTSIDE the bag. Whew, the system registers that the flowers have been placed on the scale. Ok, we are on our way!

Just as I'm finishing, young daughter notices that the boys are at the "wall-o-candy" and that she is missing out on a potential candy purchase. She starts complaining - loudly. The boys notice her and simply start bringing her candy, asking in German which she'd like to have. "Do you want this candy, Marie?" Patrick shows her a Starburst. "Or do you want this one, Marie?" Christoph shows her some kind of pink bubble gum. “Just one, Marie. You have to decide on one,” they tell her.

I take no notice. I can’t think about the coming raised voices of indignation when I tell them that we aren’t going to get any candy. I need to stay focused. All I need to do is to slide my credit card through the machine and sign the tablet.

It seems to take forever but with a sigh of relief, the transaction is completed. The machine and I are no longer dependent upon one another. I pack the remaining flowers into bags, tell the kids that we are leaving and quickly start pushing the cart in the direction of the big EXIT sign. I don’t look at the frustrated line of customers; I don’t stop to discuss the “wall-o-candy” options with the kids. I just start walking and make sure the boys are following.

"But Mama, we wanted candy!" Wails older son.
"Yea, you promised!" Adds younger son.
"Candy, candy, candy!" Yells youngest daughter.
Me: "Let's discuss it in the car, kids."

A heated discussion ensues but soon all kids are in their car seats, the car is in motion and once on the highway, the lull of the movement puts youngest to sleep and the boys glare at the back of my head the whole way home, albeit in a semi state of exhaustion since it is way past their bedtime.

"Tomorrow we can plant the flowers in the pots at the front of the house!" I remind them. "Just think about how much fun that will be."


Once we are a few miles from Home Depot, I laugh to myself at the spectacle we must have been: A tired mom, three pajama-dressed children chatting away in German, an obsessive focus on the "wall-o-candy," a cart full of flowers, kids sitting and leaning on the scale and a line of angry customers tapping their feet and sighing under their breath. Just one crazy German-speaking family. Yep, we certainly have a way of unwittingly causing an odd disruption.

Then it dawns on me… if I thought purchasing the flowers with three kids was a challenge, planting the flowers will be even more fun: three kids, a bag of potting soil and one trowel. Oh yea, the planting is going to be nothing but fun, fun, fun! At least we won’t have to do it with a bunch of impatient, English-speaking onlookers.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

My Radio Interview with Kevin Henry

Below you can listen to my radio interview with Kevin Henry, the Cultural Diversity Coordinator for the City of Bellevue, Washington, USA, and talk show host for Voices of Diversity and AfraGenesis. The following interview took place on Thursday, May 17th on the AfraGenesis show on 1150AM KKNW.

It was a complete honor to be contacted by Kevin Henry to do an interview on his radio program! It was also a fabulous way to practice getting the word out about the Bilingual/Bicultural Family Network and Multilingual Living Magazine. I am often very nervous when speaking in public (whether in person or on a radio show). But each time I do it, the more comfortable I become. Just practice for those interviews we'll be giving for big radio stations in the future, right? HAH HAH!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Because Language Really Does Matter!

“I wanted to fit in so badly,” she said. “I figured if I practiced English, if I spoke English well, I’d be an American, like the other kids in my school.”

This is a quote from 20 year old Fidele Harfouche, a native-born Lebanese who has been living in the U.S. since she was 6. She is one of many voices sharing their experiences in a May 7th article in the New York Times about how the younger generation in the United States is appreciating and embracing their families' languages more than ever!

This is absolutely fabulous to hear! And the fact that the NY Times is reporting on it is even more exciting! This means that the word is spreading (pun intended).

But why are they reporting on it? Because the University of California, Los Angeles, with financing from the United States Education Department, "is conducting the first national count of college programs geared toward heritage students, most of whom grew up speaking a language other than English at home."

The research was sparked by the fact that while enrollment in certain foreign language courses was dropping over the past decades, enrollment in other language courses has exploded during the same period. The correlation appears to be linked, at least in part, with students who want to "relearn" the language of their youth, their "heritage languages."

There is something to be said about the role languages play in our deepest psyches and emotional associations. As Mr. Yang, who is ethnic Chinese and grew up in Mongolia where he learned a bit of kindergarten Chinese before coming to the U.S.:

“This is going to sound nationalistic, but as I grew older, I realized that as a Chinese man, I needed to learn Chinese,” Mr. Yang said. “I guess this is about reconnecting with a big part of who I am that I had neglected for a long time.”

We should remember this when we hear our children complaining about us speaking our languages with them. They may be annoyed right now, and perhaps we will have to learn how to work with our children to find the right balance of when and where to use which languages, but in the end we should remember that a time will most likely come in their lives when they will look back and thank us for being consistent in our language choices.

There may even come a time when they turn to a heritage language course and are delighted that they can pick up the language again so quickly, and that they find that they still have an emotional connection with their family language. As Guadalupe Valdés, a professor of education and Spanish at Stanford University, said:

"in most cases, it takes heritage speakers just a few semesters to reach a level of sophistication that beginners take years to achieve."

So when you feel that you are giving up hope that your children will ever appreciate your language, and when you start to feel that you are getting into the rut of teaching them your language rather than simply "being" your language and culture with them, think of these words from Ms. Harfouche after she started her language course in Arabic, the language of her childhool and her family's native language:

“This was very fulfilling... It opened a whole new world for me. The beauty of my culture, of my Arabic culture, is in the writing, in the poetry, and knowing that I can rely on myself to read it and understand is really amazing.”

