The Random Writings of Rachel: June 2011

Spelling!


I have long believed that the ability to spell words correctly is a genetically inherited trait. Take the example of my own family: My dad is a good speller; in elementary school, he learned the general spelling rules as well as the fact that they are nearly useless due to the overwhelming number of irregular spellings in the English language. Ever since, he has rarely had any trouble spelling a word that he needed to use. My mom, on the other hand, was not able to spell when she was in school, and she still is unable to spell today, after teaching the fundamental rules of English spelling to six out of her seven children. I and one of my sisters have the gift of good spelling, while four of our siblings do not show any particular giftedness in this area. My youngest sister is but four years old and it will take some years before we can truly tell if she has the gift or not. All of us siblings have received the same spelling training from our mom.  But Mom’s hours of spelling drills and attempting to pound the rules and exceptions of spelling into our heads didn’t seem to work very well with several of my siblings. My brother, a sophomore in high school who does quite well in all other subjects, invariably spells words such as where, which, and does incorrectly. One of my sisters, a high school graduate and a very conscientious student, asked for and received an electronic spelling helper for her ninth and again for her fifteenth birthdays (the first one got worn out).
For myself, I find it very difficult to sympathize with the struggles of those who cannot spell. I have taken far fewer spelling tests than most of my siblings, yet I have always found it easy to spell any word with which I have come into contact a few times before. I do not take any credit for this ability, I simply believe that the genetic trait of being able to spell has passed to me. My mom, in spite of spending years teaching her children to spell, still does not have the instinctive ability of spelling. She spells far better than my brother, but still, many a time as she is typing an email to a colleague, she will call me from the other end of the house to ask how to spell a word. Apparently she doesn’t always trust her computer’s spell-checking ability to give her the words she intends to use, which is a good idea. The spellchecker is not an omniscient being, though some prefer to believe so.
Growing up, I had some belief that my Mom’s lack of ability to spell as an adult was unique to her, but I have found that this is not so. I work as a tutor at my college, and I often get the opportunity to help students polish their papers. I enjoy editing, so I consider reading over their papers the fun part of my job, as compared to repeatedly explaining the documentary (JEPD) hypothesis for the formation of the Pentateuch. When I edit papers, I am usually horrified at the number of misspelled words. Often, they spell a word so creatively that the poor spellchecker doesn’t even know what to make of it. Most recently I saw tenaciously spelled tanaciousally on a student’s paper. It took me a minute to be able to tell what the word was. I was grateful then for my experience in editing papers for my own family members.
Doctors and geneticists could probably disprove my theory that the ability to spell is inherited rather than learned. However, in the end, the important lesson is that those of us who have the gift of spelling must use our gift in humility, and learn to have patience with those who do not have the predisposition to good spelling. Like Nathaniel Bowditch, when we “stumble on other people’s dumbness” we must learn not to kick them like we would kick a chair that we stumble over in the dark (The literary reference is from Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham—a recommended reading from Rachel). Let kindness and patience reign as we edit papers for our friends and family. After all, having the fruits of the Spirit evident in your life is much more important than knowing how to spell them all. And that, I learned from my Mom.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Since I have been so careless as to neglect to send my dad a card on Father’s Day, I decided that I would make it up by writing a tribute to him. We writers always think we can get away with cheap things like that. Sometimes it works.
I don’t want to tell my dad’s life story, or give you a character sketch. Rather, I want to tell you about one little incident that I have remembered for years—because in that incident, my dad showed me a small picture of the kind of Father that our Heavenly Father is to his children. Thank you, Dad!
I was almost 13 when my family was re-roofing our garage. It wasn’t the first roof I’d worked on: earlier that summer I’d helped work on my grandparents’ roof when it had to be re-done and I’d loved it! I was having fun working on the garage roof too, although this roof was significantly steeper than the one I’d worked on before. We were still taking off the old shingles and the old nails. One side of the roof had been completely cleared of shingles, and I was working by myself on that side, using my hammer to pull out any nails that were still sticking up from the boards of the roof.
Now, anyone who has worked on a roof before knows that roofs are far more treacherous and slippery when you are trying to walk on bare boards rather than the rough shingles. At one point, the roof became too slippery for me, and I started to slide down. There wasn’t much to hold onto, but I dug my fingertips into a crack between the boards to stop myself from falling. There, I was in a quandary. I tried to pull myself up, but I couldn’t. I was stuck, with my feet hanging off of the edge of the garage, hanging on only by the tips of my fingers and by whatever forces of friction I could muster. Still, I knew I couldn’t stay there long. The garage is a small one, and it would only be about an eight foot drop to the ground from the roof. Still, we were in the process of tearing off shingles, and I had no desire to fall onto a pile of broken shingles and rusty nails. It occurred to me to call for help. Dad and Mom were working on the other side of the garage roof. “Dad!” I yelled as calmly as I could, “I’m going to fall!”
That got his attention right away, and he quickly got off the roof, and ran to where I was hanging on as tightly as I could.
                “Okay, let go!” he said. I didn't feel all too sure about letting go...after all, what if I fell so hard that he couldn't catch me? What if we both ended up falling down among the shingles and nails? I was nervous, but I didn't really have much choice, so I let go of the roof. He caught me! Where I would have fallen, my Dad heard my cry for help, and was able to rescue me.
                The Psalms are peppered with verses where David cries out to the Lord, confident that God is the only One who can and will save him in his times of adversity. When I think about this simple story in my life, where I was able to cry out and be rescued from a bad situation by my father, I am able to think of how much more power my Heavenly Father has to rescue me when I cry to Him in my need.
                When I was a child, I learned a song based on these verses, which are good reminder of the power our Heavenly Father has to protect those who are His:

