Tutoring refugees can open doors for everyone

I have been tutoring adults in ESL for awhile now and every time I sit down with a woman or man from Ethiopia or Burma or Cambodia, I am in awe.

Not only did they make their way to Wisconsin to escape whatever hardships they were facing in their homeland (war, poverty, lack of education), they know little or no English at all – zip, zero, zilch.

What would it be like if I flew to Cambodia and couldn’t speak the language?  I’d be in freakout mode, I’m quite sure. Talk about having to rely on the kindness of strangers. I’ve had to do this on a number of occasions in foreign cities and not only is it humbling, it’s scary.

So I’m discovering how little I know about working with nonnative speakers and how far I need to go to make myself useful. For instance, how to teach someone to pronounce the “th” sound as in “thing” or “thought”? Not easy – a lot of head shaking and throat sounds at these times!

Or, how about the “ssss” sound at the end of the word “class”? Doesn’t come naturally for many students. Then, there is the challenge of explaining the difference between pronouncing October twelve and October twelfth and why it’s pronounced two different ways. I can’t even begin to start.

The students come Monday nights. They are mostly young women, but several men as well and I have read some of their stories on the wall of the basement room where I volunteer. Most of them are grateful to be here, many need/want jobs and all of them are so thankful for the real teachers who help them learn English so that they can get on with their lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and beyond.

I have only barely begun to understand their struggle to not only learn a new language but to adapt to a new culture. It’s humbling to me and at the same time exhilarating to be part of the process.

It has awakened in me my love for language and connecting with others and opened my eyes to the possibilities of tutoring and teaching more people to read, write and speak English.

I think of all the doors this can and will open for them and myself.

Connecting is what it’s all about.


Glow golf beats PGA for fun

When I was growing up in Brookfield in the early
’70s, Storms Golf was the place to be on a hot summer
night. Miniature golf was my favorite game and I always
beat my brothers at it. Ha!

Now that I’m all grown up, miniature golf doesn’t cut
it anymore, as I found out not too long ago. What do adults do
instead? They go Glow Golfing, of course (I had to say it).

After scrounging a few old clubs out of my basement, I met up with
three of my friends at Hanson Park one recent weekend evening. Problem No. 1: We only had three beverages among us on this sweltering evening. The second problem was that there was just 1 oz of mosquito repellent in the spray bottle and the sprayer didn’t work. Oh, yeah, finally, the third problem was that I needed two hands to hold the golf club and one to swat the skeeters.

Dozens of other glow golf fans joined us on the course. We kept up a good pace, if only because we didn’t want to stand still long enough
for the bloodsuckers to find us. But also because one of
us, namely me, took so many swings to hit the glow ball – even though it glowed – that the others naturally got restless and kept moving on.

I’ve never “glow-golfed” before and I have to say it was
hilarious. At times the thought of being blind-sided by an
errant ball crossed my mind, but I tried to stay focused on
just getting to the next hole without losing my tee.

After the fourth or fifth hole we gave up keeping score
and methodically made our way to the ninth hole, swinging
at the ball as well as at mosquitoes all the way.

An hour later, we made it to the clubhouse with dozens of
bites but our fun barometer at “HIGH” level.

The next Glow Golf at Hanson Park is Friday August 20.

$15 for a round of golf including the glow ball.
Watching your friends chase each other around for the mosquito spray? Priceless.

This traffic jam was sweet!

Traffic jams are not all that bad. In fact, some are rather pleasant. I know because I was in one recently in Eagle. Yep, Eagle.

My two friends and I were on our way to Hunter’s Lake for an afternoon of swimming. This small lake is near Dousman,  in the heart of Kettle Moraine. I was driving my brother’s Mustang convertib le. It was sunny and I was on vacation. Love it. The car has a rebuilt engine that goes ba-bum, ba-bum, ba-bum – say it fast six times and you’ll get the picture of how COOL this car is.

Anyway….. men and trucks greeted us as we pulled onto Hwy 67 just outside of Eagle. The smell of hot tar permeated the air and cicadas announced our arrival at the construction zone. The driver behind me looked irritated. I looked up into the blue sky above and laughed.

The worker told me “You may as well turn off the engine, it’s going to be awhile.” So I did. We sat and baked. A long line of vehicles – oh, maybe 7 or 8 – sat motionlesss behind us.

Finally, he waved everyone to go ahead. I started up again and the traffic jam turned into a slow-moving current of cars inching their way along a single lane of road.

I won’t even begin to compare this with the traffic jam I got stuck in on the way to Noah’s Ark the following day with thousands of travelers on their way up north.

Not all traffic jams are alike.

Love animals? Then you need a reading

Hummingbirds have always held a special appeal for me. I nicknamed our house Hummingbird Hill when we first moved in to it back in 1997 after I saw the tiny creature fluttering around our windows on moving day.

Barbara Kruck on her patio.

When I picked the Hummingbird card from a deck of cards that was fanned out before me on a table recently, I didn’t understand the message at first.

“Joy” is the message, said my friend Barbara, who is from Wauwatosa and reads Animal Cards for friends and strangers alike. “You need to bring joy into your life… that is its message.”

OK, I could agree with that assessment. The last time I felt pure, simple joy was when I borrowed my brother’s ’66 Mustang and spent a couple of hours driving country roads in the heat of summer some years ago.  Top down, of course.

Barbara has a way with healing, and brings her compassionate touch to others in need of a little guidance. She does this with her Native American Animal Card readings.

I don’t know much about Native American culture, but Barbara does. She lives it, breathes, it, studies it. She’s traveled around the spiritually rich Sedona, Arizona many times, taken courses and workshops in Native American history and culture, and tunes in herself to the spiritual forces that surround us and can only be found in nature.