This, families around the world, is what it is really all about, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Forget About the Laundry!

You may not have heard of Patricia Kuhl, Ph.D., faculty member in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of Washington and one of the world's leading authorities on language development, but if you have kept up on your research about children and language learning, you will have certainly come across her work. (Photo of the University of Washington is from the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences homepage).

For example, you get what you give: When the craze for Baby Einstein DVDs came (and stayed) many of us were dismayed to see how many parents bought into the belief that all they had to do was to put their infant in front of a DVD program and magically he or she would gain the cognitive and language skills we so desired for them to have! Like an infant’s version of the movie “The Matrix”… plug in our baby and three hours later they will have downloaded what they need.

Luckily for humanity, this isn’t the case. It still takes direct human interaction for infants to learn our languages! We are still needed in the lives of our babies, at least when it comes to learning a language! Go ahead and put in that DVD but don’t walk away! Watch it with your infant and have some fun – you may even learn a thing or two and you will definitely be providing your infant with crucial social interaction while having fun at the same time!

In the first of two landmark studies, Dr. Kuhl and her team exposed 9-month-old infants to Mandarin Chinese “during a dozen 25-minutes sessions spaced out over four weeks. During these sessions, native Mandarin speakers read from children's books and played with toys while speaking Mandarin. Four different speakers, two men and two women, conducted the sessions, so the babies were exposed to a variety of speaking styles. A control group of infants was exposed to the same procedure in English.”

The infants from both groups (Mandarin exposure and English-only exposure) were then tested to determine their ability to distinguish between to two key Mandarin sounds which are not present in the English language which Americans often hear as “chee” or “she.”

In a second study, “The procedure was similar to the initial study except that half the infants were exposed to Mandarin by a DVD showing the same Mandarin speakers and materials on a 17-inch television. The other infants received their Mandarin exposure from an audio-only presentation of the DVD.”

There were multiple findings from these studies:

1. Even a few minutes of language learning each day can produce long lasting effects! “In fact, the performance of the American infants exposed to Mandarin for the first time between 9 and 10 months was statistically equivalent to infants in Taiwan who had listened to Mandarin for 10 months, according to Kuhl. The results show that the decline in foreign-language speech perception can be reversed with short-term exposure, she said.”

2. Social interaction is essential in language learning for infants at this age. To get the benefits of #1 above, it must be through social interaction. The infants who only had exposure to the DVDs or audiotapes had no phonetic learning and “scored at the same level as the English-only babies.” This means that you are essential in your infant learning your language, or any language for that matter. There is nothing that can replace you and others in providing your infant what he or she needs to pick up language!

3. Timing is important in language learning. At 9 months, infants are in a sensitive period in their language learning. And they are using all of their senses to do so. As Dr. Kuhl says, “language learning draws on all aspects of infants' cognitive abilities, including their attraction to 'motherese' (a form of exaggerated speech) spoken by adults to babies; the statistical learning that infants engage in by analyzing language; and the ability to follow the gaze of another person to an object to understand what they are talking about."

So, the next time you realize you have just spent a few hours cooing and talking and singing and reading out loud to your infant (or any age child for that matter) don’t feel guilty about not having done the dishes or the laundry or the shopping! Give yourself a big pat on the back for providing your child with the building blocks for a lifetime of language! All it takes is us being present and engaging with our kids.

Wow, who would have thought it was so easy!

For a report on this study and the link to the above quotes, go to:

Monday, April 16, 2007

Peace Takes Courage

What is 16 year old home schooled Ava Lowery doing in Alabama these days? Ava is creating some of the most powerful videos against the Iraq war that I have seen in a while! She combines music, images and text and leaves us speechless. As the name of her site says, Peace Takes Courage! Let's hope that all of us can do our part in standing up for peace. As multilinguals and multiculturals, we know how absolutely important and essential this is!

Check out Ava's site here:

And before you go... make sure to listen to this song from musician and social/political activist Tom Morello. The words and tune in this song remind us of the urgency that is necessary to halt the rampages of inequality, racism, and war in our world!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Thinking Bloggers Meme

Trisha tagged me for the Thinking Bloggers Meme. She has a fabulous blog which I love visiting as much as possible. She is also a regular contributor to Multilingual Living Magazine with her touching essays about raising her bilingual children in Japan.

The directions I was given are these: 1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think, 2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme, 3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote.

As with Trisha, it wasn't easy for me to choose just 5 so if you are not included, that doesn't mean I don't love your blog! As you will see below... it is no surprise that most of the blogs I frequent have to do with bilingual and multilingual families! :-)

1. Momster - Irene's musings on life are fabulously touching, thoughtful, insightful and simply delightful. She never ceases to inspire me with her words and makes me want to live life just a little fuller.

2. Dinka - Sometimes funny, sometimes serious, but always a delight, Dinka's blog always gets me thinking! Her photos are also always an inspiration and fill out her entries so beautifully.

3. Between Pee and Kimchee - Jennifer is a writer through and through and her blog is a true testament to this. I delight in her literary entries and the way she is able to keep me captivated from beginning to end!

4. Mama(e) in Translation - Lilian is always full of insights and inspiration. She is a literature major from head to toe and you can tell. She doesn't let life go uncontemplated and delights us with her ability to look at it from yet a new perspective and to speak her mind!

5. Bilingual in the Boonies - Mami Hen's entries are always a pure delight. She has a witty edge to her entries that keep us readers laughing because we can relate completely!

There are so many more blogs that I love to frequent (even though I am bad and don't take the time to leave a comment!) and which delight me with inspiration, laughter and contemplation. Thank you all for your magical words!

