Last Bits of Miscellany Before We Go

A delicate white hibiscus out by the pool – I will miss the unlimited variety of these beautiful flowers.

A few final things not big enough for their own blog posts:

  1. My number one concern right now is getting my back into shape for travel. I really messed it up last Saturday working at the election, more than I realized. We sat almost the entire day at middle-school cafeteria tables, with no back support, and three hours in I knew I was in trouble. By the end of the day I was a wreck, but figured time in the hot tub, pain medication and proper sitting conditions all would be well in a couple of days. Nope. It’s getting better, but one false move and it seems I’m right back at the beginning again.
  2. This past Tuesday was the deadline for our former landlord to return our deposit, or an itemized list of deductions (which has to include receipts, not just figures he comes up with). If he mailed it to us he was required to supply us with proof of mailing before or on Tuesday, and if he didn’t, by Hawai’i law he is required to return the entire deposit to us. Brett messaged him on Tuesday afternoon and asked about the status of our deposit and got a message from him just a few minutes before midnight that the check would arrive by 8:00 p.m. Wednesday (at Brett’s sister’s house). He asked us to “confirm receipt of the tracking number” but of course never gave that to us and nothing from him has arrived in Texas so far. Maybe something will show up there later today, but at this point we’re doubtful, and there’s a better than good chance we’ll be coming back to Kaua’i next year to meet him in small claims. Update: We finally heard from the landlord on Friday morning that the check had been mailed . . . to a completely unknown-to-us address in Texas, in a different city from Brett’s sister! Where he got that address is anyone’s guess, but it’s definitely not the one we gave him. Supposedly now it will be delivered to the correct address in three days, but I will believe it when I see it.
  3. We’ve all been throwing away pieces of clothing for the past three weeks, things we’ve worn almost the entire time we’ve lived here and but that are now past the stage of being saved. All this tossing away though is rather bittersweet as it means we’re very close to heading out on the Big Adventure, but also marking how very close we are to the end of our time on Kaua’i.
  4. Brett and I packed our suitcases yesterday, and except for a last few items to go in on Sunday evening that task is done. Neither of the suitcases is anywhere near full, and they both weigh 37 pounds so we each have some wiggle room (our goal was to have each suitcase weigh no more than 44 pounds). Of course, we still have YaYu’s suitcases to re-pack and will do those on Sunday. She calls her biggest suitcase “the body bag” – it is huge, but has to be to hold her comforter and other linens.
  5. We’re eating some very interesting things these days (like curry over leftover spaghetti) as we finish cleaning out the fridge and cupboards here at the condo. I have no idea what we’re going to do on Sunday because we’ll be out of everything by then, and tired of going out to eat.

Sunday Miscellany

My favorite view on the island.

There’s no regular Sunday post today – Brett and I are down on the west side for the weekend with no Internet connection. I do have a few odds and ends though:

  1. We’ve had a long, cool winter and spring, and I knew it was coming, but . . . the humidity is back. Ugh. It’s not as bad as it’s going to get, and the trade winds are currently still brisk, but the humidity is noticeable and has gotten uncomfortable at times. For a brief while though I had almost forgotten what it’s like to sweat so much! We’ve got less than two months to go in the house, and the condo we’re moving into at the end of July is air-conditioned – we’re all looking forward to it!
  2. I’ve been reminded that while there are a few big moments during the downsizing process, mainly it’s lots and lots of little tasks, ones you have to keep doing every day. Sometimes I look at all that’s left to do and feel discouraged, but then realize that our shipment at the end of this month will take care of a lot of what’s here; friends moving to the island are taking a big part of our furniture at the beginning of July; and right after that we’ll have a big garage sale and will hopefully get rid of most of the rest! It all will be happening sooner rather than later.
  3. I’ve also realized that because of the above scheduled events, for most of July we won’t have a TV, or any furniture other than our inflatable mattresses. We’ll still have our Internet connection to the end of the month though and will watch stuff on our laptops, and we’ll be working hard in the meantime on getting the house deep cleaned. It’s going to be an interesting month though, to say the least.
  4. This month will mark the fourth anniversary of our arrival on Kaua’i. It seems though like we’ve been here a lot longer than four years. I feel very sad when I think about leaving, and I find myself looking at things around the island more closely these days, or closing my eyes and picturing different places in my mind so that my memories stay strong.