Psalm 91:14-16
“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him;
 I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
 I will be with him in trouble,
 I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

Mandarin Chinese


Now that you are all convinced of the pleasurable necessity of learning a foreign language or two, I would like to suggest a particular language for you to begin with. If you already have made an emotional attachment to some other language, or are already multi-lingual, feel free to ignore my advice. But for those of you who are looking for a good language to study, here’s what I recommend: Mandarin Chinese.
Nope, not Spanish, French, Japanese, Swahili, or German. I recommend Mandarin Chinese. I have studied four different languages, besides English, in my life, and it is my educated opinion that Mandarin Chinese is the best foreign language to acquire. This valuation was determined through scientifically weighing the most important factors to consider when choosing a language to study: practicality, grammar, ease of learning, and coolness.
First, Mandarin Chinese is very practical. How large is the population of China? I rest my case. If you speak Mandarin, you can have conversations with far more people than you could speak with if you chose to learn, say, German.
To continue, Chinese grammar is very easy to get the hang of. For me, this has been what I loved most about learning this language. In Chinese, there is no need to memorize dozens of endings for verbs in all different tenses as well as the inevitable irregulars. After attending my Spanish class or my Japanese class, walking in the door of my Chinese classroom is a relief!
Many people are a bit terrified of Chinese because they have heard that it is a tonal language, and that you have to memorize thousands of unique characters in order to be literate. I must admit that Chinese is a tonal language and there are thousands of characters to be memorized. But it’s really not that scary. The tones and the characters take a little while to get used to, but  you’ll just have to trust me, after a while, the tones don’t all sound the same and the characters start to look like miniature pictures rather than “chicken scratches.”
My final argument as to why you should study Chinese is the coolness factor. In my carefully controlled experiments, people are much more impressed when they hear that you are studying Chinese than if you say that you are studying Spanish or another Latin-based language. This is totally unfair, because the undertaking of seeking fluency in a language other than your own should be respected no matter what language is chosen. However, such is life. Mandarin Chinese, as well as other tongues which do not use Arabic letters, are those languages which easily inspire awe and a little bit of fear on the part of us native English-speakers who are most comfortable with our 26-letter alphabet. Japanese, Korean, and Arabic are a couple other languages with a high coolness factor, due to how unusual they look to English-speakers when written. Any language with a pictoral script or an alphabet which looks nothing like the alphabet that I’m using right now will have a high coolness factor. However, out of all these impressive languages, I recommend Chinese, because of its easy grammar. Having studied both Japanese and Chinese, I can say from experience that Japanese grammar is much more difficult and less intuitive to a native English speaker than Chinese grammar is. I have never studied Arabic or Korean, though I have heard stories of the difficulty of learning Arabic.
                Now that you have been convinced that learning Mandarin Chinese is a brilliant idea, you are probably wondering how you ought to go about learning this magnificent language. Here, you have many options. Many colleges offer classes in Mandarin Chinese, and most large bookstores sell books from which you can learn rudimentary Chinese. I myself am in possession of the book Chinese for Dummies. There are also more amusing ways of studying Mandarin Chinese, including renting all available Chinese dramas from your local Blockbuster or getting lost in the streets of Beijing. Take your choice!

