Movie review, My life, Travel

Brief reviews and opinionated comments

When my Dodge Grand Caravan gave up the ghost a couple of months ago, we bought a brand-new Toyota Corolla. I like nearly everything about it: roomy for a compact car, great gas mileage (34 mpg), Bluetooth, backup camera, spacious trunk. There are only two features that annoy me.

One is the location of the Mode button on the left spoke of the steering wheel. I steer with my left hand, and when I’m making a sharp turn, tend to rest the heel of my hand precisely there to spin the wheel. This can kick me out of a phone call or interrupt my favorite song. I wish they had placed the button at least half an inch to the right.

The other annoying feature is the hard plastic of the inside door handle. I hadn’t realized how much comfort I was sacrificing when I gave up the Caravan. Since I’m 6’4″, in a small car I either have to stretch my left leg out or sit grasshopper-like with my knee up and leaning against the door. The leg-extended position puts pressure on my heel. The grasshopper position puts pressure on the side of my knee at the point where it rests on the hard plastic. I think I’m going to tie a cushion to the door handle.


For our trip to Panama City, we rented a Chevrolet Caprice. It was somewhat roomier than our Corolla, and my knee didn’t get as sore from leaning on the door. But it had a couple of stupid design features.

The steering wheel has metal trim, just like the Corolla, but the Chevy’s is shiny, ready to catch the sun and reflect it into the driver’s eyes at any opportunity. The rear edge of the hood has a bevel that also sends sunset glare right into your eyes.


The dash has this display with blue lights that remind me of a cheap boombox.



Alicia and I watched Frozen last week. We enjoyed it, but there were some flaws in the writing that bugged us:

1) Not just one, but two cutesy mascots! The reindeer was okay. The snowman was annoying, but at least the writers realized it and were mean to him.

2) Some really bad parenting. Horribly bad.

3) No foreshadowing of the prince’s betrayal. The only thing resembling a hint is that Elsa was opposed to Anna’s engagement because it happened after spending just four hours with him. The prince’s behavior was exemplary up until it suddenly wasn’t.


If you speak Spanish, you may enjoy the India María movies from Mexico. Alicia and I discovered them a couple of weeks ago. They are wonderfully funny, with gentle humor that is much cleaner than that of Cantinflas. Unfortunately, some of the movies available on Youtube appear to be heavily edited, leading to gaps in the narrative.

The last one we watched was a bit disappointing both in writing and editing; María goes to Mexico City to talk to her congressman about her village’s lands being expropriated and her brother taken away by the government. She suffers a number of indignities trying to find the congressman’s office, isn’t allowed to see him, gets thrown into jail, and then the story heads off into María’s promise to help a fellow prisoner whose children are in the care of an unscrupulous couple that sell contraband, neglect the children, and are squandering the prisoner’s last remaining assets. María goes to live with the couple and has various adventures in their neighborhood. She participates in a professional wrestling match to raise funds to help her friend. At the end of the movie the bad people are arrested, the children will be okay, and their mother will finally be able to bond out of jail. But there is no more mention of the expropriated lands or her missing brother.


While we were in Panama City, FL last week, we drove out to Panama City Beach. It was much too chilly for the beach, so we visited the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, which is shaped like half the Titanic. The museum was fascinating. There is also a 3-D Moving Theatre, for which we had to stand in line for about 40 minutes. The two short 3-D movies were pathetic in comparison to movies I’ve seen in similar theaters at amusement parks. The smudged and flimsy 3-D glasses didn’t provide a 3-D effect at all. I was very glad I hadn’t paid the full price of admission. (The show is a $5 add-on if you buy a museum ticket.)

* I sent the above comments to the museum’s Contact Us form, and immediately got this response back from the manager: “I apologize for the inconvenience that you and your wife went through. We are currently upgrading our theater into a more interactive shooting 7D experience. We should be re-opening the theater on May 12. Please allow me to make-up for the experience by sending you two complimentary tickets to come back after the new theater is in place. Thank your for visiting and sorry for the inconvenience.”


Panama City and Panama City Beach are beautiful places. The people who attended us at the hotel and in stores were extremely polite. Streets are clean, houses tend to be attractive and well-maintained, the beaches are excellent.

