Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Harry Potter and the Spanish Translation

It took me four months, but I am FINALLY done reading Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal.

When I said I wanted to read the first Harry Potter book in Spanish, I knew I was undertaking quite a challenge. I had taken Spanish on and off throughout middle school, high school and college, and always found that the classes came fairly easily to me, but you know what they say: if you don't use it, you lose it. I lost a lot of my espaƱol vocabulary over the past five years.

I'd been practicing using my Duolingo app for several months, though, and was feeling a bit more confident going in. I bought the e-book from Pottermore and downloaded it to my Kindle, because I knew I would be looking up a lot of words that I didn't understand, so I wanted to be able to do that with just a touch.

And at first, I found the reading really difficult because, despite learning a lot of the verbs in the present-tense during my Spanish classes, how often are books really written in present tense? My knowledge of the past-tense versions were rusty at best, non-existent at worst. I found myself using the translation button like eight times per Kindle page, and was frustrated at how much time it was taking.

A few days after I started struggling through La Piedra Filosofal, I had dinner with a girl who had majored in Spanish in college and is fluent herself. She said that she had read some books in Spanish before, and that it was easier and more helpful for your own Spanish skills to just keep reading and use context clues to figure out what the missing words were. I started using the translation function less after that, and it started to go much smoother. I still ended up translating maybe once or twice per page, in the beginning, but the closer I got to the end, the less I felt like I needed to lean on that. I tried to read out loud when I could to practice the words. I managed to learn a lot of new words and re-learned a lot of old forgotten ones.

At the end, I still didn't understand every word, not by a long shot. Thank goodness I was so familiar with the story that I could figure out what was going on even if I didn't know the words! But it was an interesting experience. One that I don't plan to attempt again soon.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sports Sports Sports

Every year during March Madness, Matt starts a family bracket pool, and the two of us plus his dad, his sister and our brother-in-law compete for the "Get Outta There" trophy that currently resides on my husband's dresser.

I spend exactly no time watching basketball unless Matt and I go to a game together (so … I've seen approximately five or six games in the past 10 years, and one of those was the Harlem Globetrotters). I know very few of the teams or who is any good, so I normally just pick whichever team I've heard of before for my bracket, and I always pick Oklahoma to go far (BOOMER).

(This worked out well for me one year, since none of our family had faith in OU and then the Sooners made it far and I was the only one who had picked them to win. But most of the time, I am in last or second-to-last place.)

Anyway, on Saturday morning Matt was checking up on the tournament scores, and as usual, told me I was losing by A LOT. What else is new.

Then he said, "Your tie-breaker score is awfully low for a basketball game too. You don't see many basketball games where the teams only get 30 points."

And I started laughing maniacally because — NO SHAME — I had forgotten, whilst filling out my bracket, that this was for a basketball tournament and had picked my tie-breaker score based on what a good football tie-breaker score might be.

Are you participating in any March Madness pools?

Friday, March 20, 2015

I Don't Know Lots of Things About World War II

Perhaps this is presumptuous, but despite not being alive yet in the 1940s and 1950s, I thought that I had a pretty good grasp of the goings-on during World War II. Through high school and college, it was one of only two historical periods that I was interested in (the other being Tudor England), and I didn't care at all about any of my other history classes.

Thankfully I've become more interested in other time periods since then, because there's a lot of interesting stuff that's happened in the world, but WWII still fascinates me. And there have been a few good books and movies that I've experienced lately that have shown me just how little my pool of knowledge is. There is SO MUCH that I didn't know, and, I'm sure, still so much to learn.

"The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II" by Denise Kiernan
I started thinking about my knowledge — or lack thereof — when one of my book clubs chose to read "The Girls of Atomic City" a few months back. The book is about the compounds at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and the women (and men) who worked to build the Atomic bombs that fell at the end of the war. Only they didn't know what they were working on, they were just recruited for these high-paying government jobs and knew they were contributing to the war effort, but the project was kept so hush-hush that no one ever talked about what they were doing. I found it fascinating because I really had no concept of the Manhattan Project and what the U.S. was doing through most of the war (though I did watch Bomb Girls on Netflix? and it was kind of sort of similar, except in Canada?). Most of the people in my book club didn't like "The Girls of Atomic City" and tore it to shreds, but I thought it was interesting, even if it had some weaknesses. (I agreed that there were too many characters and that they were difficult to distinguish [there was a summary of characters, places and events at the beginning for reference], but thought the overall view of the Project was very interesting.)

The Imitation Game
A few weeks back, Matt and I went to go see The Imitation Game at this little local theater by campus, and sorry to yell but IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS YOU SHOULD DO SO IMMEDIATELY. It was fantastic. Benedict Cumberbatch is so good. Everyone in it is so good. It's about the code-breakers at Bletchley Park in England, led by mathematician Alan Turing, and how they were trying to crack the Enigma machine that the Germans were using to communicate with their military. It was deemed to be an impossible task, as there were some 190,000,000 possible settings for Enigma and the settings were changed every night at midnight. The movie was wonderful, funny, fast-paced, heartbreaking and smart all at once. Now I very much want to pick up the book that it was based off, "Alan Turing: The Enigma." (Catherine has also suggested the show The Bletchley Circle, which is on Netflix, but I haven't gotten around to seeing it yet. Also, I have since read about some inaccuracies in the script, but it was still a beautifully done movie.)

"All The Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr
I loved this book. Loved loved loved. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl who evacuates Paris during the German occupation to live with her uncle. Werner is a German orphan that is recruited into the German army when it's discovered that he has a talent for fixing radios. Two teenagers growing up in war-time with such different expectations for life.

