Monday, December 25, 2023

Noël Letter


Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Confessions of (Hating) a French Wedding

Dah-dum-dum-dum (here comes the bride)...wrong song for France. It was in fact, "We were in Paris, to get away from your parents," by the Chainsmokers  that dredged forth the memory of my first Parisian wedding, maybe it was my first French wedding ever. In my case, the desire would have been to flee Paris to get away from parents, aunts, uncles, cousins...but the people were not the problem. The people were extraordinary. But it was late. I happen to be a "couche-tôt" or a morning person who wilts after 10 pm.

We had arrived by train from Toulouse, my chéri and I. His uncle, groom of the following day, picked us up at the station to take us to his mother's house, stopping to run an errand on the way there. We were miles from downtown Paris, out in the woods, when Tonton Bertrand stopped the car at a tall gate and gave us his signature, insider-joke smile, not quite sheepish, but drole. "My friend runs this, but only in the summer. Don't worry, there's no one around at this time of year." I looked up at the sign high over the gate, "Colonie Naturiste". I looked back at him, perplexed, although the words sounded familiar, the translation did not sink in right away, "Nature Campground"? Bertrand's big laugh made its way to the surface, "nudiste, quoi." Nudist. Right. But no one is home. I got out and peeked around cautiously but curiously, over and around the hedges. It was not warm, but maybe there were spring nudists?

We were just stopping by to borrow a punch bowl or some such, then it was back to Paris to say hello to the future bride and the baby girl in her crib. This is not typically French. Typically, one waits until there are two children and the tax break really becomes hard to pass up for a married versus a non-married couple. Unless you come from a very traditional family, in which case, one marries before the babies come along. 

The wedding itself was the usual visit to Monsieur or Madame the Mayor to sign the official paperwork, fifty or so people crowding into the town hall; all marriages must take this step to be legal in France, no music involved. After that many couples go on to a church for the short version of a Catholic wedding ceremony, no mass, the French do have some good sense.

There are two receptions often in France, the first one, that might take place right in the village square outside the church, or in the same place as the second reception, but outside, not inside where the table is laid for the wedding feast. The first one is drinks and appetizers, served by waiters with trays moving among the guests, "Madame? Another duck heart wrapped in bacon?"  It can take awhile for all those not invited to dinner to stop drinking champagne and clear out, thus, a second location can be a good solution. At our own wedding, the darling, sociable, champagne aficionado of a mayor was the last to leave Part One. 

The dining part seldom begins before 9 or 10 pm, by which time, I am already fantasizing about brushing my teeth and heading to bed. Course after course after course, then cake, then, dancing. By 1:00 am, I am really, truly, finished with the whole thing and I would love to go home. But the family is here, it is a celebration, and we are guests, here to take joy in this new union, so let's dance! 

I am the first one to remark how sad it is to attend an American version of a wedding, where the venue is booked by the hour, not by the night. An occasion this important deserves at least a night and day of coming together for this fresh new unit of society, this lovely addition to our community. Their new and public promise to each other, if respected, encouraged, and nurtured by all those who care about them, will have a lasting impact on the world around them as they raise a family or devote themselves to workplace and community, stronger together. They deserve more than three hours of our time.

And yet, by 2:00 in the morning, I am whispering to my own fiancé; "can we not abscond, please?" "Of course not, look, the waiters are just getting ready to pour the champagne fountain over there, let's go watch." I allow myself to be dragged to my feet, I smooth down my borrowed dress, royal blue, a terrible choice for France (the color of garbage collectors and custodians, not for dress-up), and follow. We gather to watch the champagne flow from top glass to the next layer of glasses and the next. "A toast to the happy couple!" 

"Off to bed?" 

"Stop, love, this is a party. Relax and enjoy yourself. Besides, we are staying with my grandmother and riding with my aunt, so we have nowhere to go until they go. Let's dance, mon bébé."

The lights were low, the conversation animated, too animated, and the music was thumping. I am afraid I became most unpleasant to deal with after this point, to my later chagrin. As long as one is dancing, no whining is happening, so I was kept dancing by positively everyone in sight.