We arrived at the Marriott suites only to find that I had no reservation. Apparently I hadn’t finalized the online process. But they gave us a room at a rate my agency would cover, and took good care of us all week. Our only gripe was that the free breakfast is a little boring. There is: yogurt, milk, waffles, hard-boiled eggs, cereal, instant oatmeal, instant grits, bagels, muffins, Granny Smith apples, bananas, apple and orange “juice”, coffee, hot chocolate, tea. It’s not bad for a day or two, but gets old over the course of a week.


That’s my two cents for today.


My life

Add New Post

My workplace computer has software that blocks some screens in WP and not others. One interesting result is that I can add a post from Add New Post, but can’t edit it once I save it. I think I wrote the beginnings of something the other day, but I can’t see it now to finish it.

Stuff going on:

Alicia recently discovered that she needs to get to Colombia in time for an event scheduled for April 21. This has meant scrambling for airfares and a place for her to stay while she’s there and last-minute purchases of gifts or items to sell. I was a bit stressed by it, because I had thought we had until May to arrange her travel, but then I discovered that airfares are considerably cheaper in April. So that helped counter the stress.

In the meantime, I have a work trip to Panama City, Florida starting this weekend. Rather than fly, I’m going to take a rental car. It saves my agency money, and this way I can take Alicia along. We’ll go up this Friday and stay until things are done, probably the next Thursday. Then we’ll rush back to Tampa in time for her to catch Friday morning flights to Ft. Lauderdale and Medellín.

While Alicia is gone, I’m planning to tear out the vinyl floor in the breakfast room and kitchen and put down tile. Then I’ll do the laundry room. After that, I’ll tape and paint the stairway walls. I want to get as much messy open-space work done as I can before her return, since she hates dust and disorder. I can work on bedroom remodels after she gets back, because I can simply close a door to keep the dust from spreading.

In early June, my younger daughters will visit from Dallas for a week, overlapping with my sister Jenny and niece Paige who will be visiting from Lincoln, NE. We might actually get to one of the Orlando theme parks.

Also on my mind:

Finances have been tight since my Texas lake house’s septic tank failed last year. The expense of a new tank and the loss of the renters mean that I struggle every month to pay my bills. I’ve had the house on the market but there have been no serious bites and very few visitors. I’m going to lower the price this week and see if it gets more attention. At some point I may have to dump it at a fire sale price and forget about recovering any equity. Buying it was one of the stupidest decisions of my life.

We have been planning to sell our Tampa house as soon as it is feasible. I hate the thought, because it really is my dream house, but a) we should be able to make some money on it and b) the circumstances that brought us to Tampa are changing. By the time I finish the upgrades, it will be a spectacular place, inside and out, so it should sell well.


I am rereading my collection of Charles Williams novels. Brilliantly written. The closest thing I can think of in my very limited knowledge of modern American literature is Ted Dekker, but Dekker is considerably more flamboyant and sensationalistic. In Williams’s writing, I appreciate the quiet, confident, cheerful faith of the Archdeacon in War in Heaven, and of Stanhope in Descent into Hell. Perhaps Leif Enger’s Peace Like A River comes closer than Dekker in caliber of writing and the portrayal of faith, although Enger is not nearly as esoteric.

I have also read (from the lunchroom bookshelf at work) three Lee Child books about Reacher, a hobo who dispenses justice wherever he goes, using skills he learned as an MP in the army. Lots of fun, and usually a massive explosion or fire at the end.

Alicia and I have finished The Wind in the Willows and are reading Jingo! by Terry Pratchett. The translation to Spanish is quite good, although we run across terms from Spain that are unfamiliar to both of us. This is my third time to read Jingo! and I’m enjoying it just as much as the first.

Colombia, Multiculturality, Music, My life

Welcome to hell, here’s your accordion

Most Americans have a view of accordions shaped no doubt by Lawrence Welk and average polka bands. Gary Larson captured the attitude perfectly in this cartoon:

I, however, associate the accordion with sweet, melancholy music like Mary Black’s No Frontiers. It adds a perfect touch to this song:

In my childhood, most of the accordion music I heard was vallenatos. Some were very catchy, like El Mochuelo. I translated this on my Xanga blog a couple of years ago. (My wife Alicia used to sing choruses for these guys, but she didn’t on this song).

