Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Bilingual Advantage

When I say I´m bilingual I don´t mean that I sort of speak two languages or that I have a good command of one but only read the other. I speak, read and write Spanish just as well as English. Not only that, but I´m bicultural and in my childhood I adopted a third culture. I´m American on my mother´s side, a Spaniard thanks to my dad and proficient in the British culture, having attended a British school for over 10 years. The bilingual advantage is huge, especially when it comes to having command of the two most widely spoken languages in the world (Chinese is a whole different story, since it´s spoken mainly in China).

Being successfully bilingual is not something I´ve achieved on my own, of course. I owe it to my dad, who also has this advantage. He owes that to himself, however, since he traveled to the U.S. when he was 16, went to college here and then was a university professor, after obtaining his PhD in Spain. When we moved from the U.S. to Spain my father, who is now a lexicographer (he compiles dictionaries single-handedly, without the help of teams or helpers), he took on the challenge of teaching my sister and me two languages and doing it well. The result is that I´ve made a good living as a language interpreter and that I´m able to translate a text in the same amount of time that it would take me to copy it in the original language. I can read the great American authors in English and the Spanish classics in Spanish.

Being bilingual and bicultural opens your mind, opens doors and even your heart. You are able to conceive of more concepts when you speak more than one language, since there are concepts that only exist in one language. You also “get” other bilingual and bicultural people. It´s a sub-culture that only the like-minded understand and builds instant rapport.

I now know how difficult it is to make your kids bilingual, because up until now I haven´t had the support, the time, energy nor the means to devote myself to teaching my kids Spanish the way they deserve to be taught. But, it´s not too late and I want them to have the same advantage that my dad gave to my brother, sisters and me.

Besides, my father, Delfín Carbonell Basset, has devoted his entire life to teaching English, with his learning system and his master classes. He is a great teacher, a rarity …

In an upcoming post I will speak about his blog On the English Language and his other successes that have nothing to do with my being bilingual.

If you speak more than one language, share that skill with your kids. It is the best gift you can give them!


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tips to Stay Focused

I´ve mentioned in other blog posts that I don´t watch TV at all. Zilch, zero, nothing, nada.

This is mainly how I get things done that matter to me. This is how I write and publish books and blogs, make a living writing and translating, practice sports and raise my kids, plus spend time with my friends and loved ones or keep in touch with those who are far away.

Still, sometimes I feel I don´t have time enough to do it all and do it all well. I´m teaching myself to prioritize and streamline my life even further, so that I´m not swallowed by the constant barrage of distractions of modern life.

Following are just a few tips I use to keep my focus and get the important things done, while not forgetting to enjoy downtime too.

- Turn off my phone when I´m working, or simply don´t answer it unless it´s an emergency call concerning my daughters! Small but constant interruptions add up and make it more difficult to concentrate.

- Set time aside on my planner to work on the different projects I´m handling. I´m my own boss, and a good boss sets expectations for his or her employees, right? I also block time to spend with my kids and friends.

- Turn down too many social invites when I realize that short-term satisfaction will undermine the long-term satisfaction of getting my book written or meeting a deadline with a client (and getting my paycheck!)

- Be protective of my “alone” time. I consider walking or running on the beach just as important for me as eating or drinking water. It´s non-negotiable.

- Be protective of my energy and steer clear of energy drainers: people or situations that suck it out of me. If inevitable, then I do something to replenish it asap!

- Keep a vision-book in which, amongst other things, I write down my achievements on a daily and weekly basis. I´m not anal about it (I´m anal about few things if any), and it helps me stay focused on the positive.

- Block time to pay bills, get an oil change, doctor´s appointments, etc. on the same day. That frees my other days up to do my work.

- Make sure I have time to enjoy my friends, dancing, laughing or being silly with my kids or hanging out with that special someone. Life is too serious as it is!

How do you stay focused?


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Ability to Rest = Success!

Every week, as the die-hard freelancer I am, I jot down in my planner both what I have to do and what I want do to. I also have to combine my kids´ school hours with my own schedule, the time they spend with their dad or other members of the family, with the time they spend with me and the hours I need to devote to writing my books. It isn´t easy, of course, but with a good disposition and a strong will, it all gets done, just not at the same time, of course. The downside is when, for instance, I get sick. That´s what happened last week when, instead of being able to devote myself to finishing off a book for which I have a deadline with a Publisher (yesterday!), I found myself bedridden due to a bad cold. I had no energy to read books to my youngest daughter and even less to work. Laryngitis prevented me from cancelling my appointments over the phone, so I had to resort to texting and e-mail.