Throughout July she will be giving readings (there is a fee) at the following locations:

Saturday, July 17 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the Angel Faire at Hometown Cafe and Coffee Shop Hubertus

Friday, July 23 starting at 6 p.m. during Gallery Night at Art Asia on Broadway in the Third Ward

Saturday, July 24 starting at 11 a.m. during the Brady Street Festival at Brewed Cafe

Sunday, July 25 from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Angel Faire at Hart Park Senior Center in the Village of Wauwatosa

Thursday, July 29 starting at 6 p.m. at Vino Wine Bar in Wauwatosa

Why don’t you stop by and see which animal connects with you at this time in your life? It may be just the guiding wing, paw, or fin you’ve been searching for.

Come ride with us (bozos) on the bus

I left my iPod at home, my book in my drawer at work, so I rode the bus home from work this afternoon with nothing to occupy my time … except stare out the window while I chewed a piece of gum.

I’m trying to eliminate distractions in my life a little anyway… too much music, too much technology, too much time calling people who are rarely around, too much time making lists.

At the risk of being totally bored, I left home today without my iPod. I think my hearing is starting to go anyway.. I seem to always miss the first word of a sentence when someone speaks to me… so a day or week without earbuds probably is good for me.

I always see 101 different things through the dirty bus window so the ride home isn’t altogether dull… today I enjoyed red tiger lilies in full bloom in front of the Midwest Airlines Center, sympathized with mothers pulling tired children out of day cares, wondered at drivers who still smoke, sitting in their cars.

Then I saw a man lying flat on his face at the bus stop on 41st and Vliet. He looked like he was having a good nap. The bus honked, twice, but he didn’t stir. He was out cold. The bus driver called somebody and we kept meandering on down the street.

I see a lot of unusual things from my bus window, but this was a first. It’s always interesting riding the bus. This reminded me of a book I read where the author said we are all just bozos on the bus, meaning we’re all the same, goofed up human beings with the same insecurities and faults, and nobody can fool anybody with fancy clothes, a fancy job or scooter, fancy iPod or a fancy house.

These are all distractions, too, I think, designed to satisfy some insecurity temporarily. All they really do is distract us from being with our true selves and remembering how special each of us is – even the guy on the sidewalk – without all the stuff. 

It could have been any one of us lying on that street corner today, with the snap of fate’s fingers. That’s the way I see it, anyway.

So I guess what I’m getting at is that I’m glad for dull bus rides and a 9-to-5 job and an old house and clothes from Goodwill and my bus pass (paid for partly by my employer), which allows me to bond with my bozo busmates each and every day.

Now, what was I doing again before I started this blog?

On the edge, sometimes

He was on the edge today… literally. This man was trying to take his life from a ledge. While I was watching the thunderstorm roll through town, enjoying the light show, joking with coworkers about the rainfall, emergency workers were coaxing this sad and scared person from the 25th floor of an office building and promptly took him away. Or, so I read.

Are you ever on the edge of something? It doesn’t have to be the edge of a building, of course, but you know, do you you feel like you are going to fall way, way off of the earth and just continue falling into a netherworld? Or are you on the edge of losing it from too much stress? How about just being edgy, like if one more person asks you for something you are going to just lose it?

I’ve had dreams of being on the edge… on the edge of a body of water – usually a lake or an ocean or pond, but sometimes a stream or river. I am either driving alongside it, walking alongside it or simply standing alongside it. The water is dark, murky, mysterious. It’s chopppy, wavy, bubbling, swirling. My fear is I will slip in and drown. In my dreams, I warn others to stay away from the edge of the water – to be careful.

During the day, if I ever drive past any water, I have to unbuckle my seatbelt, roll down the window, unlock the door. That means every time I drive past the lake on the way to my brother’s house, I unbuckle and the kids just laugh in a sympathetic kind of way. They know about my recurring water dream. Well, the road IS terribly close to the lake!

Why would I dream I’m drowning? I still don’t know after close to 10 years of these dreams. Do you have recurring dreams that you are trying to figure out? I’d love to hear what they are and what you think they mean….. chime in! Maybe we can figure it out together….

Flying downtown on a sunny summer day

I drove Lucy to work today.. no, not a person, my Vespa!

After meandering through the Washington Highlands, I head east on Highland Avenue to avoid the heavy morning traffic… and I was leading the pack today! 40 mph and they were still trying to pass me.

Too bad Highland is a washboard all the way down from 27th to the freeway… ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump.

After four months of riding, I’m starting to get a feel for the streets between Tosa and downtown … where the potholes are, which streets are smooth and newly paved (Kilbourn, State Street, Bluemound) and which ones to avoid (Wells Street at Water, Vliet Street near Hawley Road) and I have even mastered going over bridges and those uneven metal plates that make me feel like I am going to wobble over whenever I drive on them and fall into the path of an oncoming truck which is going  to flatten me and I’ll end up a vegetable living in … oh, let’s forget about that.

I think the hardest part about driving a motorcycle in the city is keeping an eye out for other drivers, especially the ones who get pissed off because they are “stuck” behind me. They scare me. I have a magnet on the back of my bike that reads “Calm down and ride on.” It’s probably too small to read from another vehicle, I’m guessing.

Most folks, though, are quite pleasant and keep their distance. They even are overly polite to me … smiling, waving me through the intersection first, that kind of thing.

Riding a motorcycle 7 miles to work is fun, challenging, always interesting. But more than anything, it’s FREEDOM… if only for awhile.