As I mentioned, this was my first wedding. I had no idea that I would still be grumping about going back to a place where bra, heels and pantyhose could be shed for nice, cool sheets at 5 am, else I would have given in and given up the complaining hours before. For a community to come together and grow, there must be real time spent together. In the US, we do this via our kids' activities, ballet, sports, theatre. In France, they celebrate the whole family, with the whole family. It is lovely, and I would like it so much better if we commenced the activities at sunrise instead of moonrise. And oui, I will return for the very next wedding!

Saturday, May 6, 2023

A Day or Two in the Life (of a French Court Interpreter)



It has been a week of work and drives. No, it has been two weeks of working and driving. No wonder I am feeling fresh as a May daffodil. (In Iowa, this equals drooping and done.) Despite the fatigue, I appreciate the beautiful detail in historical courthouses (Polk County above and to the right, Benton County below). There was a trial out of town on Monday, which can bring out the best and the worst in me. On one hand, I settle down to prep work in a serious way, but that is because I know that this is going to be intense. Even breaks will be taken up with attorney-client communication and I will have nary a minute to stop and do any extra research.

Trials mean, most importantly, that I will get to work with another interpreter, to collaborate with someone, to have someone to relieve or be relieved by when fatigue sets in, to laugh with after this is all said and done, mainly said, done is a matter of opinion, to have made memories with in both languages, which one can only do with another interpreter. Most of the time it is just me. 

On a non-trial day, there is a routine that may look a lot like this:

Interpreter shows up at courthouse, and on a good day, finds a parking spot less than a mile away. Interpreter stands in line at the front door with all of the other clients of the day. We wait to be scanned, bag and person. We usually have a minute to greet the guards, but not enough time to dwell for too long upon the misery of poverty and missed opportunities, despondency, mental illness, and (sometimes) horrible actions that have brought many of the people in this line to this place today. There are a number of individuals who look scared, rebellious, nervous or resigned, but most of them look down on their luck.

Everyone then either finds the printed-out sheet on the table in the hallway, or glances up at the electronic bulletin board by the elevators, or simply treks the three flights up to the clerk's office, depending on the county, to figure out which courtroom one needs to be in for their case. The smaller the courthouse, the greater the chances of needing to trek up three flights of stairs. Some counties let interpreters and attorneys know where they will be via email the night before. In one county, I will most likely descend to the basement and ask the smiling clerks at the bottom of the steps if 1) I am on the correct floor and 2) if the assigned attorney and party needing French have arrived. 


At this point, there is no set procedure, but if I can, I say; "tell them they can find me in courtroom 1-F," and I set up shop down the hall, comfortably installed, coat on a hook, ipad and ipencil at the ready, headsets for each party too, and on my guard for the moment someone may be looking for me. In the over-crowded, less welcoming courthouses, I have to shuffle about in the lobby of the floor everyone is supposed to be on, craning my neck every once in awhile to see if I can see the look that says, "hey, are you the French interpreter?" 

There is a very particular look, recognizable on faces of attorneys who I've not yet met, part panic, part exasperation, part rushed and harried, then such relief at finding each other. In the ones with whom I am familiar there is a different note of stealth and slyness and hope, "maybe she won't see me and I can just sneak in this very annoying and insistent client first who will only take a moment of my time, then I can deal with the man who needs an interpreter and will take twice as long since we have to say every single bloody word twice." 

"No, sorry ma'am, this interpreter knows that you think it will take but a moment, and that 45 minutes later, I will still be hanging out and checking for you to find me, with the added risk of every minute spent out here means a greater chance of your client asking me questions I am not allowed to answer." Now, would be the best time to utilize my services, merci.

Was that not clear? Let me explain...and I never explain, so pay attention, this is important if you want to look like a professional interpreter who knows what she is doing.

What my job is and is not: the duty is to interpret, which means, more or less that the stuff said in English goes into French and vice versa. If there is only French coming in, especially in the form of questions I am not qualified to answer or statements about what they say did or did not happen in a case, there is no interpreting, because my answers would be in French too, and they would be my own words. So, unless there are three of us present, I am not doing my job. 

In the hallway, a conference room, or a courtroom, the interpreter's role is always the same: interpret the message accurately from one language into another and back again, every message and utterance, the whole time.