On the Benefits of Being Multi-Lingual


Most high schools and many colleges require their students to take a certain number of semesters of foreign language classes. Personally, I think this is an admirable requirement, and that students do not appreciate enough the opportunity they have to learn the language of another culture. Like many Americans, I grew up speaking only one language fluently, and it was only in college that I discovered the wondrous world of studying foreign languages. I started out in college taking Chinese to fulfill my foreign language requirement, and after one semester, changed my major from Business to Mandarin Chinese. My sophomore year I studied Japanese, and a year ago, as soon as I was pretty certain that I would be marrying into a Hispanic family, I registered for Spanish 101. I have enjoyed studying each one of these languages under excellent professors, and I must admit I have been rather mystified at my fellow classmates, most of whom had taken between 2 and 4 years of Spanish in high school, and yet were placed in Spanish 101 when they took our college’s placement tests.
One of my classmates said, during our first week of classes, “I already speak American, I don’t know why they make us learn Spanish, it’s not like we’ll ever use it!” Ahhh, poor freshman, she has yet to realize that foreign languages are one of the most practical skills that can be gained at college! Several of my classmates happily announced, as the school year came to an end, that they were transferring to a different college where taking foreign language classes was not required.
In high school, I heard a joke, in which a person who spoke three languages was defined as trilingual, a person who spoke two languages was defined as bilingual, and a person who spoke one language was defined as American. When I heard this joke, I laughed, because it struck me as very true. Now, this joke is most definitely an over-generalization—I know quite a few Americans who are fluent in several languages. Still, in my experience, people from other countries around the world have a much stronger tendency to speak languages outside of their own language well, as compared to us Americans who seem to have a tendency to forget our high school and college Spanish even faster than we forget the equations from our high school Physics class. I don’t think that we have a valid excuse if we say that we have no chance to use the languages we study in high school. Through the few years that I have studied Chinese, I have met many students at my college who came from China to study, and plan to stay in America and work after they graduate. When I spend time with these friends of mine, my knowledge of Chinese definitely gets a workout as I try to follow their conversations, which always seem to take place at lightning speed! I have never had any intention of learning to speak Spanish and yet I just happened to marry a man whose first language is Spanish! These days, as I struggle to understand the gist of my husband’s conversations with his parents, I wish I had found my interest in foreign languages as a younger age. It isn’t as easy to start learning a new language in your late teens as it is to start learning as a child. But it’s possible, at any age! Both of my parents recently started studying a foreign language, and I won’t tell you how old they are, in the interests of preserving my reputation as the good child.
If you have an opportunity to learn a foreign language, don’t let it go! If you are forced to take a foreign language class because of school requirements, try to actually learn something, rather than simply pass the class. Admittedly, I am a bit of a fanatic about languages. One of my heroes is a little elderly lady I know who is illiterate and never finished elementary school, but can speak four languages fluently. Another hero is a former professor of mine, who can speak eight languages, with varying degrees of fluency. Foreign language skills are useful for any interactions with a culture outside our own, be it ministry, business, or simply trying to make friendships. People who can speak multiple languages fluently are sought after for jobs—I’ve had several classmates with double majors in business and Mandarin Chinese, intending to work in international corporations that seek to do business in China.
As for me, I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my Chinese. Currently, I converse with friends at my college in Chinese, and read Chinese characters whenever I see them. My relatives ask me for the meanings of Chinese characters on rugs and articles of clothing they possess. I surreptitiously read and translate to myself Chinese tattoos—and then laugh and wonder if the stranger who walked by me really wanted such a strange phrase permanently written across their arm. It is always possible, I’m sure. For me, being able to understand and use a language besides English is simply fun! I remember a time when I was with my family, in an elevator at the mall. A couple who was also in the elevator were openly discussing our family in Mandarin Chinese, talking to each other about how many children were in my family, how cute my baby sister was and trying to decide if she was a boy or a girl. They had no idea that I could understand everything they were saying, and I didn’t let on, but I did get some pleasure out of understanding what people say when they are “secretly” talking about my family. I know my Spanish will come in useful as my vocabulary and grammar skills increase. I recently learned how to give commands in Spanish, and had a fun several weeks “commanding” my husband to do things around the house. He still finds it cute, so I’m not in trouble yet!