Today on a whim, I looked for Bach on accordion and found this amazing and perfect rendition of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor:

And on the other extreme of the sophistication spectrum, guys my age will remember Weird Al and Another One Rides the Bus:




Colombia, Handyman, Language, Multiculturality, My life

On finding a niche, fitting in, and accent

 Marilyn, in a great post about “Places as possessions,” raised the following questions: “I think a lot of this is about finding our niche. How does our past fit with our present? How can we take the places we’ve loved and the experiences we’ve had and use them in our current reality?”

Finding a niche is tough. Most of the jobs I’ve had (professor of Spanish/English/linguistics; bilingual admin assistant; refugee worker; translator) are a direct outcome of my bilingual/bicultural upbringing. A few of them provided some satisfaction of my desire for meaningful work, but there has always been a longing for more fulfillment. As a professor, I was dissatisfied with my curriculum, my performance, my students’ progress. When I belonged to a Bible translation organization, I worked in training rather than on the front lines, and wondered whether my work made any real difference. Refugee work turned out to include a vast amount of politics, not just helping people who needed help. Working as a translator is frequently tedious and boring.

The most satisfying jobs I have had were in construction. There is nothing quite like framing. You arrive at work in the morning to a bare slab or a raised wood floor. Within a few hours, there are walls standing. Within a few days or weeks (depending on the crew), the entire house is framed, all the way to the rafters! Then begins the fascinating process of sheathing, siding, roofing, wiring, plumbing, a/c, insulation, wallboard, flooring, texturing, painting, trim… When your work is done, you have created a place where a family will live its life.

Interestingly, construction is the one job I’ve had (besides working for a moving company) that doesn’t build on my multicultural background.

Why can’t more jobs be like construction?


Last week I had the pleasure of meeting a TCK with an unusual profile. Alicia has a cousin in Costa Rica who has a veterinary supply company. Her husband is a most interesting character; his father is a Spaniard, so the family spoke Catalán at home, but were prohibited from speaking it outside the house. In public they spoke Costa Rican Spanish. He studied in Chile and lived there a number of years before returning to Costa Rica.

When he visited Barcelona, his cousins laughed at the quaint, archaic Catalán dialect he had learned from his father, who was raised in a remote village. I suspect that this was one of the more frustrating experiences in his life, because according to his own admission, he grew up obsessed with fitting in. In Costa Rica he passed as a Tico; in Chile he passed as a Chilean. But in Spain he sounded like a hick.

As we compared stories and worldviews, he grew more and more animated. He talked excitedly about how I could see the world as he did, the flexibility a multicultural upbringing creates and requires, his passion for fitting in.

In listening to him, it struck me that fitting in was never in the realm of possibility for me. I was always bigger, whiter, more blue-eyed than others around me in Colombia. Besides that, I was an introvert by nature. I’ve never fully fit in anywhere.

But I did make sure my Spanish was as good as it could be. My family set a high value on language skills. We spoke better Spanish than most of our fellow missionaries and MKs, and picked up the paisa accent used in Medellín.


When I got to college (University of Kansas), my Spanish profs had trouble understanding my thick regional accent, so I switched to more neutral pronunciation. In grad school, I went home for six months to work on my thesis, and quickly adopted the paisa accent even stronger than before. But when my tourist visa expired after three months, I made a trip to Pasto (to cross the border into Ecuador), and was startled to hear myself talking like a pastuso after just one day. Maybe it’s because that’s where I first learned to talk.

I spent a year in the mid-80s working with refugees in Honduras, and learned to say cipote (‘kid’) and vaya pues (‘okay’). The next year I got married and moved to Miami, and worked with Cubans for a couple of years. In the early 90s I moved my family to Costa Rica, where we lived for four years. When I made a trip to Medellín, my old friend Oscar said, “Where have you been living? Your Spanish sounds so ugly!”