What the job is not is giving my own opinion, ever using "I" except to convey what either of the other two parties just said to the other one. This is what makes waiting in a holding space of any sort (lobby, waiting room, hospital room, jail cell) with one person problematic...I am not interpreting, I am engaged in a conversation. This is especially true of an LEP individual who suddenly finds themselves in the presence of someone who understands their language fully and to whom they may of a sudden find themselves very much inclined to confide every last detail or ask every question about this very confusing system in this foreign country. I would do exactly the same thing in their place, should I ever find myself in similar straits in say, Bali or Tokyo, and I would milk it for all it was worth, because I am here, I do not understand and I NEED TO KNOW. 

It is natural, it is also equally in my nature to want to help, to offer a kind word or an answer to requests such as, "How do I call and set up the drunk driving class?" (Yes, it really is referred to that way by some judicial officers). "What if I am a permanent resident, would the plea offer get me deported if I took it?" In front of a third party, I become perfectly legit. I just say that phrase in English and allow the other person (the person qualified to answer) to take over. I am obligated by a strict code of ethics and in the interest of the system working the way it should to not give the appearance of any conflict of interest. This used to feel cold to me, but then came the day when I was accused of just that, and I was not allowed to complete an assignment the way I would have preferred. Live and learn. 

But still, occasionally someone catches up to me in the hallway after a hearing to say, "Madame, Madame, is he going to be allowed to have weekend visitations with the children, even though he told my brother back home he hates us and will have us deported or kill us?" Or, "I did nothing, that cop did not even talk to me when the accident happened. She was the one, the other driver, who ran into my car, not the other way around. This is so messed up, man. I just bought that car, it was almost new. What, is it because of the color of my skin? What is going on here?" The parking meter they have out in front of the courthouse in City A is full of glitches and there are requests to help out with it, back outside in the rain. And so I hide in courtroom 1-F until it is time to interpret.

Recently there have been three trials, scenario A. It has been a great pleasure to work with two French colleagues. I absolutely adore my fellow Franco-American interpreters and had been counting on working with one of them, but agencies will surprise you sometimes and set you up with a trial partner you've never met. I love that the French expression can come out so elegantly with a native speaker, and the flow is beautiful. I delight in hearing accents that are familiar as family to me.

The last trial, the third one in as many weeks, was a bench trial, set for a duration of half an hour. This means there was only one interpreter assigned to the case. I thought it would be a piece of cake to handle a little plea hearing in one city, drive two hours, and interpret for this "short trial", then drive an hour home. Three hours later, this civil law suit with a counter claim turned out to be a fresh new circus of ..."he said, I said, they did, they did not," with a never-ending set of documents to prove the contrary of the other side's argument. When we ended and I had not collapsed from exhaustion, it was a triumphant moment. 

I got back into my car, put on the most outrageous podcast I could find to keep me wide awake, and drove home to my family. It is not a bad life at all.

Friday, February 17, 2023

The Spill/Steal Zone of Knitting and Life

Sometimes you care and sometimes you just don't.

When knitters cast on a new knitting project, we exist in a dream zone, a lull in time, the magic of the softness of the yarn, the brilliance of the design, the idea of how beautiful this will someday be. At this stage, you will be ever so careful of the baby project who needs all your attention and protection from the elements, from thieves, from mugs of tea splashing or worse. 

Just as the end approaches, this protective spirit returns, because now we are almost there and you see the value in the work that has been done, the work our very own hands did to reach this point. 


It's the in-between time, the "voyage" over which so much ink has already flowed. This is the time where, upon exiting your vehicle, you glance back at the knitting which, thus far you have either insisted be kept upon your person at all times, or you've locked in the trunk if you positively must part with it. Today, in the abject apathy stage, you shrug instead, "Let them have it, pain in the patooty anyway, over it, bored with it, stuck on a tricky bit, have to unravel and start over. It is not worth the trouble."

Life is a long, messy slog. All around us are perfect examples of ungrateful wretches having the worst day ever. The only thing on my bucket list on those days is the opportunity to crawl back under the covers.

It is worth the trouble, I know it is, all projects have value, all projects deserve a chance and a little love, but if this particular one were to disappear, would anyone notice or grieve for very long? Can I not have a do-over? Look at my mistakes, anyone can see this is a disaster. The cup of coffee hovering near no longer fills us with dread

...but if you persevere, it will.