Ladder Safety


I was definitely getting tired of climbing up and down the steps of my ladder every time I needed to reload my paintbrush, but what could be done? The ladder was so rickety that I didn’t trust it to balance my can of paint. So, I continued edging the ceiling of my porch, climbing up and down the ladder every time I ran out of paint. It did occur to me for a second that perhaps it was slightly illogical that, while I wouldn’t trust the ladder to hold the paint can, I did trust the ladder to carry my body weight as I worked my way around the porch. However, I argued to myself that what I was doing was perfectly logical. If I were to place the paint can on the ladder, and if, due to the poor condition of the ladder, the paint can fell off, the results would be disastrous! I can’t even imagine how long it would take to clean up a gallon of paint splattered haphazardly around a room. In addition, that would be a waste of thirty dollars! Therefore, I was definitely wise in taking the safer route and submitting to the annoyance of repeatedly ascending and descending the ladder—for that is a much lesser annoyance compared to scrubbing green paint off of an entire room.
However, there still remained the fact that I trusted this rickety ladder to support my weight. Was this wise? I wasn’t too worried. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? I looked down from where I was painting—I was leaning away from my ladder, with one arm braced against the wall, and the brush in my other hand. Directly under where I was leaning were the five cement steps that led to the basement. Not the most comfortable thing to land on in case of a fall, but surely, even if I did fall, I would live through it. I continued to paint my way around the ceiling, my concerns about ladder safety deemed unwarranted.
If anyone still believes that my painting adventure of this morning was a wee bit reckless, I must claim that genetics have contributed to my slight lack of awareness of the danger of ladders. I belong to a family which has used ladders “creatively” when the need arose during many and sundry work projects. Members of my family have balanced an extension ladder on top of a motor home in order to get a job done. On another occasion, we put the extension ladder on top of three layers of scaffolding. We have created makeshift roof jacks out of two ladders laid against the roof with a board balanced across them. It has been intimated to me on many occasions that the “Danger: Do not step” sticker on the top step of every stepladder is really more like a suggestion than an actual rule. When we need to work from a ladder on uneven ground outdoors, we simply look around on the ground for a random rock or brick, and put it under a leg to balance out the ladder. If no rock or brick is to be found, we may enlist a family member to steady the ladder while we run up and do what needs to be done.
My husband does not believe that ladders should be used in such a reckless fashion. This spring, we dragged out an extension ladder because an outdoor light bulb needed to be changed on our house. After putting the ladder in place and assigning me to hold the bottom of the ladder, Angel climbed halfway up, decided that having an outdoor light bulb was not worth the danger involved, and climbed back down. He put the ladder away and it looked like we wouldn’t have light outside anymore. But I knew what to do. The next time I saw my uncle around, I asked him if he could put the light bulb in. Sure enough, he brought the ladder from the shed, leaned it against the house, ran up with the bulb I gave him, and we had light!
                There are definitely practical benefits to having a slight degree of recklessness where ladders are concerned. If you wait for a perfectly sound ladder of the correct height to come around, you may never finish the job. However, just in case anyone is worried about my safety, two ladders of a much sturdier character were delivered to my porch this afternoon by my beloved family, and I won’t be risking my life on ladders anymore. Well, at least, not on this work project.