Friday, April 6, 2007

Going Down

As many of you know, I have been going through a hard time the last month or so. But out of it has come my picking up the guitar again after over a year and writing a few songs. My last blog entry was one of those I wrote and here is a second one. This one is about what it feels like when I slip into these "down" periods of time. These times are very hard for me yet I know that ultimately they are necessary for getting myself back on track. This song is my version of what it feels like when this happens and the thoughts that go through my head.

Vocals: Me (Corey)
Guitar: Thomas (my brother)
Drum: Rainer (my husband)

We recorded this twice so I'm including both versions here...

First recording (note: it repeats automatically):

Second Recording (note: it repeats automatically):

I want to thank my good friends who have been the inspiration for my renewed desire to sing again. You know who you are, and you are the reason these songs came into being! Thank you!

Ain't No Time

After a little video preview in an earlier blog... here is the full song "Ain't No Time" for your listening pleasure. I wrote this song to represent all of us who are doing our little bit to try and change the world but who feel that no one is listening. Thank you my friends for giving me the courage to start singing again.

Vocals and background guitar: Me (Corey)
Lead guitar: Brother (Thomas)
Drum: Husband (Rainer)

(note: it repeats automatically)

Stay tuned for another version since I'm sure we will record it again in another key (this one is a little low for my voice).

I Adore You!

Dear blogging friends: I adore you! I can't say how much you have changed my life. Your words, they influence me for the better every day that I am alive. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your thoughts via your blogs, for taking the time to say what is on your mind, for sharing what is in your heart.

I have come to realize that Nena is right: "Dieses Leben geht jetzt einfach immer weiter, und dieses Leben geht ganz einfach geradeaus" ("this life just keeps going, this life just keeps going straight ahead" is that a good translation, my German-speaking friends?) and you have made it just that much easier for me to accept and to enjoy and to be myself because I don't feel so alone. You have given me the inspiration to keep plodding along, even during the times when it seemed so hard. You have done this through the power of words on a page... your words can change the world!

Thank you!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Gingrich on Bilingualism (or what the heck is he talking about!)

Thank you Carrie for the link to this story! When I first read it, I looked at the date to find out if it was an "April Fools" story - because I was in shock!

When my family and friends outside of the U.S. ask me what the atmosphere is like here in terms of multilingualism, I realize it is very difficult to pin-point any specific attitude or overarching reactions. This is a big country and depending where you happen to be standing at any given moment, you will find different reactions to the words "bilingual," "multilingual" and "multicultural."

To highlight this point, read this story in CNN and you will get one aspect of a very large and complicated picture. Comments such as, "We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto" from Newt Gingrich are simply from a position of ignorance. Of course, Gingrich's statement primarily has a political goal in the setting in which it was made: he is trying to win over a certain portion of the population by making statements which will ring true with them and to win their political support.

But think of the "cheers from the crowd of more than 100" after Gingrich made the statement that he did. Why are they cheering? Are they really so frightened of bilingualism? Why do they equate bilingualism with the ghetto? Is it not because this is NOT an issue of language... this is an issue of immigration.

Many people in the U.S. are frightened to death of the influence of immigrants. But they are not fearful of all immigrants, only poor immigrants. They are frightened of those to whom the Statue of Liberty beckons with open arms:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

(from "The New Colossus" by the nineteenth-century
American poet Emma Lazarus)

Bilingualism is the catch-all term for "immigration," "poverty," "decline of moral values," "failure of the schools," and "loss of social cohesion." (See my article on Zach and how he was suspended from school for speaking Spanish in the halls!)

On the one hand, a presentation like this from someone like Newt Gingrich makes us multilinguals laugh loud and hard because it is nothing but hilarious: we can see what a mishmash of topics he has tried to thrust together: Bilingual Education, Immigration, Multilingual Voter Information. These are three very distinct issues which can not be answered with one simple statement! And this man wants to run for president!? Yet, on the other hand, this frightens us to death because the audience loves it! They don't care about the nuances of these issues. Gingrich is simply adding fuel to a fire that is already blazing (albeit under muffled breaths sometimes) and that can be frightening to us multilinguals!

Our role in all of this? First of all, we need to remember that the U.S. is a country of contradictions. This is a LARGE country with many differing opinions. This is also often a country of extremes. It sometimes feels that "either you are for it or against it" as our current president has enjoyed using against us and other countries. But we should not cater to this "either or" attitude.

So, what can we do?

Our role is to be vigilant and to continue the following:

  1. Show yourself. We need to continue showing the world that we are multilingual too. We need to be proud of our multiple languages and to not feel we should hide who we are. Don't stop speaking Spanish or French or Arabic or Hindi with your child when you are on public transportation. Continue speaking your language despite what others may think and say. Don't overdo it but also don't change what you already do naturally out of a concern about the reaction of others.

  2. Help to gently educate. It won't help if we force our multilingualism down everyone's throats. As the saying goes, "You can catch more flies with honey." Explain to others why we are multilingual and the benefits that it has overall. If someone says something to you on the bus such as, "Why don't you learn English!" then take a deep breath and create an image in your mind of how frightened they feel and how you threaten them through your being different. Then calmly say, "Actually, I can speak English. However, I have chosen to raise my child bilingually in Spanish AND English. Have you heard about the benefits to the brain that bilingualism can provide?" Then leave it at that. If they become belligerent, move to another seat or ignore them.

  3. Stand up for your multilingualism. Don't let institutions make you feel small about your multilingualism or make you feel like what you are doing is wrong. When you enroll your child in school, make sure the school understands the details of your child's multilingualism and how you are delighted to work with his or her teachers to bridge any gaps that may exist. Foster an understanding in the institutions where it really matters.