Language Learning for Adults

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, especially since I’ve been studying (and struggling to learn) French now for many months in preparation for our travels there later this year. I also spent a considerable amount of time (like years) trying to learn Japanese, only to find myself with an ability less than a two year-old. Because my professional  background is in adult language learning and acquisition you would think I’d have this all figured out by now and would know all sorts of tricks to make learning faster and easier, but sadly, no.

Children pick up new languages very easily, at least the spoken part, typically because they are usually far more immersed in a new language than most adults (i.e. in school all day with other native speakers). If children learn a second language before the age of twelve they usually become fluent speakers with no accent. Although adults learn a language in the same steps as children, how adults process what they are learning is different based on cognitive differences and other previous learning experiences. The reality is it just takes adults longer to acquire a second language. The good news is it’s not impossible.

When adults are learning a second or foreign language, there are three main aspects that come into play: 1) motivation, or the reasons for learning another language; 2) how an adult views themselves as a learner; 3) who an adult sees themselves to be when they speak another language. All three of these are important, but any one of them on their own can have a profound effect on the learning experience. Being aware of these forces and the roles they play can help adults through the process.

Motivation falls into two classes, intrinsic or extrinsic. That is, motivation to learn another language either comes from within or from without. Are you learning a new language because you want to or because you have to or need to? How strong is the desire or need? A combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic reasons for learning is best, and together can provide powerful motivation to push through difficult stretches and improve.

Language learning has often proven to be a sticky problem for adults who have always seen themselves as successful learners or talented in other respects. Recognizing that language learning calls on a whole different set of skills than learning math or history, or participating in a sport or hobby, and that it might not be as easy for you as you thought (or as fun) is an important step in staying motivated and continuing to learn.

Finally, how do you see yourself when you imagine yourself speaking another language? As a native speaker of English, I view myself as a confident, skilled adult when I speak, read, write or listen to English, able to know what to say in almost any situation or figure out what someone else is saying or inferring. With a new language I often find myself with less ability than a small child, making lots of (sometimes embarrassing) mistakes, sometimes unable to order in a restaurant or ask directions, let alone manage any other social or professional situations. It’s very humbling, and can also be humiliating at times. One’s self-image when learning a new language can sometimes take some serious blows. Also, there’s the aspect to self of fitting in socially and culturally where the new language is spoken. Knowing that these feelings are perfectly normal can help you stick with language learning.

Based on my many years of teaching English to adults learners, here are some tips for making language learning more productive and less painful:

