The joys of learning languages

Somewhere I recently saw a shared post on FB talking about moments of understanding what others are saying in other languages when they clearly think you don’t understand them — I even saw something talking about how it is rude to be that person without letting people know.

For those who don’t know, I’ve some background in Spanish, French, Greek, and Latin.  I’m not actually fluent in any of them, although I can keep up best in Spanish.  My first Greek class was taught at Whatcom Community College to help students and the faculty member who were going to be going on a trip to Greece (I wasn’t going to go on the trip, but couldn’t turn away a chance to learn Greek).  The dialect of Greek being taught was demotic, meaning the kind of Greek spoken in Greece by native speakers today, as opposed to older dialects like Koine (virtually identical to New Testament Greek), Attic or Homeric.  Or the phony constructed Erasmian, put together by a German theologian who never ever heard Greek spoken by someone fluent.  There are major wars fought among Helenophiles as to which dialect Greek should be taught in, particularly which pronunciation should be used for the letters in the alphabet.  Just so you know.

During the class, I memorized a handful of phrases that I thought could be useful going forward.  A major one transliterates to “Den katalabayno,” which means “I don’t underestand.”  The utility of that should be obvious.  Some years later, while I was still cashiering at Target, the customer I was ringing up was a mother, who was chewing out her son in Greek.   I couldn’t begin to follow what she was saying, but her last sentence ended with “Katalabayne?”  Which I repeated, because I recognized it.  And then I remembered and said “Den katalabayno,” as I tried to figure out what it meant.  It took me about two more sentences to get to the point where I understood that she had finished her scolding of her son with “Do you understand?!”  At which point she realized I knew what she had said and stopped talking to him in Greek, and I talked about how I understood that which got us to the end of the transaction, and she left.

Lately, my Greek exposure is pretty much limited to postings from my FB friend Konstantia Makre.  She posts pretty pictures most days with a caption of “????????”  which transcribes to something similar to “Kally-merra” if you don’t try to roll the “r,” and which means “Good day,” or “Good Morning.”  She’ll post other things in Greek, and I feel pretty good if I can sound it out and recognize a word or two, which I often can’t.

Sausage and Cabbage

1 head cabbage (green or purple both work fine)
1 loop of sausage (polska kielbasa or smoked beef sausages work fine)
1 lb sour cream (low carb, like Daisy brand is good)
½ C chicken broth, (boullion and water can work just as well)

Put the chicken broth in the bottom of a 4 qt kettle, over medium heat.  Cut up the sausage into chunks 1-2 inches long and add to the broth.  Cut up the cabbage into chunks about 1”x2”, and add them to the kettle.  Cover, and let simmer/steam for 30 minutes or so.  When the cabbage is noticeably wilted and no longer rubbery/chewy, remove it from the heat.  If the mixture has a large amount of fluid in the bottom, it can be drained for a less soupy result.  Add the sour cream and stir to evenly coat the cabbage pieces and the sausage.  Serve.

Bulletproof Hot Nog

1 T butter
1 T coconut oil/MCT oil
1 C Heavy whipping cream
2.5 squirts egg nog flavored sugar free Italian syrup (like Torani)
Up to 1 C water water (of whatever temperature you prefer)

Put the oils into a large mug. Add HWC to the mug. Microwave for 1.5 minutes, or until oils are entirely melted. Stir. Add syrup. Stir. Fill mug with water. Stir.


I am no fan of Trump.  Those who know me know I’ve consistently referred to him as a buffoon.  I have not supported his candidacy in any way, and never will.  I want to still be able to make fun of Bill Clinton for being a philanderer and sexual predator without being a hypocrite.  Among other things.  But I see people consistently getting things wrong about him, so this is to address several of those things.  I would like to see people understand the Trump phenomenon better than they do. Continue reading Trump

Silenced again.

This is a comment I was unable to post to a FB conversation because, apparently, I have been blocked from any kind of conversation with the “friend” that was hosting the conversation.  This was the comment that would have explained what I was doing in the conversation, but, having been blocked from doing so, my participation is being forced into a form that will leave me looking more than a little incoherent.  Which is more than a little uncool with me.  Cowardly and intellectually dishonest, in fact.  I’m neither going to include the full name of the person involved, nor hide the mentions of her first name that I wrote in the comment.  If you know who this is, you can know that I’m calling her out for conversational cowardice and intellectual dishonesty.  If not, don’t worry about it.  

The reason I brought this point up here is that a week or two ago, Amy and I had a long and unpleasant conversation about her assertion of a “fact” that racism is only found in systemic oppression, and not in individual acts of hatred and cruelty motivated by race. I disagreed with that usage of the word, because it’s not the way ordinary people use it. They also use it to describe indiidual acts of hatred and cruelty motivated by race, and belief in racial superiority. As the CBC did in this article (although, honestly, they didn’t quote any of the graffiti that used terms that indicated a racial aspect to this, as I pointed out above). The hatred (which I neither share, nor condone, nor excuse in even the smallest degree) was focused on people based on their religion and their nationality/ethnicity.