Even when I´m sick, I find it hard to take the day “off” and not be productive. That can be writing, working, reading or spending time with my kids. I´m aware, however, that it is senseless to force myself and that when the body is ill, it is often because it needs that rest we are not giving it on a daily basis. Besides, when we get sick, it is usually because our body was weakened by the stress caused by the drive to always being on the go.

I enjoy being productive, I enjoy working, I enjoy writing my own stuff, but – who am I trying to fool – I also enjoy sleeping, I enjoy resting, I enjoy watching a mindless movie and sometimes even browse a fashion or gossip magazine. Plus, I need it! Last week I had no other choice but to stay in bed recovering … and make an effort to give myself permission to be sick and simply rest, without feeling guilty.

For me, success also implies knowing when to say “enough”, turn off my BlackBerry and my laptop and give myself mental, spiritual and physical vacations. Even if this is frowned upon in the U.S. Long live the Spanish siesta!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

What French Women Know, by Debra Ollivier

I checked out What French Women Know from the library as part of my research for a book I´m writing on mid-life dating for a publisher in Spain. I thought I would speed-read it, just to get some facts and then move on to the next book on the pile I have on my bedside table.

Alas, I was hooked! I took advantage of a bad cold that put me to bed, to read every single page of it. Written by Debra Ollivier, an American who lived (and married) in France for many years, not only did I find it interesting but well-crafted.

Perhaps because I am of mixed heritage myself, I found it even more enticing. I am half Spanish (from Spain) and half American and I think I know both cultures pretty well. Throw in the mix that I attended a British school and that I grew up around people of many cultures, religions and ethnicities, a little bit of travel here and there and that provides me with a very open-minded perspective.

What French Women Know tells the reader that there really is another way of seeing and doing things, that is not the way the good old American woman is seeing and doing them, and which is making her try to be Super-Woman (and fail at it!), live a life in which every minute is planned (and priorities on her planner all wrong), and get that rock on her finger (after following the ¨rules¨ of courtship), no matter who slides it on!

Ah, says Ollivier, in France you will not see women sporting T-Shirts that say “Life starts at 70”, because it doesn´t! You will also not find a French word (or a Spanish word, may I add) for “dating”, since that is a concept that does not exist in the Old World! Women enjoy their feminity, they let men be gentlemen, they are ok with ambiguity, live-in relationships of decades (that don´t end in marriage: perhaps that is why the divorce rate is lower?) and looking voluptuous and elegantly disheveled. The French (and the Spanish, and the Italians, etc.) still make it a priority to enjoy life, to have long vacations, to sleep a siesta, to sip wine and break bread and to flirt innocently as a way of life. Ollivier mentions to what extent the U.S. is ruled by fear now: fear of being accused of sexual harassment if a man pays a compliment for one. What is wrong with that?

French women, writes Ollvier, are not trying to abide by the rules in life or in love. They don´t try to conform to the norm. In fact, it comes naturally to them to develop their own style. Different IS exotic in France, where the term jolie laide (pretty ugly) describes a woman who is not beautiful by Hollywood standards but is gorgeous in her own way. French women make their personal rules, they let their men be men and they don´t obsess about where a particular relationship is going, so they have more energy to enjoy life.

Of course, I know that this is probably not true of all French women. Also, although many French women may not shave, there are plenty who shave, wax and undergo electrolysis. In Spain, for example, the waxing industry for women is huge! No leg or underarm hair, ever, and people do shower! But perhaps our immune systems are stronger because we don´t abuse or even use hand sanitizer (wash hands, yes!), and we are not paranoid about illnesses. You will see friends drinking from the same glass at a bar. But, I digress …

Reading What French Women Know I realize why so many men in the U.S. today are so lost. Women here are trying too hard to play a certain role, a kind of alpha male woman hybrid. But hey, we have a mound and they have a penis! In a nutshell: Surprise! We are different! And we should embrace that!
Perhaps reading this book will provide some insights that in my case, were a reminder of how pleasant life can really be when you cast away stereotypes and embrace yourself the way you are, gender and all!


Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Ugly Duckling wasn´t so Ugly After All.

So I spent my life believing I was an ugly duckling as a kid, and I come to find out that the boys at school thought I was cute AND smart? So all the kid and teen years of having complexes, being shy, believing I was too thin or too fat or too intelligent or not sharp enough were wasted? The years of therapy? Oh.My.God! I mean, really … Am I alone in this, or are there others like me? I wish I would´ve known. But then, instead of having my heart broken I may have broken one or two hearts myself … or maybe I did and I just don´t know about it!