  • Communication should be the goal. Not fluency, not perfection, although you can strive for those. Can another person understand what you’re trying to say or write and communicate back to you? That’s what really matters.
  • Know how difficult a language is to learn. Russian or Chinese or Finnish are going to be w-a-y more difficult for an English speaker to learn than Spanish or French. All language learning takes time and effort, but if you want to learn one of the more difficult languages, give yourself even more time. Although the goal may be much less than professional proficiency, here is the Foreign Language Institute difficulty ranking for English speakers, and the time it takes to reach Speaking 3: General Professional Proficiency in Speaking (S3) and Reading 3: General Professional Proficiency in Reading (R3) in different languages.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Seriously, mistakes are how we learn, especially in language learning! Think of all the mistakes children make when they’re learning to speak. Adults go through the same steps, and mistakes will happen. The important thing is to keep trying to produce the language in some form rather than shut down. An ideal instructor (or online program) will always model the language correctly for you when you make a mistake and give chances to try again. It’s also important to find a classroom and instructor where you feel safe to make mistakes. My Japanese instructors in college didn’t go for safety and it was an incredibly stressful and miserable experience. I remember nothing from those classes other than wanting them to end (although I was able to get a Master’s thesis out of the experience!).
  • Be prepared to memorize. Memory is a very big part of language learning. We memorize constantly when we learn our own language (I took weekly spelling tests through the eighth grade because much of English spelling and pronunciation is based on memorization, even for native speakers), and it will be true for any other language. It’s more difficult to remember things when we’re older because we’re carrying around and having to deal with so much more information in our brains than we did when we were younger. The best way to remember what you’re learning is to practice. Every day.
  • Don’t sweat pronunciation. The ability to speak another language without an accent ends at about age 12. That’s when our mouths and oral muscles “solidify” around our native language. Not worrying about pronunciation doesn’t mean not trying to pronunciate a new language correctly in order to be understood, but sounding like a native speaker doesn’t need to be the goal.
  • Find ways to expose yourself to the language. Learning French in France is going to be a whole lot easier than trying to learn it in the U.S. Why? Because learners are immersed in the language there – it can’t be escaped and has to be dealt with. In your own country, once you’re out of the classroom it’s difficult to find opportunities to practice and use the language you’re learning. Immersion experiences here in the U.S. do exist though. Shop in international markets and read the labels or ask questions in the language you’re learning. Pick up a newspaper or magazine in the new language, go through it and see what can be figured out. Watch foreign films or TV shows in the new language without subtitles. For example, when our girls were learning Chinese, they found that all their favorite Disney Channel shows could be watched online in Mandarin, so they got lots of extra listening comprehension practice from those. Go to a church service where the language you’re learning is spoken (they exist). See if you can set up conversation experiences through local colleges, or hire a tutor and have them provide a weekly immersion session. I was sometimes able to match up my students, if they had time, with an English speaker who was trying to learn their language. They’d spend one hour together in one language, the second hour in the other language.

Knowing another language opens doors for understanding a new and/or different culture, but language learning is a process that takes time, in some cases LOTS of time. It’s important to remind yourself, especially if you’re struggling or on the fence about sticking with it, that you didn’t learn English (or any other native language) quickly as a child either. Unless necessary for professional reasons, fluency doesn’t need to be the goal of language learning; rather, you should strive to learn enough of a new language to communicate effectively, and as a means to better understand and enhance  experiences in a different culture.

Finally, one other interesting side effect of language learning is that you will probably learn more about English as well, and what a crazy, difficult, and sometimes impossible language it is. I thank my stars every day that English is my native language, and that I didn’t have to learn it as a second or foreign language. My years of teaching gave me an immense amount of respect for anyone trying to learn English, a daunting task if there ever was one.

A Glass Half Full Kind of Girl

We’re living in scary and discouraging times. Last Friday Hawai’i began monthly tests of a nuclear warning siren, designed to let residents know of an impending nuclear attack, apparently to give us time to say good-bye to our loved ones. Other things, like ending net neutrality or the tax bill to name a couple, are things that could have profound effects on all Americans (well, unless you’re included in the 1%) in the very near and not-so-distant future. Arguments are actually being made for why it’s OK to support a child molester for elected office. Truth and facts have been turned on their heads.

I’ve had my share of hurt, heartbreak, illness, misery, loss, betrayal and violence during my life, and have several times wanted to crawl in a hole and feel sorry for myself for a good long time. I’ve felt really, really, really angry. I’ve gone through a spell where I wanted to leave this world. But deep down I’m an optimist, and overall I’ve always focused on the positive, on looking forward, accepting that the past is past and that thinking “woe is me” never really gets anything accomplished in the end.

One of my strongest role models growing up was my grandmother. She lived in the same town we did, and I often spent weekends with her at her house, reading with her, watching TV, and asking her to tell me stories about her early life. She had had a tough childhood, but although she’d tell me about things she did, she didn’t dwell on her past, and always stressed the power of positive thought. She was someone who lived the saying, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything.” She always could find something positive to say about any situation, and her kindness, optimism and positive nature stayed with me. To her, I was a “diamond in the rough,” destined for great things. She taught me to think that even if life seemed unbearable, or a situation impossible, it didn’t have to stay that way, that everything changes eventually, and we all have the ability to adjust, adapt, learn and grow.