Our First Meeting


Not lacking in imagination, I could think of many romantic first meetings with a future spouse. I can imagine that I was pushing a cart through the store, doing my grocery shopping and talking on my cell phone at the same time. I could imagine that as I was striding down the “international foods” aisle at Meijer’s, looking for my favorite salsa, I inadvertently bumped my cart into a man who was in the act of grabbing a jar of spaghetti sauce off a shelf. The man dropped the jar of sauce when my cart ran into him, and the jar shattered on the floor and splattered spaghetti sauce on his shoes. I imagine that in that situation, I would gasp, quickly hang up on my phone call, and apologize profusely, though, of course, the man would be gallant and untruthfully declare that it wasn’t my fault at all. Sometime later we would meet again at a church event or a mutual friend’s party, recognize each other from that unfortunate incident, and gradually come to the conclusion that our lives ought to be joined in holy matrimony. Now that’s my idea of an interesting first meeting. Other interesting first meetings would include such factors as runaway horses, faulty GPS’s, cases of mistaken identity, language barriers, stalled cars, ballroom dances….you get the picture.
However, the first time I met my husband does not make nearly such a fun story. When people ask us how we met, the short and standard answer is, “At Bible study,” though, technically, that isn’t the first time we met. It was the evening of my first day at college, and there was a fair where all the student organizations set up tables and tried to entice us freshmen to join them. I wandered around, table by table, looking at what the college had to offer. When I saw the sign for “Bible Bonanza,” I immediately knew I wanted to join the Bible study group. I quickly walked over to the table and wrote my name and email address on the sign-up sheet. The student running the table was in the midst of a conversation with another new student, telling him about the joys of regularly attending Bible Bonanza, which explains why I, who clearly did not need any convincing to encourage a desire to attend, was peremptorily ignored, except for a quick “Hello, I’m Angel.” The student who ignored me that day turned out to be the man who is now my husband. I met him again several weeks later at the Bible study and gradually a friendship grew out of our weekly meetings. To this day, he has no recollection of our first meeting, and he didn’t even know that I attended the new student fair until I told him that was where I met him. But I can live without an exciting story of my first meeting with my Love. Our life ever since has been exciting enough!

Revenge


On our recent honeymoon, Angel learned why, as a married man, he needs to be careful about the enemies he makes.
The last day of our vacation, we went to an amusement park, where we waited in line to go on the bumper cars. Now, I’m not a huge fan of bumper cars, because I am not fond of being bumped! But I do enjoy trying my best to deftly steer between the other cars without getting hit by anyone, or else driving around in small circles on the unoccupied end of the floor. Angel, however, derives great joy from crashing into anyone and everyone, though, sweet husband that he is, he does not purposely crash into me. On this particular bumper car occasion, Angel purposely crashed full speed into a bumper car being driven by a young boy. This boy, after sizing up his opponent, decided on a brilliant strategy in order to attack his opponent’s weak spot. Instead of trying to bump Angel, the boy chased my car down and rammed me into a corner, from which corner I was unable to escape until the ride was over. Angel was one of the first people out of the ride and waited for me outside the exit so that we could get in line and ride the cars again. As the little boy that Angel had bumped so viciously exited the ride, he triumphantly told Angel, “I hit your wife.”
Oh yes, that boy knew how to get his revenge all right. And there was nothing Angel could do about it. There are many reasons why we should avoid making enemies, some of them more biblical that the one I am proposing…but everyone ought to remember that you never know when one of your enemies will chase down your loved one on a bumper car ride for the express purpose of giving them a jarring “bump.”