  4. Emit inspiration. Be a beacon for the world of multilingualism through your joy and connectedness to your language and culture. Your enthusiasm for your language and cultural mix will rub off on others even without you having to make an effort.

Remember that although there are Newt Gingrichs in this country, there are also Maya Lins and Richard Rodriguezes! Multilinguals DO outnumber monolinguals in this world (even if not yet in the US). It shouldn't be a surprise that people are a little nervous about us. So, let's have compassion but let's not accept their delineations of who we are. And, for goodness sake, we should be helping people out of ghettos, not putting more into them, even if only figuratively!

Think the rest of the U.S. is behind us in our effort to raise our children bilingually, or that they even understand what the terms "bilingualism" and "bilingual education" really mean? Well, perhaps but just barely if you take the poll listed on the left of the CNN article. Last I looked, when asked "Do you agree with Newt Gingrich that bilingual education teaches "the language of living in a ghetto"? only 56% said no. I'm not sure what that means in the whole scheme of things. I'm sure it is more complex than what it seems at face value but it basically tells me that there is a lot of education that needs to happen in this country!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

First Jam Session

My brother, husband and I jamming for the first time! This is a song I wrote recently for those of us trying to help change the world, yet are feeling like no one is listening.

The Whole World

Here is my brother's fabulous song "The Whole World" - just click and listen! What an artist!

Now that he has embedded this player into my blog, I will upload more songs from him and possibly myself, if I can muster up the courage. :-)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Meeting Tommi

This past week, Tommi Grover, from Multilingual Matters was in town for the TESOL conference. It was my honor and delight to have the opportunity to meet him after having sent emails back and forth with him and his family for so many years.

Years ago, when I first came up with the idea of the Bilingual/Bicultural Family Network, I did a desperate search for resources. It is no accident that I ended up at the Multilingual Matters website! They specialize in books on bilingualism and multilingualism and are where you will find fabulous books for parents from Colin Baker, Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert and many more!

But for me, the books are only a part of the reason I delight in Multilingual Matters... it is because this publishing house is the "real deal." They were founded and are run by the Grover family and there is simply no kinder family out there than this one! Each member of the family I have had the privilege of being in contact with has been helpful, kind, generous and all-around wonderful. They have offered me advice and have kept me motivated in my efforts to continue spreading support for families raising multilingual and multicultural children.

Basically, there are not enough words of praise in the English language to express how I feel about everyone at Multilingual Matters. It was such a great honor to meet Tommi and I hope we will have opportunities in the future to meet and chat again. I also hope to have the chance to meet the rest of his family sometime in the future.

If you happen to be at a conference and you see the Multilingual Matters booth, make sure to stop by and say hello to Tommi or whomever may be at the booth! They will be delighted!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


My friend,
my dear friend,
I honor you with my existence,
I celebrate you with my art,
I call out your name and you answer,
no matter how low I have become,
no matter how stupid I have been,
no matter how far away,
I have run.

You never let me wander far from your patient gaze,
you protect me from myself,
you teach me to love again,
that which has always been within me.

Your loving hands,
which lift me up are
characters on a page,
so powerful
so inspiring
so honest and true.

My friend,
my dear friend,
as Rilke says: you “protect my solitude.”
You give me the space to be who I am.
How did you know that I simply needed
time to grow into my own flesh?

I can never thank you enough
for this journey,
for this path,
for sticking with me,
when I have nothing left to say,
nothing left to give.

All I can offer are these two outstretched hands
to thank you
for everything you give,
to thank you
for meaning so much to me.


In this whole expansive world
where do I belong?
Where is that little niche
carved out for me,
just me
only me?
Where is that place
made for my heart to rest
and my spirit to dangle?

How can I know
when it is ok to yell to the world,
to let out a resounding laugh,
a full-bodied cry,
a complete and utter dance of delight?
How can I know
when it is ok to tell you exactly how I feel
without being ridiculed
brushed aside
thought insane?

Why does it feel that all others understand
the ways of the world,
that all have found their places in the world,
each with their circumspect delineation of space and time,
and I
forever running in circles
without direction,
one step spiraling onto itself
again and again
forever overflowing with questions?

There are times when all I want is to belong.
I just want to do what others do,
to feel what others feel,
to appear as if I know what is going on.

All I can be sure of is the touch of hands,
each upon the other.
These hands,
so soft
so suple
so gentle
guiding me,
showing me the way,
reminding me that wherever I am,
I belong.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Power of Stickers

My kids love stickers. Being that we have three kids who ignore their mother's pleading to not plaster their stickers on...

  • the chalkboard
  • the wood floor throughout the house
  • the linoleum floor in the bathroom and kitchen
  • the chest of drawers their father so beautifully refinished
  • in their siblings' hair
  • or anywhere else which would make their mother's life difficult

they do it anyway when I'm not looking.

Be this as it may, I have to admit, I give a private chuckle when I see these stickers throughout the house, especially when they appear in strange places. I know how secretive the kids feel they are being when they paste a sticker on the underside of the sink or inside the refrigerator door. They convene in the back room and whisper about the great success of their goal to drive me crazy.

However, stickers can also be a parent's friend.

For example, the other day we were in a bookstore called Half Price Books after a walk to return a DVD to Scarecrow Video. Half Price Books has great deals on books and their clearance books can be purchased for a steal!