For the most part I’ve found it just isn’t worth the effort it takes to be negative, or at least not for long. I’m not a Pollyanna though. I still feel frustrated or scared at times, and I still get (very) angry about things. As tough as I think I am, I can still be easily hurt, and it can take me a long time to get over those hurts. But, I stick up for myself, my family and what I believe, and I’m assertive when I need to be. I’ve found I get a whole lot more done and the world turns more smoothly when I see my glass in life as half full instead of half empty. I honestly believe the main reason Brett and I have made it as far as we have is that we’ve both stayed positive and continued to look forward, hard as that’s been at times.

Written on a 4″ x 6″ card that now sits in the drawer of my nightstand is a set of thoughts I’ve collected over the years, ones that, whether I knew it or not, channeled my grandmother, and guided me through both good and bad times. They’ve help me re-focus when I’m feeling out-of-sorts. I think they’re worth sharing:

  1. However good or bad a situation is, it will change. How I face those changes and what I make of them is up to me.
  2. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful. Including relationships, sad to say, or ways of thinking that aren’t productive.
  3. Frame every disaster with these words: “In five years will this matter?” Or one year? Or a month? Or a week?
  4. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need. In my case, I’ve probably always had more than I needed but didn’t want to accept it. I have been incredibly blessed.
  5. Your children only get one childhood. My job is to love them. All the time and unconditionally. And for all of my life.
  6. Not “Why me?” but “Why not me?” Why am I so special that bad things should only happen to someone else?
  7. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift. I am grateful for every day of the life I’ve had.
  8. Growing old beats the alternative.
  9. The most important thing is that you loved. Yes, yes and yes again.
  10. The best is yet to come. This is why I continue to hope.

I Hung the Jury

The trial ended yesterday with no verdict. Eleven jurors voted not guilty, but I voted guilty and refused to change my vote. A mistrial was called.

We heard testimony about and deliberated on not one, not two, but 28 counts of sexual assault. The defendant, a former police officer and then the manager on the island for another state law enforcement agency, was accused of raping his stepdaughter, beginning when she was 14 years old (she’s now 24). According to the victim’s testimony, over a period of approximately four years, he assaulted her two to three times a week. He threatened her with death if she told anyone. She eventually broke down and told a friend and then a relative what was happening, and from there it went to the police, the prosecutor’s office, and the grand jury. The trial was the last stop on a long, difficult road.

The testimony we heard from the complainant was disturbing, to put it in the nicest way possible, and sad, but I found her very credible as well as the other witnesses that spoke for the prosecution. The complainant was consistent, and her distress on the stand as she recounted what had happened to her was obvious. Other witnesses supported her testimony. She wasn’t acting. The defendant and his wife were the only witnesses presented for the defense, and the wife made false statements in her testimony. They didn’t refute anything the victim said – the defendant only said, “I didn’t do it.” I had been eager to hear the testimony from the defense, but in the end it was completely underwhelming. Basically, there seemed to be no defense – just a lot of smoke and mirrors from the attorney (which was his job, I guess).

From the moment we entered the jury room though, the other eleven jurors began to tear apart the victim. They accused her of making it all up. There was no acknowledgement that an act of assault causes trauma, that a victim might not remember every single detail, that a victim might have been terrified. There was no attempt at all to try to understand what it might mean to have been assaulted repeatedly, especially as an adolescent. Not one other juror ever took the time, at least not in the jury room, even for a moment, to imagine how the victim might have felt. Over and over again someone would say it couldn’t have happened because she didn’t tell anyone, or she didn’t run away (she testified that the stepfather had threatened not only her but her siblings with death if she left).  My least favorite comment though was “Where’s the evidence?” like she would have kept mementos from the assaults, some that occurred seven years earlier. One juror seemed to want or expect pictures of her in torn clothes, with blood and semen running down her legs – without those it just didn’t happen. Several of the assault descriptions were judged to be physically “impossible,” like having intercourse standing up in the shower for example (intercourse is too polite a word for what she described in her testimony).