When I first joined Facebook and people from my school years started popping up, I was sure they would be amazed at how outgoing and pulled together I looked compared to that hideous introverted bookworm they knew 30 years ago! Alas, that is not what they said! ¨You look as stunning as ever!” “You are just as beautiful and nice as you were in school!” “Oh, I used to pine for you” is what I got. At first I thought they were joking, then I imagined they simply did not remember me well. And after a good friend from back then wrote me today in an e-mail that “all the boys in our class thought you were the prettiest, but they were intimidated by your intelligence and maturity”, I had an epiphany.
Should I laugh? Should I cry? But wait ... How many other women are still feeling like ugly ducklings when they are in fact, beautiful swans?

I look at the picture of my sister and me when we were little, and then compare it to the recent picture of us and wonder what the heck happened in between. Why did we waste so many years, so much energy, so much LIFE thinking we were too thin, too fat, too ugly, too smart or too stupid? Couldn´t I have realized at 14 what I have come to know at 46? Namely that I was OK! We were both OK, Laura!

I want to go back in time and tell those two little girls above that they are fine, they are loved, they look perfect and that they are good, that they have what it takes. That things may not always go smoothly, but that they will overcome it all one way or another, and become very strong and capable women. I cannot go back and tell those little girls that, but I can realize now that I really never was Ugly Betty except in my head. I know for a fact that my sister wasn´t!
I can also tell the two little girls in the last picture, my beloved daughters, that they are OK, that they are beautiful inside and out. But … fortunately, they already know that. I hope that as they grow up, they don´t forget! I will certainly do my best to remind them!


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Khalil Gibran, "On Children"

I love the poem by Khalil Gibran:

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

And yet, it is our responsibility to help them be the best versions of themselves, to guide them through life, help them hopefully make the right choices and follow their dreams.

My kids are bicultural (Spain and the U.S plus a few more mixtures in their blood – Argentina, Sweden, England and Hungary) as both their parents are. Perhaps because since they were born I already had them boarding planes with me to visit friends and family in different countries, my eldest especially seems to have been bitten by the travel bug.

I live in Florida and one of my best friends in Seville, where my girls were born, offered a few months ago to pay my 9-year old´s ticket so she could spend part of the summer in Spain. I asked my daughter if she would like that, and warned her that she would be traveling alone. I talked to her father and we agreed that if she was ready to do this, so were we. Or we had to make ourselves be, for her sake!

And so yesterday, I followed what Khalil Gibran continues to say in the poem:

“You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

I had to appease my kid’s aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends, who were concerned about such a young child crossing the Atlantic without either of her parents. I did not let my girl know that I thought I might cry when I saw her cross the boarding gates. She thought it was all pretty normal. If she was scared, she turned it into excitement and took the leap anyway.

She went to Spain to soak up her other culture, to improve her Spanish, to spend time with her friends and family, to enjoy herself and to do what life is for: live it as if it were the last day.

And so, my 9-year old called me when she landed in Madrid and then in Seville, to let me know she had made friends with other kids flying solo on the planes, she had fun even when she missed her connecting flight, she already spoke to me in Spanish (again, as she used to), and by hearing the adventurous tone in her voice, I knew I had done the right thing.

As Gibran concludes:

“You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

So, here I am, my daughter´s rock, but also her bow, waiting for her to call again and let me know what she is feeling. I´m proud that at 9 she has had more life experiences than I had even by the age of 20. I have no plans for her other than to give her wings to fly. I will help her map out the destination, but the choice of where to go will be ultimately hers.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Interview with author Katherine Center on Writing, Publishing and Success.

So one day I´m at the library, looking for an entertaining read to pull me away from the non-fiction I´m reading to research for my next book. By chance I pick up an appealing title: Everyone is Beautiful, by Katherine Center. The opening line is: "The morning I decided to change my life, I was wearing sweatpants and an old oxford of Peter’s with a coffee stain down the front." Ok, I can relate ... Let´s check it out!
I snuggle up in bed that night, and find myself turning the pages until it´s literally 4 am and I close the book! I really needed to know what happened to the woman who told an acquaintance, that yes, she was pregnant in response to her indiscreet question, when in reality she was just hanging on to the baby fat after her third pregnancy! I remembered being asked that question once!
The next day I went back to the library and checked out The Bright Side of Disaster, also by Center, and the result was another sleepless night in Florida.
I looked up the author on the Internet, wrote to her and following is the interesting result of our exchange! Thank you, Katherine, for making the world more interesting by creating alternative realities that are in fact a melting pot of what many of us women go through at some point, and for your honest answers to my questions. I wanna be like you when I grow up (even though I´m older!).