In 1998 I got a job in Dallas as a translator. The vast majority of the work involved Mexican Spanish. It was a steep learning curve, but within a few years I picked it up, to the point that when I visited Cartagena (Colombia) in 2008, a taxi driver said I was obviously from Mexico.

Then in 2010 I met Alicia and my life changed forever. I’m back to speaking Colombian Spanish, with a far better vocabulary than I ever had before. In Tampa we interact with Colombians, Venezuelans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans… even a few Mexicans.

My exposure to so many different accents and dialects has been very helpful in my job. But I identify most with Colombian Spanish, especially the paisa accent.

Interestingly, my English doesn’t change much at all, no matter where I live. I wonder why that is.

My life

Kitty heaven

Those of you who knew me back when Xanga was thriving may remember these two pictures I posted of my fat old cat Pumpkin in early 2010. At the time he had a scratch on his eye that made him squint like Popeye. He generally kept to himself, but once every week or so, he would clamber from the sofa to the end table to my lap so  I could pet him.


Pumpkin turned up in the Dallas neighborhood where I lived with my family in about 1998. He was an adolescent at the time, not yet full-grown, and was adopted by some neighbors. When they left, my kids adopted him. My son Jephthah especially bonded with him. Pumpkin used to lick Jephthah’s hair very thoroughly.

I took Pumpkin with me when my first wife and I separated in 2001. After a bad flea infestation in 2004, I quit letting him go outside. I inherited another cat, Simon, from a friend in late 2005. Simon got out one November when he sneaked out as I was letting myself in at midnight. I found him on Thanksgiving morning, shivering on the neighbor’s porch. He had spent two or three nights in 32 degree temperatures and was very glad to get back into our warm house.

Pumpkin and Simon had an amicable relationship most of the time.

When Alicia and I got married and moved here to the Tampa area, we also brought her two female cats, Ruta and Fortuna, from Medellín. At my insistence, we kept the four of them locked in the lanai because I didn’t want to risk losing them or having another flea infestation.


But after a couple of months, Alicia began letting them out into the yard. They were very happy, Pumpkin especially. After nine years of house arrest, he was finally free to explore and to bask in the sunshine.


At the time of the eye scratch, Pumpkin weighed nearly 20 pounds! The weight began to come off, though, as he roamed the yard and neighborhood. Occasionally he would even run, his gut swinging from side to side.


His favorite thing in life was to bask. Often when Alicia went out in the morning to soak up some rays, he would amble over and lie down near her.




In the last couple of months, he began to limp. I felt the joints of his back legs, but couldn’t find anything out of place. He moved slower and slower, and began spending nights in the lanai of his own accord, always inside one of the little igloos.


Weekend before last, I was watching him hobble out in the morning, and noticed that his left leg looked odd. I looked at it more closely and was shocked to find a baseball-size swelling all along the back of his thigh. I don’t know how I could have missed it all those weeks when I was checking his legs! He was skin and bones. His spine felt like a saw.

We took him to the vet, and found that it was a tumor. His blood tests showed that he was anemic, but didn’t seem to have an infection. Surgery would have required amputation, so we took him back home, figuring we’d have him put to sleep when it became clear that he was suffering.

Saturday, Alicia and I worked in the yard. Pumpkin crawled out to a sunny patch of grass, lay down, and didn’t move all day. There were shiny green flies pestering him, so I draped an old t-shirt over his hindquarters, which he hadn’t been cleaning very well. That helped keep them away. When Alicia carried him into the lanai that night, he refused food and water and crawled into his igloo.

Yesterday morning, he was very lethargic, and his igloo was wet underneath. We knew the time had come to put him to sleep. I carried him out to the sunshine, igloo and all, to let him bask one last time. Alicia and I ate breakfast, and I tackled my income taxes, putting off the inevitable moment. When we finally went out to take him to the car, he was already gone, his body still curled up inside the igloo.

We chose a resting spot in the back yard along the fence. I dug a deep hole. We laid him in a shallow cardboard box, thanked him for his 17 years of faithful pethood, and put him in the ground.

