Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Strong House


The Strong House - April 2014

Today we held a long-awaited open house for our remodeled home in Arkadelphia, Arkansas: a "finish line" of sorts to a race we started a year ago when we made the decision to take jobs at Ouachita Baptist University and move to Arkadelpha.  Even when we arrived here in August we didn't have a real clear picture of where we would permanently live.  We knew where we wanted to live: in the historical district between downtown and the campus.  We were able to rent a duplex for 6 months from fellow faculty members right next to campus while we looked for a place.  In October Margaret found this home for sale by owner.  We worked with Jack Coy, a builder from Hot Springs, to study the feasibility of remodeling the house and decided to buy and fully remodel it.

By January we were able to move into the home and finalize the renovations. People sometimes ask us if we renovated it ourselves and I'm quick to answer, "no." Jack Coy, with input and guidance from Margaret about what she wanted, remodeled the house with a host of subcontractors in an amazing period of 3 months that included Arkansas Holy Week (1st week of deer season) and the predictably unpredictable setbacks of winter weather.

Now for a little history on the home along with some details of how it's currently finished and decorated:

This home, known as the Strong House in the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, was built in 1875 and was initially owned by A.A. Pennington.  In 1886 James Wilson bought the home, deeded as “Lot four in Block six in Duncan’s Addition to the City of Arkadelphia,” from Mr. Pennington’s executor for $711.00. 

In the late 1800’s the home served as the manse for the Old School Presbyterian Church (located on the corner of 6th St. and Caddo - where Laster’s Furniture sits today).  At that time 6th Street was named Maddox Street.  In 1901 Mary Elizabeth Amy Strong purchased the house from the deacons of the church for $1,450.00.  Mary E.A. Strong was the wife of James Strong, the youngest son of Nathan and Nancy Strong who settled near Dalark, Arkansas in 1837. James and Mary E.A. Strong’s grandson, Dr. James E. Strong, lived in this home for nearly all of his 94 years.  Don and Elaine Collins maintained the vacant house after Dr. Strong’s death in 2011.     

The home was purchased in 2013 by Mark and Margaret Spence McGraw and remodeled from October 2013 to January 2014 by Jack Coy from Hot Springs.
Some notes about the construction, furnishings and decorations:

-Additions were made to the original home in the 1910’s or 1920’s and in the 1950’s. The dates of the additions are estimated by the type and apparent age of the wainscoting paneling found behind the drywall of the second addition and the wood paneling still present in the back two rooms. 

Home office in the back of the house

-The wood floors, including those of the front part of the house that dates from 1875, are original.  The front room floors are heart pine.  The orientation of the planks in the living room floor lends credence to the idea that the space was originally two rooms.
Original 1875 floors with G.Rollie White coliseum seats

-The large mirrors located above the fireplaces in the dining and living rooms came from the Caddo Hotel in downtown Arkadelphia where Dr. Strong’s dental practice was located.  Dr. Strong purchased the mirrors after the Caddo Hotel burned. 

- The chandelier in the dining room was purchased in Murano, Italy by Dr. Strong and his wife, Helen. Pam Westberg conducted a detailed cleaning and reconstruction of the chandelier.
Dining Room

-The original fourteen-foot ceilings were lowered to allow for the introduction of central heat and air conditioning ductwork.    

-Mark’s mother, Margaret H. McGraw from Woodworth, LA, custom made the draperies covering the 10-foot windows in the living and dining rooms.  She also painted much of the artwork and tole painted furniture in the home. 
Living Room


-Margaret Spence McGraw’s father, David Spence from Clear Lake, TX, built the kitchen table and the Morris chair in the living room.

-Some of the artwork and much of the d├ęcor comes from the McGraw family’s time living abroad, primarily in Chile. 

-The stadium seats in the living room are from G. Rollie White Coliseum at Texas A&M University, where Margaret played volleyball from 1983-1987.  

-Mr. Wes Reeder provided expertise towards the arrangement of the artwork and furniture.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why Else? Because it's Fun!

"The Rooster most Rooster"
I was recently interviewed by a student about reasons to learn another language.  