The end will come, completion will once more be at hand. The beauty in creation wins out over the lackadaisical and ugly. Then you can start all over again. Cast and carry on. 

P.S. The analogy was just repeated in a concrete way with one of my children. This one had been feeling bogged down by the enormous amount of work to be done to complete her double major in four years. She is a junior; in "normal" American terms, this means she has just one year left after this one. However, this one was proving to be too too much. 

wahhhhh wahhhhh wahhhhh

Not nice, moms can't always be nice, just most days, and, yes, I had days in school when I was 100% certain that my TRUE future lay in hopping in the nearest sailboat and navigating the globe, right now. 

I am not a stranger to kids and their flailing motivation while getting through school. It is senioritis that can strike at any time, but mainly towards to middle to just past the mid-point. It happened in community college for one, in law school for another. My high school sophomore swears he has it now. 

Today came the news that this is looking like it will be so good. It will be excellent to finish college and next year will not be as bad as the three preceding it. Graduation may actually be a date in the near future. She's getting to the part where you know you'll be casting off soon and have a THING in hand. Hurrah!

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Note to All: BUY A FLASHLIGHT: Four-months Post-op, Still Clumsy

Because, even though you have counted yourself lucky not to have ever done this up thus far in your life, miraculously, (what are our chances, ever?)...

...dropping your phone-cum-flashlight in the toilet as you reach across to dry your clean (not for long) hands on the hand towel that for some reason has always hung on the wall right across the way, is just dumb. Dumber still when it is 3 am and now you have to look up all the NEW advice about what to do with a phone that goes under (the last time it was a bowl of green jello during a household-wide gastroenteritis crisis, most unfortunate). 

Just. Buy. a. Flashlight. Or a bathroom nightlight. Or learn to walk in the dark. Why are our phones now such a part of our anatomy that I felt like I must have injured a body part when I awoke in the half-drowsiness of dawn this morning?  I scanned my senses and then came to realize it was not a limb, it was the absent phone, SIM card ejected after numerous tries (who knew paper clips came in so many different diameters?), all drying on a crocheted coaster in the office. 


I can blame the lingering weakness of the thumb joint after surgery, which is what this post is really about, but honestly...I amaze and astonish myself too often.

Appearance of thumb: almost normal, although I can tell its angle is not yet quite kosher. All the flexibility has not returned. But I can knit again!

Pain: none unless I overuse it. And this pain is different from before. It is more like a muscle after a work-out, like strengthening is trying to happen instead of something that is broken.

Strength: gaining little by little. The pt and surgeon are both optimistic that full strength will return after about a year. I can do everything I could before, just not with as much weight as normal. In important terms for me: I can hold a baby, but a toddler is out of the question. 

If a box is delivered and held out for me, I'm fine with a small book but not 18 lbs. of glue (you don't want to know). If a phone is held at the wrong angle, it drops. 

Grocery carts can be endured for a short trot around a small store, but not the double-sized Costco sort. I had to haul my bath tissue from the far, far end zone to the register today snugged up against my chest like a Flemish giant rabbit.

My therapy putty has become my best buddy. I have also graduated from a 1-lb weight to a 2-lb one, but I need to increase the number of times a day I do the exercises. 

Am I glad I had the procedure? The very small, one-member jury remains out. If I truly can live a less-limited, more productive life because of having done this, then I will declare a victory. Truth? It is still a nuisance for now.

Are you thinking about joint surgery? Which joint? Have you had one replaced? Do you have any underlying hypermobility that made it all that more interesting?

Photo credit: BrickBard on Pixabay

Sunday, February 5, 2023

The Syllabus has Been Approved, Rejoice and Enjoy

What began as a "sure, it might be great to share what I know with local students," soon became, "wait, what have I gotten myself into and how am I ever going to figure it all out in time for spring semester?" While I have been painstakingly working through foreign concepts like class calendars, grading rubrics, and a thing called Moodle (created for "education management"), I have been planning the lessons themselves and interpreting a full court and occasional conference schedule. Time for creativity has been at an all-time low. Since October, apparently, as I see the blog header still has a pumpkin barn photo.