Again, I am not a fan of hatred toward Muslims. The only Syrians I have contempt toward are named Assad. I’m not opposed to helping refugees from Syria. Nobody can provide evidence to the contrary because none exists. I’m not trying to distract any attention from this act. I think it’s deplorable, and that those who carried it out should be made to account for it.

For those who disagree with the idea that racism is only an institutional phenomenon, welcome to my side of the disagreement.

Chicken Taco Soup

One rotisserie chicken carcass.  Boil to make broth, and separate the remaining meat from the bones.  Add the meat back to the broth for soup. (substitute two quarts broth, and meat if you want it)

Two cans refried beans (substitute one of whole pinto or black beans if you wish)

One can diced tomatos and chiles.

One small can of diced green chiles.

One can cream-style corn

One can cream soup (chicken, mushroom, celery, whatever)

Crushed red peppers, chili powder, cayenne pepper, etc. to taste.


Mix all the above ingredients together and cook on medium heat for an hour or so, stirring occasionally.


Tear up some corn or flour tortillas, and deep fry them until stiff, or use commercial tortilla chips, or use dried out flour tortilla broken up into chip-sized pieces.  Put a small handful in each bowl.  Cover with soup and and some shredded cheese and sour cream as desired.  Makes enough for a meal and leftovers.

If you chance to meet a frown, respect it.

If you chance to meet a frown,
Do not let it stay.
Quickly turn it upside down
And smile that frown away.
No one likes a frowning face.
Change it for a smile.
Make the world a better place
By smiling all the while.
I probably learned this song when I was three-years old.  I disagree with it.  Negative feelings are legitimate and valuable and doctrinally solid.  They aren’t necessarily a sign that anything is wrong.  They are a sign that life isn’t always fun and games.  As mentioned in a podcast episode I was listening to earlier today, Jesus in the Garden wasn’t (probably) smiling while begging God to release him from what he was there to do, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t okay for him to do it.

Continue reading If you chance to meet a frown, respect it.

Feelings, wo wo wo….

Feelings are tricky things.  It’s not that they’re bad, or weird, or unusual.  We all have feelings all the time.  And that’s a good thing — it has to do with why we exist, I think.  Everybody has a right to all of their feelings, and those feelings are valid.

But having strong feelings about something doesn’t make you right or wrong about it.  It’s just another thing — perhaps relevant to mention, but more likely something good to think about when it comes to the issue to see where the feeling might come from and if it’s worth reconsidering.  Dialectic Behavioral Therapy teaches the idea of Emotional Mind and Rational Mind (derived from Eastern Philosophies, iirc), and of balancing those together to form what is called Wise Mind.  Jonathan Haidt talks of these as Emotional Mind being an elephant, and Rational Mind being the driver of that elephant — Rational mind may be able to direct the elephantine Emotional Mind in most given moments, but Emotional Mind is big and strong and can go where it wants to go, whether the driver likes it or not.  Anybody who has made a really stupid decision because it felt good or right will understand why Emotional Mind is the elephant.

I tend to discount the value of what Emotional Mind wants when talking to others, in favor of pushing them toward Rational Mind, trying to find a Wise Mind balance when it comes to whatever ideas are being discussed, especially when it comes to making choices.  I’ve just seen too many really bad results from Emotional Mind-based decisions to be really comfortable letting that be the guide.

GHL: To the legal community: Let us do our jobs, and you do yours.

I have just finished a conversation with a well intended, and probably highly competent law enforcement officer.  He tried returning a runaway to our facility who is very strong-willed, world-class manipulative, and determined not to stay here.  The officer had concerns about leaving this young man here, based on some of the stories he had been told, and he wanted to make sure that there was some kind of system in place for this resident if he had complaints about things.  I’ve seen this before across the legal field, from police officers to probation officers to judges — people who don’t understand what we do in the Child Welfare System, and want to provide help that really falls into areas where the system already sees to those needs.  This is not to say that the CWS is terribly effective in seeing to those needs, nor that it is all that rationally operated — nobody who works in the system for more than a few months could honestly claim that it is.  But it’s already there.  Here’s the nickel tour that is similar to what I explained to this officer at the door:

The child has a Social Worker that works for Children’s Administration.  That SW has a supervisor who will be reasonably conversation about the case, especially if there have been difficulties in it.  For our residents, there is also the Behavior Rehabilitation Services system, which has regional coordinators who handle our placements.  They monitor things going on with the case as well.  We also have house-level care provided by Residential Youth Counselors like me, and a Case Manager who interfaces with all of the systems involved with our residents’ lives, and a director of our portion of our agency who keeps track of these cases as well.  Collectively, before you get to the SW, you’ve got individuals with combined decades of experience working with troubled children in a variety of scenarios.  CA acts as the legal guardian of these children, and they may also have a Guardian ad litem in place to represent their interests in court proceedings.  The most difficult have a support system the size of Rhode Island, including teachers, counselors, therapists, medical professionals, etc.  Any service you would notice that they need is almost certainly being provided by a qualified professional.  As much as you might want to step in and second-guess those qualified professionals (I know I often do such second-guessing), they are there for a reason, and all of us have oversight by our agencies and the State to minimize the amount of harm our collective failures can do, and to provide accountability for our failures when they do cause harm.