While there, we purchased a few homeschooling workbooks from the clearance section ($1 each). One on "Learning To Read" for P and one on "Learning Letters" for C. In the middle were two pages of stickers for some additional learning activities. I told the boys that we'd do the sticker activities after all of the other pages in the books had been completed. We all agreed that this made sense (albeit, after a little bit of whining and complaint).

The catch is, when the boys are "doing homeschooling" with any "homeschooling" books, they need to do them with a parent. They are not allowed to just rush through the book to get to the end. They are allowed to do as many pages as they would like to do in a given day since we do not usually limit them on these types of things. I firmly believe that much of our deepest learning and appreciation for a subject occurs during these times of being completely into what we are doing and having permission to shut off the rest of the world until we are done or have had enough.

Indeed, if there is any overarching problem that we seem to hear about continually in the news and from parent and teacher friends, it is about our children unable to focus on a task, to give it full concentration. But are we, as a society, not feeding our children mixed messages? We say we want our children to learn to focus, but we only permit them a specific amount of delineated time to do so and on tasks that are presented to them externally (think of the prescribed amounts of time for each chosen activity - time for singing, time for playing a game, time for storytime, time for playing outside). I worry that some of our children will lose touch with their own needs and abilities for self-actualization and self-direction, forever waiting for what the next task is, the next external direction telling them what to do.

But I digress...

While we are "doing homeschooling," especially workbooks, if we see that any of the kids are starting to get frustrated, if the material appears to be too difficult, if stopping the activity would be better, then we stop and take a break or move onto something else (often something totally different like going for a walk or running around in the back yard). And we talk to them about this process, help to make them aware of how we react in certain ways when we feel overwhelmed or tired out. Yes, our boys are only 3 and 5 but a discussion on their level in this way can be very insightful for all of us. It is amazing what they will share in terms of the things on their minds. P might share how he feels the same frustration when he can't climb the bars at the park. And C is learning how taking a break feels so good later when coming back to the same task.

So, the other day, when the weather was cold and rainy the boys begged to "do homeschooling" with their "homeschooling" books that they had just got the day before from the bookstore. I figured this was a GREAT idea. I mean, if your child is begging to learn about the letters of the alphabet or to read, who are we to say no, right? ;-)

Five or Six hours later, after breaks for lunch and discussion and the bathroom and playing with the cats and fetching the mail, the boys had each made it through their workbooks. We had talked about each page in each lesson and since the books were not extremely difficult, the boys were able to continue all the way through the books. C made a big jump in his recognition of uppercase and lowercase letters and sounds (he had to read each of the letters of the alphabet on the page in each language before he was "allowed" to color them). I was very impressed since before he had seemed to be fairly disinterested in such a task. He still has a hard time with separating the English and German letters which have similar names: W, V, E, I, A. P's book was a little easy for him but it still helped to reinforce some English vocabulary. To make things a little more difficult, I encouraged him to read the directions to each lesson out loud. It is amazing what a child can read when motivated!

In the evening, the boys delighted in their sticker activities (which, by the way, are simply more reading and letter learning activities.. hee hee). I cut some index cards in half and the boys stuck their stickers on each one to make them into "flash cards" for even more learning fun.

I cherish these days of learning and absolutely love being a part of it. More often than not, the choice of tasks come from the boys themselves. I pay very close attention to where their interests are during any given month and try to incorporate those topics into learning motivation as well. For example, P is still infatuated with dinosaurs and will make every effort to sound out the name of the longest dinosaur name because he is so interested in it. So, the more activities we have around that involve dinosaurs, the more requests come from him to "do homeschooling." And C is in complete awe of his ability to write letters and to create his own words which he demands I pronounce. So, I make sure we have paper and pencils around for him to write, write, write.

I stand in awe of this process and am honored to be able to share in it. For me, homeschooling is a privilege and honor.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Who Killed the Electric Car?

Watch this fabulous documentary to learn just how much control industries and governments have over our lives and the future of our global environment!

Do you sometimes feel that you really DO want to live more earth-friendly lives but can't seem to find the products to do so? This documentary reminds us that many forces do not want us to live differently than we do. They want us to continue to be the consumers and polluters that we have always been to maintain the status quo (= money in the pockets of those who have something to lose if we truly start to live more environmentally friendly lives).

Be warned, you may very well feel hopelessly helpless after watching this documentary but it must be seen! We can make no change until we know what we are up against. And it does provide some hope for the future. Dedicated humans can change the world, one perception at a time.

When it comes to the Electric Car... who is guilty for its demise?
  • Is Big Oil guilty?
  • Is General Motors guilty?
  • Are consumers guilty?
  • Is my state of birth, California, guilty?
  • Is the American government guilty?
  • Is modern technology guilty?

If so many people were in love with the electric car in California, why were these cars taken off the market and destroyed?

Who is guilty for killing the Electric Car?

You can start by visiting the website: where you can also learn more about the different types of cars, a trailer for the movie, Q&A, links to responsible organizations and companies, and much, much more.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Identity Crisis

Before any of you think I have totally gone off the deep end, I just wanted you to know that I have simply been going through one of my identity crises. As you can see, poetry and music are really my only ways of communicating and participating in life during these times. These are not sorrowful, depressing times for me. These are days full of exploration and self examination. I truly honor and cherish these times (despite the fact that I spend the whole time apologizing to everyone for my "strange" mood). But I find I can not write in prose, try as I might. My sentences instead appear as long lines of poetic verse.

The thing is, when I "come back out" I am a different person in many ways. I feel I have traveled through my inner subconscious and revisited areas which have long been untouched and untapped. For example, my poem on "Americans are..." is long, long, long overdue and through a conversation with Alice about the way people talk about other cultures in sweeping generalizations (thank you Alice) it triggered my feelings inside which I had never really let myself feel. Letting myself experience my anger about things that have upset me and then actually writing about it through poetry is a release for me like no other!