LCL.- What does success mean in Katherine Center´s world?

KC.- Success is doing the right thing for who you are. It’s living a life that matches and supports you.

LCL.- Do you feel you´ve made it as an author? As a woman? As a mom? What do you feel (if anything) you still need to do in life?

KC.- I always try to be careful with my definitions of success—because if success is too far out on the horizon, you’ll never get there. Our culture often defines success with things like big mansions. But I don’t think that’s right. I think the stress of getting those things cancels out the pleasures.

My goal is to try to be as happy as I can, going through every day just as it is.

Do I get to do work that I love and that makes me feel proud? Every day. Do I have amazing kids who crack me up? Yep! Does my husband have a fantastic mustache? Yes, he does! That’s how I think about success: using internal measures more than external ones. I know who I am and what matters to me, and I stay close to those things. I have people in my life who make me laugh all the time. I get to do the work I love. It’s better than I ever could have hoped for.

But it’s not perfect. The cat wakes me up in the middle of the night. Our upstairs bathtub overflowed and now there’s a water stain on the living room ceiling. I never have enough hours in the day. It’s a normal life with ups and downs. But it’s the perfect life for me.

LCL.- What did you feel when you saw (and felt) your first book in print? Do you get the same feeling with every book since?

KC.- Seeing my first book in print was bliss. It blew my mind. I didn’t even know what to do with all the excitement. We found a box from the publisher on the doorstep one evening, and I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning reading! I was like, “This thing’s a page-turner!”

It’s not exactly the same feeling with later books. It’s a good feeling—a very good one—like, “Oh, hello, little book! I’ve been waiting to see you!” But it’s not quite as mind-blowing once you’ve done it before. Because after the first one, it’s not a surprise anymore. But it’s still totally awesome.

LCL.- What would you tell aspiring authors who do not believe they can make it? And what would you tell those who believe it is all a question of luck?

KC.- I would say that if you like to write stories and you’re finding a way to do that in your life, then you’ve already made it. And it took me a long time to figure that out. Just write them. Write them and show them to your mom or your best friend. Write them, and put together a writing group to read each other’s work. Publishing, marketing—those things have their charms. But they cannot touch the joy of just bringing the stories to life on the page. That’s what makes everything worth it.

As for the question of luck, I often think luck is all about how you see things. If you feel lucky, then you are. I’m not trying to be coy about this. The vast majority of people never get rich or famous off their writing. But what they do get, if they really do love to write, is the euphoria that comes from telling the stories themselves.

LCL.- Why do you write? (Ha, not very original of course!) Do you see yourself ever NOT writing?

KC.- I write because I love it. I write because doing it gives me a crazy thrill. On days that I’ve written something, I walk around with butterflies. I keep hearing this quote about how writers don’t like to write—they like to have written. But I completely disagree. The writing is the one thing about being a writer that’s pure joy. Other things—the selling, the marketing, the schmoozing—come and go. They can either make you happy or miserable, depending on the day. But the writing should be a constant source of pleasure. And if it’s not, then don’t do it. Do something that is!

LCL.- What was your toughest hurdle in life and how did you overcome it?

KC.- Seventh grade was the toughest, I think. Though it’s a tough call. But that year, my grandmother, who was like a second mom, died. And my parents got divorced about 6 weeks later. And my two best friends found other best friends right around that time. I felt really alone, and I didn’t know who I was or how to live a good life, and let’s just say puberty was kicking me up and down the block. So I started a journal. And when I filled it up, I started another. And did that for ten solid years—all the way through college. It’s where I learned how to write.

LCL.- Do you ever reread your books? Why? And why should other women read them?

KC.- I do re-read them! Sometimes I’ll be looking for a passage, and I’ll just get caught up in it and have to go to the end. Or sometimes I’ll hear a comment or read a review that makes me want to go back and take another look. It is fun to go back and read them.

And why should women read them? Well, they’re kind of heroine’s journeys. They’re comic and bittersweet stories of women learning to rise above circumstances and become the best versions of themselves. They have authentic, flawed, lovable characters who make mistakes and fumble around. But the novels have wisdom in them, too. They use comic situations to look at truths about women’s lives.

LCL.- Your words of wisdom for other women … (One sentence please!)

KC.- One sentence! Okay, here’s something I tell myself a lot: Try to look for the beauty in your life and be as grateful as you can.

Katherine Center is the author of three bittersweet comic novels about love and family—The Bright Side of Disaster, Everyone Is Beautiful, and Get Lucky (on sale now!)—and has another on the way. Her books and essays have appeared in Redbook, People, USA Today, Vanity Fair, Real Simple, the Dallas Morning News, and the Houston Chronicle, as well as the anthology Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers on the Mother-Daughter Bond (courtesy of Katherine Center´s website).