When our residents are interfacing with the legal community, there are specific things that we need those legal professionals to do, and not do.  I’m going to talk about some of them here, based on my perspective and experience:

Consequences delayed are consequences denied

Every step in the legal system defaults to using the minimum consequences possible in each situation.  This makes sense — resources are limited, and so providing those consequences is focused on those who are shown to be the most habitual offenders.  So first-time offenders, and even those with long records, find themselves facing a system that exerts much of its resources to avoiding giving them serious consequences like incarceration.  When they are on probation, the probation system wants to do what it can to get them off probation as quickly as possible, without regard to what their behavior patterns are.  This, along with wanting to play Social Worker, contributes to most of the problems these children receive due to the legal system.

Consequences are very important in the lives of both children and adults.  When a bad choice results in an unpleasant consequence, that bad choice is less likely to be repeated.  When it results in no consequence the child cares about, the child is left with no reason to make a better choice in the future.  Putting one’s hand in a fire is a bad idea, not only because it hurts, but because it causes harm to the hand.  Engaging in criminal behavior only has the pain aspect if it is imposed by someone else.  This is not to say that excessive consequences will guarantee a more positive result — young brains are not yet fully formed, and acting in their enlightened self-interest is not a characteristic of children.  They want to do what they want to do, when and how they want to do it, and they want to get what they want, when and how they want it.  Connecting their choices to the consequences of those choices is important in them learning principles adults need — delayed gratification, appropriate and prudent behavior, etc.

Police Officers

What I want from police officers called to my group home is for them to put cuffs on the problem child and take them to jail.  If they do anything else, it’s likely to make the problem the child was doing worse.  Most want to start with gathering the information and determining what to do, beginning with the lecture to the problem child.  This is singularly ineffective.  Information gathering has to take place, but the lecture is a hopeless waste of time.  Our children do not lack for caring, qualified adults who can give them good advice about what to do with their lives.  We know them quite well, and how to give the lecture in a way that is most likely to give the optimal results.  Some big person with a uniform and a gun might be able to scare them, briefly, but when that person walks away without taking them away, they are no longer seen as a threat, and the residents will be laughing at them and about them minutes after they leave.  Even if they were crying because they were scared moments earlier.  This is counted as a “win,” and “getting away with it.”  The next time we are pointing out that their behavior could result in the police being called, they will likely laugh, in the firm belief that the police will do nothing.  Experience shows that this is likely more often than not.

The push-back we get from police officers is that we want the officers to do our jobs for us — which is a little ironic, since they seem to want to do our jobs, rather than their own.  We  can contribute to the problem when we call law enforcement inappropriately, such as when a resident is out of control, but not engaging in criminal activity.  Our agency requires floor staff to talk to our on-call Crisis Manager for permission before calling 911 (except in obvious situations where the emergency response needs to be initiated more quickly, like serious medical emergencies), and that permission isn’t going to be given unless a crime has been committed — usually, assaults or serious property damage.  But, when those things have happened, we would prefer an arrest to a lecture with a stern warning.  The stern warning, without stern consequences, is a waste of time — it’s empty, and obviously so to the resident.


Not infrequently, I refer to judges as “Social Workers in black robes,” when they are dealing with our residents, because they seem more interested in micromanaging how we do what we do than in providing consequences for our residents behavior.  Similar to the main thing I want from police who are called to our group homes, what I want from judges is to lock up our residents when they come before them for criminal charges  or probation violations.  Each and every time, and I want them locked up for longer each time.  No amount of showing concern from the bench is going to have as much effect as steady escalation of incarceration.  Consequences show caring in a way that counts.  As a base of reference, I don’t know of any youth who is concerned about spending 30 days in lock-up.  However, getting a 30 day sentence out of juvenile court, even for serious crimes and probation violations, is very unusual.  In this state, there is a maximum number of 60 days a parolee can be held on parole violations during the entire time of their parole.  I’ll talk about that more later, but that demonstrates the disconnect in expectations between judges and the juvenile offenders in front of them.

GHL: To Civilians: It doesn’t take a special kind of person to do this.

When I meet new people, and we do the “What do you do” conversation, I frequently get “Oh, it takes a special kind of person to do this.”  I think this is intended to be a compliment, but it doesn’t produce a good feeling like I think it’s supposed to.  It doesn’t take a special kind of person to do this, it takes someone willing to do what it takes, which is true for pretty much any kind of job.  This isn’t a job for just anybody.  You can’t just do what you want to do here, but that’s true for every job I’ve ever seen.  There are rules and policies and procedures we have to follow that have been devised to best serve the needs for our residents.  And there are skills that you need to develop to survive for long in this job in any effective fashion.  As the sign says, “You don’t have to be crazy to come to work here — we’ll train you.”