Sunday, February 8, 2015

Learning Italian

Since meeting and falling in love with Gianluca, I have made some sporadic, half-hearted attempts at learning his mother tongue.  My (minimal) efforts have been somewhat fruitful- and I thrill at announcing the subject of any overheard conversations in Italian.  Actually speaking the language is another story.  It usually happens like this: we are sitting with a group of Italians, most of whom have some English, but who know I’m there to learn.  They all want me to succeed.  They are willing me to get it right.  One correct sentence from my lips will result in uproarious fanfare.  Then it’s my turn to speak and I clam up.  The pressure is too much. 


Fezzano, Gianluca’s home town in Portovenere, Italia

I should note, at this point that we are not living in Italy at present, but in Abu Dhabi where Italian is almost never useful, let alone needed in order to survive day-to-day life.  Everyone keeps telling me not to worry, that I’ll learn quickly when I need to, when I live in Italy… and, as a nursery school teacher, I understand that more than anyone.  Invariably, the first English words I hear from non-English speaking children at nursery are: ‘pee pee’, ‘water’, ‘Mama’.  Children learn to speak to communicate what they need – the toilet, a drink, their Mama - and because they know that’s the only way I’ll understand and respond.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s more difficult to learn a language when you can get by just fine without it. 

As a mindful adult, that’s not really good enough, is it?  To carry on in English because (most) people will understand me anyway.  To expect other people to adjust.  So, after all this time of doing just that, I’m making this a very important high-priority goal this year.  No more half measures.

Inspired by how David Bailey learned to speak French in 17 days (!), I’m adopting some of the components of his approach.  However, since this goal will have to fit neatly into my regular daily routine and since I’m not yet in a position to immerse myself completely in Italian culture, I’m not confident I’ll have the same dramatic results.

But here goes. This is the plan:

The Michel Thomas Method

little t1

Having used Michel Thomas CDs for learning conversational French a while back, I have a lot of faith in his approach.  Michel’s method focuses on my main problem area, speaking and constructing sentences.  Rather than learning grammar and vocabulary in the traditional way, you begin by learning the component parts of sentences, enabling you to start speaking straight away.



Duolingo is a free app for smartphones and tablets, which incorporates written (typed), oral and aural exercises to strengthen your language competency.  What I really like about this app is the lessons are quick and you can do as many/ little as you like at a time.  It is easy to slot into a busy day – I’ve done a lesson or two while waiting for my lift to work in the mornings.


BBC Languages


I may have posted about this before but the BBC have excellent free resources for learning a language:  videos, written guides, online tests and links to Italian radio and TV channels.


When I was studying for my Leaving Certificate (10 years ago – phew!), I wrote everything I needed to memorise down on paper.  Then I would read through and write it down again.  And again.  Science formulas, facts, Maths equations, historical dates, even English essays.  It took ages, and some people might say it is a massive waste of time, but for me it paid off.  Learning something by heart can seem a daunting task, while simply writing it down is not and the repetition can even be relaxing.  I still believe that writing things out by hand is the best way to memorise things.  Just trust that it is going in.


CollagesThe first books I read in English were by Roald Dahl, so it makes sense that they should be the first in Italian too.  Gianluca will be in Italy soon and is under strict instruction to pick me up some copies of Matilde, La Fabbrica di Cioccolato, Il GGG, Le Streghe… or whatever he can get his hands on.

Italian Food


I call this part ‘Culture Immersion’ and for me, it is the most important piece of the learning puzzle.  Pizza and pasta in large quantities.  Okay, so eating Italian food is not going to help.  If only learning to speak Italian was as easy as eating spaghetti, eh?  Still, I say there’s no harm in embracing the culture!


Every day for 17 days, David Bailey would take a run in the French countryside while listening to catchy French music.  He claims the rhyme and rhythm of the music will help you to learn the intonation of a language and train your facial muscles as you sing along.  Lucky for me, there’s always Italian music playing in our apartment.  I’m working on putting together a playlist for the gym too!

Talking to Italian-speakers

The most obvious one for last.  I’m lucky (for countless reasons) to have a resident Italian, but he is too kind and lenient on me as a teacher.  Talking to Italians, in Italian is obviously the best way to learn to speak it.  Just make sure they are correcting your mistakes.

Finally, my sneaky tip is to learn the filler words and phrases that Italians use all the time in conversation – Allora, Dai, Prego, An diamo – but don’t really mean much.  Also, adopt wild gesticulation when communicating any point.  I have it on good authority that this New York Times guide to Italian hand gestures is accurate.  Both of these will give the illusion of fluency while you continue to struggle internally.

There you go.  Soon, I’ll be writing my blog posts in Italiano…

Thursday, February 5, 2015

I like my men like I like my…

Books                      Novel. Unpredictable. With a spine.

Carpets                   Stylish. Rugged. Lets me walk all over them.

Babies                      Adorable. Potty-trained. With a nice crib.

Taxis                        Clean. Safe. Willing to go to Brooklyn.

Flights                     Smooth. Minimal baggage. With an emergency exit.

Floors                      Polished. Grounded. Underneath me.

Facebook Wall     Candid. Likable. Without babies.