Q1.First of all, what do you think is the biggest reason/benefit to learning a foreign language? (My emphasis is on Spanish)

Because it's fun!  The most common reasons for learning a second language that you'll hear is that it will give you the opportunity to get a better job and make more money.  Those are true. I made extra money in the Marine Corps because I was multi-lingual.  I got a job with an international steel company because I spoke Spanish and we did business with Mexico.  I worked for a state agency in Texas that continued to employ me as an adjunct instructor for $60/hour to do workshops in Puerto Rico in Spanish, even after I had left that agency as a full-time employee.  But for me, the main reason I'm thankful that I've been able to learn Spanish is because it's been a tremendous amount of fun. I've been able to go places off the beaten path - far from the tourist traps - and meet and make friends with a great many people and see and experience some fabulous things because I can speak Spanish and some Portuguese (my Portuguese is very rusty right now). I sometimes feel like I've been handed the keys to a secret door that gives me access to a much bigger world.  There are about a half-billion people right in our hemisphere who speak Spanish and Portuguese. Those people and places are open to me now and that's a lot of fun.   

Q2. How can learning a language increase your cultural awareness of a region where it is used?

To learn another language is much more complex than just learning what words mean what from one language to another. There are significant logical differences between English and a Romance language (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French).  So to learn another language well is to learn another logic.  One cannot fully understand a place without being able to engage with people on their terms. It's very difficult to get real with anyone through an interpreter.  One cannot understand a region without also becoming familiar with the cultural artifacts of literature, history and art.  Those things are written and expressed in language.

Q3. Do you have any particular experiences or anecdotes that I could use as support?

When I was in the Marine Corps I worked for the senior officer in charge of all military deployments to Latin America.  We worked out of Miami and would often travel to watch troops training with other countries' police and armed forces.  A lot of our deployments were Medical/Dental in nature. The last year I worked in that unit we brokered the provision of medical care to nearly 500,000 people in Latin American and the Caribbean.  Anyway, we visited one of those exercises in a poor part of a Central American country.  The U.S. medical unit set up offices in an elementary school and the classrooms became exam rooms.  I was watching all this thinking, "Ok, this is cool." Then I walked around and talked to people.  Some of them told me they had walked for 2 days to arrive at the clinic. Some people told me they have never received medical care from a qualified doctor before. Many of the people told me they didn't have potable water to drink where they live.  One lady was wearing eyeglasses that she had just been given. She was at least 60 years old and had never worn glasses and she told me she had never been able to see well until that day.  That was a powerful thing. I still get emotional thinking about it.  None of those people spoke a lick of English.  I talked to them and got that perspective because I spoke Spanish. 

Q4.what is the main difficulty of learning a language and how can it be overcome (my purpose is to persuade the audience the benefits of learning a language)

There are many difficulties: First - just having the opportunity to immerse yourself in the language for enough time for the lessons to actually become ingrained in your mind in a way that is still accessible.  A 3-times-per-week 1 hour class is not enough to learn the language well (even if you have a good teacher) unless you make a personal decision to spend a lot of time in contact with the language.  That's tough if we don't get to spend a huge amount of time with someone who speaks another language or live in an area where another language is spoken.  That's why Study Abroad or an immersion experience is so valuable.  You learn some Spanish in class - some basic vocab and phrases and grammatical concepts and then you go to Study Abroad and get a chance to ingrain that information in a way that is sticky, that is accessible, that is long-lasting, that is fun and meaningful.
Second - you must be willing to suffer some humiliation, make some mistakes, look silly. That's difficult for us. It's like getting down on the floor and crawling again after you've learned to run. 
Third - You must stick with the study and practice long enough to get good enough for it to be a practical skill. Then it becomes fun. It's like making the decision to get in shape. You feel fat, weak and uncomfortable in the gym or out running or biking on the roads. You get sore. It hurts. You get out of breath easily and you're conscious of how bad you are at it.  If you can eventually see some progress, though, you may start to enjoy the activity itself and do it for the enjoyment, not the obligation.

That's how you overcome the difficulty - do it until it becomes fun. You'll need a strong desire to learn, though, to get you through the hard early parts of the process. 

Q5. What are some of the long lasting benefits, and some immediate benefits if any?

The only other benefit I can think of in addition to what I've already mentioned (fun, access to the world, expanded view) is the opportunity to view your own culture more fully because you've had a chance to learn about another one.  Being immersed in and gaining an understanding of another culture forces you to examine your own. And that's valuable.