Here are a few things I heard in the jury room:

  • She was in love with her stepfather, and they were having an affair, but when he broke it off she accused him of assault. (This juror stuck with this story until the end. Unbelievable.)
  • She cried on the stand because she had lied and now her lies were coming out.
  • I have a lot of family on this island, and I don’t want to deal with me or any of my family living with the aftermath of [the defendant] being convicted. (It didn’t matter that he had been abusing his stepdaughter for years.)
  • She was jealous of her younger (biological) sister so she made all this up. (This was actually the motive someone offered – sibling rivalry, which caused the victim to falsely accuse her stepdad of assault?)
  • She enjoys being a victim and likes all the attention it brings.
  • His daughter is getting married on Saturday, and if we convict him he won’t be able to walk her down the aisle.

There was more, but I think you get the idea.

They also all believed if he was not guilty of one count, he was therefore not guilty of ALL counts. They were ready to acquit after less than an hour of deliberation.

The judge came and spoke to us before we left the jury room yesterday, and told us there was no problem with not being able to reach a unanimous verdict. She told us that it can be difficult to do so in sexual assault cases, especially one with so many counts. She also told us that there was lots of evidence we didn’t get to see, things that had been preemptively excluded from the trial. I hope that registered in a few people’s heads.

While the trial is over it’s going to take a while for me to get over it. Besides the testimony, besides the deliberations, it was a bitter experience. The other jurors hated me for not agreeing with them, for arguing, for defending my opinion. I was accused of always dominating the conversation – I guess it seems that way to others when you’re the only one arguing for a side. One juror said she wished they could call in the alternate juror (so they could get rid of me) and acquit the defendant on all counts. Another juror asked me at one point, “What can we do to help you see things differently?” I told her I didn’t need any help, thank you, that I  believed the complainant’s testimony, and it was my belief based on that testimony that the defendant was guilty, guilty, guilty (28 times). Only one other juror stood up for me, and reminded the others that I was entitled to my opinion, and that it should be respected.

The whole experience has also caused me to wonder why any women or child bothers to report sexual assault. The journey this young woman took to get to this trial took a long time and was emotionally grueling. She had told her what happened to her seven times before the trial – to a friend, to family members, to the police, to the prosecutor, and to the grand jury – they all believed her. But 11 people on the jury yesterday thought she was a liar and had  fabricated the whole thing. It was ugly and cruel.

I need a couple of days to recover, but I’ll be posting again by the end of the week.


I Am Juror #12

My name was the last one called for the jury yesterday, and I apparently passed the voir dire questioning because I was eventually sworn in with eleven other jurors (and two alternates) and we began hearing testimony yesterday afternoon.

It turned into another long, exhausting day, but at least the courtroom is cool, and we now get to sit in comfy chairs versus hard wooden benches. There’s a fridge in the jury room for us as well as a microwave which will make bringing my own meals easier. There’s also a cold filtered water dispenser so we can refill our water bottles.

We have no idea how long the trial will go – originally we were told we’d finish on Friday, but jury selection took much longer than expected, and there are a LOT of witnesses to go through. Plus, once the trial is finished we have to deliberate and who knows how long that might take?

All this is to say I’m not sure how regular I’ll be with posting for the next week or so. I’ll do my best.

But now I’m heading to bed – I’ve got another very long day ahead.

We Have a Winner! Japan Giveaway #3

The randomly chosen winner (I used Random.Org) of the Ultimate KitKat Tasting Experience is Vivian – congratulations!! Coincidently, she was also the only one to correctly guess my favorite KitKat flavor: rum raisin (matcha is my second favorite, followed by raspberry). 

Top Row: Shinshu Apple, Japanese Strawberry, Dark Chocolate, Rum Raisin, Okinawan Sweet Potato

Middle Row: Matcha (green tea), Wasabi, Cherry Blossom-Green Tea, Sake, Roasted Tea

Bottom Row: Strawberry Cheesecake, Melon, Raspberry

I want to thank everyone once again so much for all the lovely and informative comments I received during the past three weeks, and for so enthusiastically supporting the giveaways. I was amazed by the response to all three Giveaways: there were over 50 entries for the bird cookies, 71 for the kitchen set, and this last one had 84 entries – that’s a lot for my little blog. I have said it before and I’ll say it again; I have the best readers!