My favourites from this list via McSweeneys

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

How to Live


Hemingway, on how to live.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Birthday Sushi

Sophia turns ONE next month and her Mama bear is looking for party ideas.  Here’s one that would be awesome:

conveyor sushi diy

At-home sushi conveyor belt via Kidcrave

Aaaaand I just know you’re rolling your eyes at the idea of serving sushi to children instead of the chocolate and cake and sugar they await.  I will answer your collective eye-roll with this:

sushi birthday1

sushi birthday2

Sweets that look like sushi via Dinner: A Love Story.  Yes. amazing.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Send Glitter to your Enemies!

This is the wackiest (and most hilarious) idea I’ve seen in a really long time.  If you hate someone (I mean, really, hate them), you can enlist the help of the evil geniuses at Ship Your Enemies Glitter to f**k up their day.  All for the bargain price of $9.99!

send glitter to your enemies

This is for real.  Obviously, I would never actually do this and if anyone gets a glitter package, it definitely wasn’t from me.  I did, however, thoroughly enjoy reading the FAQs and Reviews section of their site.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Minimalist Challenge

I’m strongly considering undertaking this 30-day minimalism challenge.  Some of the days seem pretty easy, while others are daunting.  I’m looking at you, number 13!


Who’s with me on this? 

via Into Mind

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Which Tea?

I LOVE tea, but I only drink the worst kind – strong black breakfast tea; higher in caffeine than the rest, lower in antioxidants, extra-processed, tooth-staining… and that’s before I add the demon sugar in.  So my tea didn’t make the cut for this list of how to treat different conditions with tea.


Good to know, anyway.  I’m still not convinced than drinking ginger tea would make me feel less nauseous though.  Ugh.

Image via Pinterest

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How I Contour

There are a gazillion face contouring guides and videos on the web.  Most of the ones I’ve seen have been overly detailed, and off-putting.  I don’t want to complicate things further.  For me, contouring is not an every day thing, but I love the effect for nights-out.  What I do is very simple – it’s this:


…and blend (of course).  That’s it!

My holy grail contouring product is Tom Ford Shade & Illuminate palette, but it is pricy.  You can get the same general effect using your favourite bronzer and a liquid concealer in a shade lighter than your skin colour/ foundation.  

Photo via Danish Streets

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Celebrity Do-gooders

emma stone1emma stone2emma stone3

As if I needed another reason to love Emma Stone…

Monday, January 19, 2015

Quick Quiz

Chris Rock child eaten by a camel

It’s the most depressing day of the year, apparently, but this might make you smile.  Happy (Blue) Monday peeps.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Emoji Ink

little t

Now you can draw with Emoji!  I got inexplicably excited about this…

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Table Tents

Table tents

This is the stuff of my childhood dreams.  Available here on Etsy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Best Hot Chocolate You’ll Ever Taste

Maybe.  In fact, that is very obnoxious of me to suggest – and probably not even true.  If you’ve ever been (or will be) to O’Conaill’s Chocolate Shop on French Church Street in Cork, Ireland, then it is most certainly not true.  Their signature hot chocolate is better than mine.  I guess that goes without saying.

hot chocolate

Allow me to start again.  This is a very decent hot chocolate recipe, that I came up with myself and that you will definitely not hate.  There!  The recipe was actually intended as a recreation of the O’Conaill’s one I was craving in the run up to Christmas, while I was still in Abu Dhabi and thousands of miles away from that kind of perfection. 

Here’s the recipe.  It’s for those of you who, like me, think of hot chocolate as more dessert than drink… though I’m sure you could lower the chocolate: milk ratio and that would work too.

Hot Chocolate (makes 2 standard sized mugs)

What you’ll need:

Semi-skimmed milk (Use the mugs to measure – 2 almost-full mugs)

35-40g good quality dark chocolate (70%+)

35-40g good quality white chocolate

35 –40g Lindt Excellence Extra Creamy Milk Chocolate (this exact one)

A good pinch of Maldon salt

Here’s how:

  • Cut the chocolate into smallish chunks
  • Warm the milk in a small saucepan over a medium heat. As the milk starts to heats up, add the chocolate and start whisking until all the chocolate is melted.  Don’t allow the milk to boil – you want lots of steam but no bubbles. 
  • Add the salt and whisk one last time before pouring into the mugs to serve
  • Jamie Oliver has this trick for hot chocolate that I sometimes do, but sometimes don’t bother with.  Right before serving, you pour the mixture into a large flask, ensuring there is lots of space at the top.  Screw on the lid and shake it (like you would with a cocktail shaker) for a couple of minutes.  This makes the milk nice and frothy.  Include that step too, if you’re really trying to impress. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Balloon Ice

Here’s a fun party trick.

Balloon ice

Water balloons, filled and frozen, will create perfectly formed ice-balls that won’t dilute your favourite Scotch.  No fancy schmancy cocktail equipment necessary.

via Saveur

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Amazing Un-stealable Bicycle

 Unstealable bicycle

Clever, clever students at the Universidad Adolfo Ibanez (Chile) have designed this: the world’s first un-stealable bike.  It converts into its own lock, meaning that if the lock is broken, the bike is rendered useless to the thief!  Clever, clever, clever.  Beautiful design too.

Read more about The Yerka Project here.