My Literary Dreams


My whole family was sitting down to dinner one evening in my Grandma’s dining room. Just for your information, my Grandma is an amazing cook, and every dinner that she prepares is both elaborate and delicious. But this family dinner turned out to be a little more exciting than usual. Right after my Grandpa had prayed over the food and we had begun to eat, two giant rats came out from under the table. And when I say giant rats, what I mean is that these rats were larger than any house cat I’ve ever seen! They began running in circles around the room. My family has had some past experiences with rats, and we responded to these particular rats in a rather calm manner. No one screamed, although I seem to remember that I swiftly moved from my chair and sat on the table instead. In spite of the fact that none of us were too terrified by the giant rats, all of the adults were unwilling to get up from the table and get rid of them, so two of my younger sisters, both pre-teens, were assigned to chase and catch the rats. The others of us, both adults and semi-adults, continued to sit at the table and discuss the rats. As soon as I had seen the rats, I was sure of their origin.
“Mom,” I said, “These are the same rats from The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt.”
My sister Lizzy immediately spoke up. “Yeah, I read that book too, last year. These are definitely the same rats.”
My grandparents and parents, however, had not read the book and asked us for an explanation of how we knew that these were the very rats from The Wednesday Wars. So Lizzy and I explained how, in the book, these two rats are classroom pets, until they escape one day and grow enormously large and fat through feeding on whatever garbage they could find in the school. In the book, these two rats were supposedly killed by being run over by a bus, but clearly that could not have been accurate, since here were the two rats, still running around the dining room, with my small sisters at their heels.
Lizzy said, “Rachel, those rats had names from Shakespeare, didn’t they? What were their names?”
For the life of me, I couldn’t remember what the rats’ names were, but I knew Lizzy was right. Our parents and grandparents tried to help us figure out the names by suggesting random names from Shakespeare’s plays.
“Romeo? Juliet?”
“Julius Caesar? Marcus Brutus?”
“Macbeth? Lady Macbeth?”
“Hamlet? Polonius?”
None of these names sounded right, and as it turned out, we didn’t have time to figure out the rats’ names, because my sisters caught them. They came back to the table, each holding a rat by the tail.
“What should we do with them?” they asked my parents.
My Dad said to my brother, “Isaac, go get the gun. You girls take the rats outside and have Isaac shoot them. We can’t have rats of that size running around in here.”
As my brother went to go find a gun, my sisters went outside with their rats and I woke up.
………………………….
When I told my husband about this dream, he said, “You know, you’re the only person that I’ve ever heard of who has dreams like this.”
Now, I’m pretty sure that he was unintentionally exaggerating quite a bit. But it is true that it isn’t uncommon for my dreams to be filled with literary references. However, my dreams are more likely to include characters such as Sherlock Holmes, or Hercule Poirot, or else the plot lines of books I have recently read. I was surprised to dream about a couple of rats that existed in a book I haven’t read in years. I’m pretty sure that dreams characterized by literary references are not uncommon, though probably they are more common in the nighttime fancies of those who have an undying habit of reading, just like I do.
This particular dream bothered me, however, because in the dream, I had not been able to remember the Shakespearian names of the rats, and when I woke up, I was still unable to remember their names. I had to resort to the internet to find out that the two rats were named Sycorax and Caliban. In the dream, we hadn’t even come close to guessing their real names!

The Beginning


My name is Rachel, and that explains everything.
I come from a long line of born storytellers and mischief-makers, from my Mom who regaled her children with tales of childhood adventures involving dumpsters, ketchup, toothpaste, and hairbrushes….to my Grandpa who tells of the time he set his twin daughters out to the curb in garbage bags to wait for the garbage truck because they were so naughty. I trace my own fondness for telling a good story to that heritage.
I find life terribly exciting, and most of what I write, even the fiction, is directly influenced by my own experiences. I have passionately strong opinions about most topics, especially homeschooling, courting, the Chinese language, cross-cultural living, the Bible, Indian food, clothes, literature, and Angel. Do not be surprised if you hear more on these topics in the days to come. I self-published my first book, “The Random Writings of Rachel” two years ago, but since then, college essays on topics such as the Ru tradition of moral cultivation and sustainable biofuels have taken up most of the time I devote to writing. Now I hope to get back to the lighter short stories and reflections that I love to write, and I hope you will enjoy reading them and learning about my life.