Yesterday approval was finally granted of my opus mediocris, and my mind is free again, for two minutes, to enjoy writing, knitting, family (no, not true, they bring me joy every single day, regardless of work) and last night, a magnificent evening of breath-taking music at the symphony. It was glorious!!! This is my OFFICIAL RECOMMENDATION to go experience as many classical concerts as your remaining years, months and days allow. I even finally slept, calmed by the resounding waves of Brahms Third Symphony and the tempestuous Violin Concerto No. 1 of Shostakovich echoing through my slumber. I slept afterwards, not during, or at least, not too much during. It is fairly common to see closed eyes around one at the symphony.

My sweet girl is home for the weekend and having surpassed us all in sock-knitting after completing NINE pairs for Christmas gifts, she sat and showed me how complete a toe-up sock that I began years ago. She knows how to do a German short-row heel in her sleep! I myself had to watch the video three more times when we became separated for a bit mid-afternoon. 

It has been a rich, rich, rich year in experiences, sights and love. Our family is growing in challenging ways as we traverse trials and tribulations, but also in good ways, as we return to be together as often as we can. The fact that all of us can be in the same place at the same time for a meal is so good. And...something I did not think would feel right does; having one, two or four of them around for a trip or a weekend is also good.

This new definition of "family" as a more fluid concept is freeing and opens up more avenues to joy. I can be right here, in the moment with the ones who are present and less regretful of missing the one who may not be. This was my first Christmas ever spent away from one of my children. I missed my oldest with all my heart, but taking delight in being with family to celebrate the holiday took precedence over that bit of longing. We were in France with our French family all reunited, eating more food than required for sustenance or gluttony, and I was enveloped in a warm glow of the spirit of the season. I even went for a nice post-dinner hike with my father-in-law across the countryside, pine forest and boggy fields, tiny village and lone cottage with smoking chimney.

Interpreter Travels? Yes, indeed. As soon as I was freed to drive again post-surgery, I was back out the door and on to more courthouses and conferences. Last week was spent just in Iowa courts and I drove over 800 miles. What does this mean? This means a ton of audiobooks...and one tired interpreter at the end of certain days.

Although a typical week may have less than forty hours of actual interpreting time, a good deal of preparation goes into our work before we begin, especially for a deposition stemming from a particular industry or a conference on any topic under the sun. And then we come home and attack the invoicing.

Was this the fun end I had planned for this post? There clearly was no plan, although the photos from my birthday dinner would make a nice addition, it was a lovely day! All three of my sons were there. Never mind, the photos seem to involve me laughing uproariously with a very large sombrero on my head. If you would like photos of France and Spain (Basque Country in Spain), head over to Instagram instead. Blogger has only produced the most mediocre photographic quality from what I have uploaded lately. You can see France, the dog, kids, all of that, here instead: French Dialogues.

Bon dimanche!

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Conferences and Conventions and INVENTIONS, in Salt Lake and Vegas

This is from a post begun months ago. I could not quite conceive of how to begin to suddenly write about the profession of interpreting on my family blog, out of the bleu. Still family life evolves, and this part is proof of that fact. We have children and they are small for about two nano-seconds. It is much like our fleeting existence overall, floating out here on this planet in this vastness of the universe for maybe an entire heartbeat of time.

As I look for ways to heal the world, I will just keep sharing stories of what unites us and all of our glorious differences from around the world. Some day you will get to read the "tales of a young woman from Sub-Saharan Africa in the US," I have written but dare not yet share.

Life (and colleagues, merci!) have tossed some fascinating travel and work opportunities my way recently: Salt Lake City and Las Vegas both. Below, oui, sometimes work attire means dressed like a tourist.

This is far and yet not far from my normal Midwest venues. True, in-person my work has been closer to where we live, but via video? All around the entire globe, for depositions, conferences, court proceedings, and interviews between humanitarian organizations and their counterparts in towns large and small anywhere. This was merely a next step post-pandemic, as the world is getting back together again.

Last week we had essential oils as the topic du jour, it was aromatic. This week space, robotics, machine learning, AI and ethics. I am learning things I may never have explored without my work. Quantum physics, folks!!!