At Lowe’s we found a nice little lime tree, which we planted over him. Alicia talked about how, if there’s a kitty heaven, he’s exploring the hedges, loping through the grass, or basking in the sun, free of pain.


Alicia and I have been reading The Wind in the Willows out loud. Last night just happened to be the chapter called “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” (You can click on the title to read it.) Mole and the River Rat spend a night searching for their friend Otter’s lost son Portly. At dawn they have a mystical encounter with Pan, the god of animals, who returns Portly to them. It’s a gorgeous and moving episode, and we couldn’t help but see a divine coincidence in its timing.

So goodbye, Pumpkin. I’m glad you aren’t suffering anymore. You were a joy and a blessing to us, and we are grateful.


Before he was president of Colombia…

Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, was at the University of Kansas at the same time I was. I never met him, although I was a classmate of his cousin Francisco, who later was vice president under Uribe. What people don’t know about Juan Manuel is that before he was minister of defense or president…

…he played an alien in the hilarious movie Galaxy Quest.


Language, Movie review, Multiculturality

Bad writing, bad translations

Alicia and I made the mistake of watching The Colony the other night. It was stupid! I should have checked Rotten Tomatoes first: “A formulaic sci-fi thriller, The Colony features cliched dialogue, cheesy special effects, and underdeveloped characters.”

Future Ice Age people living underground deal with illness, internal conflicts, and devolved cannibals while searching satellite images for a warmer place.

Trust me, it’s not as good as it sounds. The following are not spoilers, because the movie already stinks:

• There are dozens of cannibals running around together. They communicate by roars like zombies, but they’re fast, and intelligent enough to use the air duct system to break into a locked colony. But when half of their group gets killed in action, the other half doesn’t collect the bodies.

• They abandon a room full of dead colonists to chase after the main character and invade his colony.

• They kill as fast as they can rather than taking prisoners so they can have fresh meat later.

• When the main character clubbed the top cannibal (a White Orc ripoff) to the ground and started to walk away, Alicia said, “He’s going to grab his foot.” Sure enough, a second later, the battered and bleeding cannibal grabbed the dude’s ankle, and they fought some more.

• After the final battle in which the cannibals are destroyed but the colony is severely damaged, the survivors immediately start walking north to look for the oasis (a small warm spot created by a revived weather intervention tower), instead of checking for other survivors and whether anything can be salvaged from their greenhouse, animal cages, or seed warehouse.

• The main dude does have four jars of seeds he had grabbed earlier. “At least we’ll have a fighting chance,” he says. That’s brilliant writing right there.

We watched Despicable Me 2 and thoroughly enjoyed it. Then we watched Turbo and enjoyed it even more. Both of us laughed out loud many times. Much of the humor worked well in Spanish: “I’m the Shadow!”

We have also been watching Dr Who, using subtitles I downloaded from the internet. Unfortunately, the subtitles are really bad, apparently created by teenagers in Argentina and Spain. Sometimes they’re literal translations that make no sense, and other times the translators heard wrong or had no idea what was being said.

The episode coming up is The Doctor’s Daughter, which is bad writing on another level. Why was this character created? Once created, why does she never show up again? We shall never know.

I have been reading aloud a Spanish translation of The Wind in the Willows, and Alicia has been entranced. It’s not a bad translation overall, but there are annoying details. The translator nearly always refers to paws as pezuñas, which are actually hoofs, and certain idioms are translated literally rather than using an equivalent Spanish expression: un minuto o dos “a minute or two” rather than un par de minutos “a pair of minutes”.

Language is weird stuff. Did you know that Secretaría General can mean “Office of Legal Counsel”? None of the translation websites will tell you that. I was translating an org chart today from a Latin American government agency, and when I looked at the statutes that describe each office, the Secretaría General was in charge of all legal matters for that agency, including a lot of legal administrative stuff which would fall under the term “Secretariat” (now that I’ve looked up what Secretariat means). I used Office of Legal Counsel, but maybe Secretariat would have been better, although American agencies don’t have Secretariats. Oh, well…

Have yourself a good weekend. And if you watch a foreign film and it doesn’t make sense, remember: translators make mistakes. So do scriptwriters.