The same with my feelings of inadequacy, guilt and insignificance. I yell them out to you, to the world, to myself and thereby become just a little more free. Is it not ironic that through sharing my embarrassing insecurities, I end up with a feeling of courage and self-assurance? I am no longer trying to be someone I am not, hiding my weaknesses in the hopes that no one will see.

As I recently told someone (who surprisingly became very dear to me during this time yet we have never met), the last time I went through a major identity crisis the BBFN newsletter (which ultimately turned into the Multilingual Living Magazine) was born. I am never sure what will come out of my inner turmoil (if anything) but I am now fully confident that it belong to my life and that these are precious times to be cherished and protected.

The downside from these times is that my friends and even new acquaintances (my poem titled Friendships With Gods) are the unfortunate victims of my pouring out of whatever is on my mind! And I end up feeling so inadequate, so small, when I compare myself to them. They appear as a gods before me and I a helpless mortal, always making mistakes and needing their guidance and support. Like in Greek myth, when a mortal going about his or her business happens to cross paths with another being. The mortal thinks the other is also fellow mortal but ultimately the latter ends up being a god or goddess, there for a specific purpose - the only give away is a slight scent in the air, a fluttering of wings, the glint of gold. Other times their godliness appears boldly and confrontational.

During this time, I was extremely lucky that I had people with which to reach out and pour out my heart and who didn't judge me. Some I know were with me each step of the way (even if they were a little worried) while others I hope I did not frighten off completely to be lost to me forever. I mean, if you haven't even met me and I share my life story and then go on and on from there, I will understand if you never want to communicate with me again! During these times I simply crave a deeper, more intellectual conversation and end up scaring most people away.

Someone I now hold close to my heart through all of this (although I know nothing more about him other than what he has shared via his soothing words on CD and via his books which I clasped tightly in my hand each day as I rode the bus to and from work) is the poet David Whyte. This man is a genius and has truly changed me completely, inside and out, simply through his words. He gave me the permission to let go, to fall, to dangle and breathe. His descriptions of soul-searching and poetry on his CDs are beyond comparison! I have been YEARNING for the sustenance of such words and fed off them daily, just sobbing from the release they brought me.

And my brother, Thomas, uploaded one of my favorite songs of his titled "The Whole World" just in time – today! I listened to it literally ALL DAY at work, over and over again, and it brought be through this final day of unrelenting soul-searching. It is a song about war and right now we need as many anti-war songs as we can muster! But his song makes you want to jump up and dance, it makes you believe that things will be ok, that our sorrows and frustrations right now really are temporary because we are going to solve this somehow. Wars, no matter where they are in the world, sap our energies no matter where we live. But for those of us in the US right now who are against everything about this war and administration, we need your compassion and your support. Our shame and frustration for what is going on here is a heavy burden to carry.

I think what has happened in the past year is that I have been racing along this path which keeps opening up before me, one step after another - totally magical! I have no idea where it is leading me much of the time but it beacons me and I know it is a good path - my heart is in the right place. But on March 2nd, after the most current issue of Multilingual Living Magazine was completed, I simply collapsed emotionally. Had it not been for the kind words of some very special people, I think I would have just thrown in the towel on the magazine completely. My husband listened to me sobbing at the dining room table days later saying, "I give up, I give up." I mean, after a year of extremely difficult and satisfying work by both Alice and I, the magazine is barely breaking even financially! And it isn't even in print! I can't do it all, Alice can't do it all and we aren't sure what the next steps are either. And, as life would have it, neither of us know anything about marketing, so we get by but funding is primarily through subscribers and a few supportive sponsors/advertisers (most we let advertise in exchange for services or support since they can't afford cash). Luckily, Alice is a strong soul and won't let me give it all up simply because I am having an identity crisis (thank you Alice, AGAIN). Nor will my family - thank you Mom for offering to help! Nor will many of you out there who took the time to offer support and encouragement and the reasons why I do this. I am in awe of the dedication and support all of you provide despite the fact that you receive absolutely NO pay. A volunteer's job must be the most difficult yet the purest form of giving around!

So, you few readers of my blog out there... the truth is I don't know WHAT to do but one thing I do know... I am not going to pretend that I do know and I am not going to put on a staunch, serious Editor-In-Chief face in the hopes that you will think that I do. And now I know that I don't have to. In fact, I know that I simply can't pretend I am someone that I am not (at least for not very long) without it slowly wearing away at my psyche. But on March 2nd, I didn't know I was doing this and I came face to face with the fact that I was scared to death that if I let down my guard, you would think less of me and that I would do the whole magazine, the whole BBFN group, a disservice. I thought that everything I had worked so hard to create would collapse. I must have believed that it was still standing precariously on the image that I had created in my mind a year ago. I had clearly failed to see that it is has really, truly moved on - it is now standing on a solid foundation of its own with dedicated contributors and subscribers who don't care if their Editor-In-Chief is having a identity crisis or not! You are the foundation upon which this all stands and you are steadfast.