I loved the main characters. I loved the secondary characters. I loved that the good guys were flawed, and that the bad guys could have been good guys, depending on your perspective. I loved that this book gave me such a unique glimpse into the German armies: prior to reading "All The Light," I had this idea of what a Nazi was, and what that person must be/believe, and this book completely threw me through a loop; the idea that there were people fighting under the German flag that may not have agreed with any of the things the Nazis were doing, but that were afraid to refuse to fight for their country? It was a fascinating perspective and an excellent read, and it made for a GREAT book club discussion.

What historical periods are you obsessed with? Have you read any good historical books — fiction or non — lately?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Is Life Without Chocolate Even Worth Living?

I think chocolate is making me break out.

I know that this is a fairly controversial statement. Some doctors say that what you eat has no effect on the oiliness or dryness of your skin, and other doctors say that what you eat absolutely affects your face.

My mom and my sister have always complained that they can't eat chocolate because it makes them break out, and my mom has gone so far as to tell people she's allergic to it. And Past Allie always thought this was silly, because I've never heard of a few pimples counting as an "allergic reaction."

But you know how much I love Nutella? I started noticing that every time I eat it, within a day or two I get huge cystic acne flares. I thought it was because Nutella is quite oily, and decided maybe I shouldn't buy it anymore. But my skin was still flaring up every time I ate regular chocolate too.

This was kind of mind-boggling to me. I've been a Proactiv user for years and years because I had bad acne as a teenager, and when I tried to stop using it as an adult, my skin freaked out again, and so I've been back on it ever since. I figured adult acne was just my cross to bear. So the idea that maybe I could control my skin a little better by cutting out chocolate was intriguing.

AND TERRIBLE. I decided I should try an experiment to see if my skin clears up when I avoid chocolate, and on the first day, I came home and wailed to Matt that I didn't think life without chocolate was worth living. (He was obviously super thrilled with this assessment of my life.)

I just discovered Japanese green tea chocolate! How can you take this deliciousness away from me?!

Since then, I have managed to go two or three days at a time, but I keep forgetting that I'm not eating chocolate and then accidentally eat it. (On Sunday I scarfed two Andes mints at Olive Garden before I remembered that Andes mints are chocolate. Gah. Life without Andes mints isn't worth living.)

I am still interested in the results of this experiment though, if I can ever display enough self-control to actually avoid cocoa for more than a few days at a time. I'm half-scared that my skin will be perfect sans chocolate and that I'll have to give it up forever, and half-scared that it won't have any effect and that my skin just sucks.

Do you think the things you eat affect your skin? What couldn't you live without?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Coffee Date

Hi friends! I didn't mean to fall off the face of the earth like that. Just stress and work and everyday life, you know?

But! A lot of that went away for a little while because last week we took a long weekend and flew back to Texas to surprise Matt's sister for her birthday! We also went to visit my grandparents, and stopped in College Station for a few hours to see a few friends. We managed to eat tacos for a lot of our meals. And got in some Blue Bell too. Ahh, food and family. This trip really cemented that Texas > Virginia in all the ways that matter. :)

Happy early birthday sister-in-law! We got beers and went bowling, and I learned that I bowl better left-handed. But still pretty badly.

What makes you and your partner laugh really, really hard? I'm not sure if it was because of the sleep deprivation or because it was really that funny, but as Matt and I were driving home from the airport at three in the morning — note to self, don't fly into an airport that's more than an hour away if it's going to land after midnight on a work night — we popped in a Taylor Swift CD and started singing all the songs in super deep old-man voices, and it cracked us up so much that it made the last half-hour of that exhausting drive fly by.

I am basically dying for a lay-around-do-nothing vacation. Did you know that Carnival has some cruises that leave from the Virginia coast, that basically just go out in the ocean for a day and then turn around and come back? They call it "the cruise to nowhere," and that makes us laugh. But we're saving up our vacation days for my sister's wedding, and hopefully we'll get to go on a real vacation next year. In the meantime, I'm hoping to get some more fun day trips in. There are so many states nearby that I haven't been to! And so many things I'd like to see in Virginia! What places are near you that you're dying to try?

I went to a wine-tasting with some friends the other week at this gourmet-cooking store, and I got really distracted by this wall that had all these beautiful canisters of tea. I've never been much of a tea drinker — my college roommate loved the stuff and believed it could cure everything, and I thought she was wrong and that tea was gross except in the cases of sore throats and so I avoided it forever for reasons I'm no longer sure of — but I'm finally feeling like I should give tea a fair shake. Or maybe the pretty wall of tea just hypnotized me into thinking this is a good idea? What's your favorite type?

Do you need a new thing to listen to while Serial is on break? May I recommend the podcast Grownups Read Stuff They Wrote As Kids? It's exactly what it sounds like: adults reading their childhood diary entries and angsty teenage poetry in front of a live audience. It. Is. Hilarious. Isn't life so much better now that we're not teenagers anymore? :)

What are your goals right now? I have a few things I want to accomplish in the next few months, but I'm thinking about letting go of some other small goals I've been working on that have lost their appeal, that I'm no longer doing to benefit myself, but still feel obligated to slog through. I read on Ali's blog that sometimes you have to let go of some things in order to make room for things you really want, and that's been resonating with me lately. I'd like to stop putting so much pressure on myself.

But enough about me. What's going on with you? What have I missed these few weeks? (I'm super behind on both writing and reading blogs. Feedly tells me I have an overwhelming number of unread posts waiting for me. I'll get to them eventually.)