Friday, June 4, 2010

Savoir Faire - the ability to do the right or graceful thing. (repost)

This basically means to have social skills and the ability to interact with people of all walks of life and not make a fool of yourself in any place or situation. Plus, you are able to conduct and present yourself in a graceful and polite manner no matter where you are.

Is this innate or is it learned? This is exactly the question posed in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. Audrey Hepburn, who was in my opinion, the Queen of Savoir Faire, played Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, the movie based on the musical that was in turn based on the book.

It is still a large part of European culture to use clothes and a certain attitude to express who you are. Women learn from an early age to adapt makeup and accessories to each and every situation they are in, from the gym to the boardroom. Far from feeling like slavery to looks, it is a confidence-booster and a lot of fun!

European men are also fashion-conscious without losing track of their masculinity and no, they are not all male-chauvinists.

In the U.S. the saying goes that if someone is tastefully dressed and has good manners, he or she must be gay or European. And this is supposed to be funny?

When you have savoir faire, you could be wearing sweats and you would still stand out, in a good way. It is not always what you wear, but how you wear it that counts. Your manners, your tone of voice and your presence speak volumes about you.

I recall attending a dance seminar in the U.S. where part of the day was devoted to teaching adult women to walk in heels and stand around in a skirt. I experienced culture-shock right there. Shouldn't we already know this by now?

Learning to own your space and your grace, knowing when to talk and when to walk, is second nature in other countries where most women grow up to be ladies and men to be gentlemen. Admittedly it is in extinction, but thankfully not completely lost and when found, very pleasing to be around.

If you have savoir faire you have an edge, whether you are aware of this or not, and are likely to be more successful in a number of areas, from dating to doing business. It is a win-win art.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wear Sunscreen!

Mind and body self-care is a life-long journey that I started when I was around 12. I made it a daily habit, and at nearly 47, I´m still at it. Aside from great genes and a positive outlook, I´m pretty sure this is the reason for having good skin and feeling good in it. It´s not a question of being a slave to beauty treatments, or spending more on creams than your rent is worth, just as having healthy teeth does not require a lot more than brushing and flossing – every single day of your life, though.

The biggest skin-saver, no matter what your age, is sunscreen. I did my share of tanning-booth craziness when I was in my 20´s and worked as a fitness instructor. But it is never too late to save face. Since I moved to Florida six years ago, I don´t step out the door without sunblock. Daily cleansing and moisturizing (in the morning and before going to bed) are another non-negotiable part of my daily routine.

I´ve used ridiculously expensive creams, the cheapest and everything in between, and I´ve found that as long as you´re consistent, practically anything will do the trick. I´m excited though, to share with you my favorite ultra-affordable products that I use every day.

Cetaphil skin cleanser is only around $10 and it lasts a couple of months. If you want to exfoliate, you can mix it with a bit of baking soda at night and wash your face with that. For the day, Cetaphil UVA/UVB Defense SPF 50 is great at around $13 for a 50ml tube. Another option is Eucerin Daily protection cream with 30 SPF for $9 (100 ml). Underneath that, I´ve been using Porcelana skin lightening cream (to eliminate blotches and sun spots), Day and Night. At $5 per jar you can´t beat the price. You need to use very little though and wait at least 3 months to see visible results. If you can spend a bit more money, then Neostrata Bionic Skin Lightening Cream (around $38 per tube) also provides the results it advertises (evening out skin tone and moisturizing). Both Porcelana and the latter have 2% hydroquinone, which is no longer thought to be harmful for your health, as it was a few years ago.

I´m very excited about my latest find: Physician Formula´s Healthy Wear tinted moisturizer with SPF 50! At $14, it looks like regular make-up, providing a natural finish plus great sun protection! I got it in the darkest shade even though I´m relatively fair, because I didn’t want to look like a ghost in the middle of summer. It looks and feels very natural! For touch-ups, I carry the same product but in the compact version. I also use it on my kids.

If you use it daily, any body lotion will work, but I´ve been using Ocean Potion Ever Glow Daily Moisturizer (with skin darkener) for a few years now, that is a steal at under $5 for a 20.5 FL oz bottle and it provides a healthier alternative to a tan. Ocean Potion 50 SPF sunscreen is also my friend (around $8), or Hawaiian Tropic sheer touch lotion sunscreen with 50 SPF.

When you look good, you feel good, no matter what your age!

I hope you enjoy the video too!