The truth is, I am simply a crazy, neo-hippy who tries to live as honestly and true to humanity and the earth as possible. I am a kind person, I am not a greedy person, I am not competitive and I live my life through intuition and a true search for a higher consciousness. I adore the powers of humorous, intellectual wit, the kind which makes you delight in the fabulously unique constructs of images and use of words! The spoken and written word absolutely captivate me. You won't find me in a fancy suit (at least not willingly), I don't wear lipstick (or any makeup at all) and I am fiercely devoted to my husband and children. My plan was to become a Mediterranean Archaeologist out in the dirt each day, evenings with her head in some book or listening to the movements of the tide, but instead I ended up here and although I sometimes wonder what "here" really is, I wouldn't change it for the world. I do Multilingual Living Magazine because I have to do it. The time has come, the world is ripe and we must take this opportunity to help to continue making a place for multilingualism and multiculturalism in the consciousness of this world before it is too late and the opportunity wavers. We need to show the world how absolutely beautiful and magical and emotional multilingualism and multiculturalism are! I am not a graphic designer, I am not a website designer. I simply learn what I have to learn to make this magazine happen and Alice and I create this for us, for you, for everyone, for the world. I can not explain why I do this other than that.

And please know that when it comes to Multilingual Living Magazine, Alice and I are both very professional and expect professionalism on all levels from start to finish. This is one aspect of what often feels like a dual world but is really all about balance between the wild and crazy and the serious and stable. We take the process very seriously. We feel that we have a duty to ourselves, our contributors and, of course, our readers. We take great pride in this. This is why I am so frustrated when I make mistakes! You are paying for quality and we aim to deliver!

So, in the end, I am still here and whole and alive... in fact, I am certain that I am more alive than before. And from all of this, there is one thing I will try to never forget (and all of you writers out there, don't let yourselves forget this either): writers simply NEED to write, I need to write. It doesn't matter if no one is listening, if no one is reading, if no one is seeing what I (we) produce. No matter what, we need to keep creating. All of the glorious words and creative thoughts out there written and created by others cannot satisfy our own needs to write and speak our own words. We each have our ways of bringing forth great creativity and abundance from within ourselves. We must never, ever forget how important it is for us all to tap into that which feeds and waters our soul. Life is simply too short to let it pass unattended.


My Brother the Artist

My brother finally posted one of my favorite songs of his:
"The Whole World" which he performed on the radio yesterday.

Listen to it!

When we were growing up in our woodland paradise,
who would have known my brother was already a genius,
waiting to reveal his talents when the world was ready?

You rock Thomas!
Let's make this into a video!
Stop this war!

Friendships With Gods

Before you go,
before you turn back to your own necessities,
and I to mine,
I hope you know
I meant no harm.

I simply meant to charm you
with my wit,
to delight you
with my eloquence,
to offer you a dance of words,
with outstretched palms.

I didn't mean to become greedy,
to expect more than you could give.
I didn't mean for you to feel compelled to listen,
to the libations of my mind.

I hope you do not think lesser of me
for overstepping my bounds.

When you took that first step towards me,
I knew it would be best to bite my tongue.
Your winged sandals gave you away.

Friendships between gods and mortals
were never meant to be.

-by Corey, mortal

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My Words

I'm tired of pretending
that what really matters
is the color of lipstick
(I don't even wear any)
or the big sale at Macy's,
just to make you like me.

I'm tired of only
the daily demands for
sustenance and repose,
because I worry about my health.

I'm tired of feeling guilty
for not accepting the claim
that power and money will bring true elation,
although its what we're told.

I'm tired of thinking I am the one who needs to change,
to become someone else than who I am,
to stop speaking my mind
and to shut off my thoughts,
because I bore you needlessly.

I'm tired of the idle chatter
which leaves my heart empty.

You write such elegant lines,
your words forming crusty edges
of well-worn experience.
You feed me,
you fill me whole,
so why am I still hungry?

Is it true that the writer will starve
if not fed
at least occasionally
on her own words?

Has it been so long?

But MY words sound so bland,
so worn,
so simple.
They walk so limply,
they laugh so quietly,
they sing so off-key.

My words frighten me,
they betray me,
they reveal my lack of confidence in myself.
They remind me of how tiny and insignificant I feel
when standing face to face with you.
When I try to speak
I am reminded of my pettiness
in the face of your knowledge and worldliness.

Where are you my neglected muse?
Have you forsaken me out of spite?
Has my love affair with the words of others
made you turn against me?
Help me find my strength again,
my inner strength.
Help me find my soul,
the one that has deep pockets of sustenance.
Help me throw away my feelings of inadequacy,
of self-doubt,
of guilt,
of loathing.

How to win you back,
just for a day
or an eternity?

Perhaps it is time to go barefoot again?
Save shoes for another day!

Sunday, March 11, 2007


I am exhausted but sleep won't cure me.
Every hour,
simply biding time.

I feel as if I have given too much
and am now empty,
a shell worn thin
by the sands of of the sea.

What happens to the giver
when there is nothing left to give?

As the gods would have it,
these moments, hours and days of emptiness
are simply a human's way of
shedding the old ways of being.
Underneath the layers
of empty chatter
and the struggle for
meaningless success,
appears a skin so smooth,
so vibrant,
so radiant.

While we weren't looking,
while we were distracted,
our true selves were busy
preparing their entry.

Sometimes it takes the words
of a poet to remind us to let it all go,
that the depths of the soul
are meant to be stirred from time to time.

Yes, David Whyte,
we ARE meant to become allergic to ourselves
when the time is ripe, aren't we?

And yes, David Whyte,
Brother David was right, wasn't he, when he said,
"The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness."?

And yes, David Whyte,
we are hungry, I AM HUNGRY.
It IS the time of loaves and fishes.
And as it just so happens, YOU are
the one good word which has fed me a thousandfold!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Americans Are...

Your words were meant for someone else.
I know.
But they hurt just the same.

"I don't mean you," you say.
But sweeping generalizations cannot be minimized
by your personal wishes.

If you do not condemn me,
then you still condemn my children,
my mother,
my brother,
my aunts and uncles and
my still unconceived grandchildren.
You condemn my reality as I know it,
the circumscribed lines which delineate my existence.

"But it doesn't mean anything,
it's just a stereotype,
it's what people say," you indicate.
In my eyes, you have merged into the masses,
and I begin to grieve my loss
of what I had hoped would become a friendship.

We all search for uniformity,
to place people and events and things into boxes,
with little labels attached.

I thought you understood that humanity is complex,
that Americans are not all the same,
that a political system does not reflect
the depths of each individual's soul.

Not all Americans were raised with silver spoons in their mouths.
Some of us remember winter months
huddled before the fireplace with mother and brother
because we couldn't afford the cost of heat.
Kind friends having donated wood.

Not all of us had the privilege of free time while
attending high school and college.
We worked low-paying jobs during our off hours
to help ensure our family could buy food and pay the bills.

Not all of us know what it is like to dine in fancy restaurants.
But we do know what it is like to stand in line for food
at the food bank,
and to feel the embarrassment of
paying for groceries with food stamps.

We worked hard to earn the right to dream,
to create,
to learn,
to imagine,
to delight in our successes.

So when you think you are being funny,
are making a well-accepted statement,
are saying something that is deserved,
instead you are condemning me.
You are encapsulating my existence
into your limited ability for compassion,
for humility,
for complexity.

Despite all of this,
I do understand you.
And I wish you well.

I hope someday you will be able to broaden your mind,
your heart,
your soul,
to avoid sweeping generalizations about other cultures.
Despite what you tell yourself,
despite your justification for the lack of carefully chosen words,
despite the fact that you attack me for not being more understanding,
for agreeing,
for simply accepting,
despite all of this,
I am still American.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Why I Do This

I'm back!

Whew, the March-April issue of Multilingual Living Magazine is out! It took an "all-nighter" and a final completion at 5:00 AM on March 2nd to get accomplished but sometimes that is just what it takes. (The photo above, taken the morning after publication, shows where I do my part of the magazine work.) The only unfortunate part was that this didn't give Alice enough time to do her final editing magic, and I was too sleep deprived to do a good enough job in this area. Thus, a million and one editing errors made it into the magazine. Please forgive this unprofessionalism and check back in a day or two for the newly updated version with errors fixed.

When this happens, I feel like a total failure. I reprimand myself for being so unprofessional and swear that next time I will do better. Alice and I convene to discuss how we can be more efficient (between loads of laundry), more streamlined (while kids are screaming in the other room) and more professional (while dinner is boiling over on the stove). I guess it is just a lot of work for two women who do this all on their own free time for absolutely no pay.

I'm not sure how many people know that Alice and I do the magazine purely as a volunteer effort. None of the subscription or advertising dollars go to either of us. Those dollars go to pay for the website servers, the post office box, the photos we may need to purchase for the magazine, software to create the magazine, and anything else needed to keep the website and magazine going. We do not have enough paying subscribers and advertisers to do more than simply cover expenses and we only have a little extra in the account for unforseen expenses.

We dream constantly about how this will change in the future but for now, Alice and I stay up late into the night and plan during trips to the supermarket to make Multilingual Living Magazine a reality. Of course, we couldn't do it without the fabulous submissions from people around the world, who are also volunteering their time and their gift of the written word. And each of you who are subscribers, have donated your time and money, and who are sponsors are making this all possible!

I have to admit, there are times when I just want to throw in the towel. After working a 10-hour day at my paying job (totally unrelated to magazine production or website creation or publications in any way shape or form), reading books with the kids, getting dinner on the table, brushing teeth, getting kids to bed, the last thing I want to do is work on Multilingual Living Magazine. My husband and I sometimes find ourselves passing in the hall like roommates in a college dorm with term papers due, complete lost in other thoughts. He in his office grading papers and I at my desk or the kitchen table with my little laptop doing the magazine. I cross my fingers that the kids will stay asleep. Or during the day, that the kids will stay focused on their activities long enough to give me the time to accomplish a few pieces of the magazine. As in the photo above, as I work on the magazine, often the kids create their wooden train world or some other construction project or even homeschooling activities. We all sit at the table and "work" away.

At these moments, I ask myself... for whom am I doing this? Does anyone really appreciate it? And if they don't, would I do it anyway? Why do I spend hours on this when I may never see any financial return?

When those moments happen, I often stop everything and start reading through your articles, and essays and columns again. I let myself savor the beauty of your words and images. I let them speak through me... your words spoken with my own voice. You understand what a multilingual life is all about, what a multicultural life entails. You appreciate the intricacies and complexities inherent in being uprooted and bare, groping for an identity which is all your own. You know what it means to be different, to be considered strange and perhaps a little odd.

It takes courage and contemplation to write for Multilingual Living Magazine. You contributors must dig deep into your psyches to put to words unique and personal thoughts and emotions. Or, at the very least, you must be able to put complex ideas and concepts into words that the non-expert can understand, yet without a kind of empty simplicity intended for the disinterested masses. This is no easy task.

So, when I feel completely empty and exhausted and want to throw in the towel, I am reminded of why Alice and I do this, why you contributors do this, why you subscribers take the time to pay your $12 a year. It may mean staying up all night every now and then and I may turn into a sleep-deprived, cranky woman the next day and my husband and friends may need to remind me that it is all worth it... but sometimes that is just the small price we pay for our dreams.

And then when it is all done,
I take the kids to the park...