While we pound into the brains of those sensitive enough to be bothered or those with enough to lose to be defensive the fact that the world is truly going to hell in a hand-basket, there are those actively involved in solutions to critical problems. This last conference gave me a strong hope in the brilliance of humanity's inventiveness, know-how, and the will to solve our current riddles.

This presenter explains that so even this literary type can understand: Shohini Ghose on quantum computing for all here and talking about Marie Curie here.

Tom Oxley, who has found a way for the paraplegic to text straight from their thoughts. This invention helps individuals who may have been contemplating requests to help end their lives because there was no way to meet one of our fundamental human needs; to communicate with each other. It was a privilege to interpret for him. You can hear Dr. Oxley tell the story here in a TED talk.

A well-known and much-loved for his congenial manner and talent for explaining physics as well as the future, in this talk, Michio Kaku gives his take on the future of AI and what jobs will still exist in our brave new world.

Here is a glimpse into what an interpreting booth looks like. It is high-paced action all the time. And those micro-seconds of my children's childhood? Those moments are among the most precious of my entire life, but I have learned to be thankful for each instant as it comes along.

Where else was an interpreter to be found at work in Utah that week? How about a lavender farm, a company's beautiful HQ, or between events behind dog robots in the hallways?

Gala aka dress-up night from the booth. That's the slightly mad look I get whenever I try to take a selfie. You can just get a glimpse of my booth partner's chair next to mine. It is close-quarters. I have been super duper lucky to have had extraordinarily good humans as booth partners every single time; professional, upbeat, fearless in the face of adversity. I have heard tell that this is not always the case. (shark attack music plays...)

There was a six-hour farm stay in 97 degrees and not much to interpret. The tractor was not my idea. We have tractors in Iowa. And they are all green. But my booth partner is a gem and where she goes, I will follow.

Out my hotel room window. I pulled a chair right up to it for those hours of prep listening to speakers and translating terminology. It was not as hard as it looks.

Let us make the most out of that blip we get in history to craft solutions, to be love, to dare to offer what we have to give and then some. Let go of the fear, there is no time for it, nor is there for hesitation, lack of confidence or to be deficient in compassion.


Sunday, October 2, 2022

A Hot Day at the Seaside

Landlocked no more! I am on a beach, sand under my feet, with the water within reach, salt droplets spraying my face once again.

It is unworldly how much is evoked by mention of the ocean; peace, beauty, lulling, raging, tempestuous, murderous, whatever name one gives it. 

I do not believe I gave it any name growing up, except in picture books or when my grandmother returned from visiting my aunts in California or Hawaii. It was mythical, foreign, powerful, it brought to mind images full of vigor and the quiet of tidepools.

And then we met, really met, when I happened up and over the sand dune and was faced with the vision of such vastness and roaring, beautiful, ordered chaos. The waves, wild and dangerous, nonetheless obey laws of moon, land, and season.

The very way the surf dances and plays invites intrepid humans to do the same on board, boat or on the power of their own strength.

Any time I can, I return.

I do not get author Bill Bryson at all. We are both from Iowa, true, but he claims he cannot fathom a fascination with a large body of water full of salt one arrives at via a long and sandy path. He grew up without it and never missed it, as do millions and millions. I grew up without it and mourn this impoverished childhood. 

I do not live on a coast, the reasons would fill an entire tome, and yet, the call remains in my heart. The gentle lapping on the shore or the bellow of a boisterous sea are music to my forlorn ears, the salt in the air a delicate bouquet to my land-locked nostrils.

G. and I began our stay with a few days on the Atlantic coast to make sure we were not bringing covid with us when we went to visit anyone older and more vulnerable. It was a hot, hot time and the lodgings were filled with hungry mosquitos, but the beach was a stone's throw from the house, as were cafés, bakeries, pizza trucks and a tiny grocery store filled with all one could need...and more. We spent the day in the waves and ate pizzas, bread, paté and cheese at night.

We did it all over again with a cousin a couple weeks later. This time I was able to stay under the beach umbrella a little more, frying a little less. Sunscreen only goes so far, especially when the next round of it has to be mixed with sand.  I had my knitting, done while keeping both eyes on the kids, and they had each other to hang out with.

This is one of the places my interpreting profession has led me. I have an obligation to keep up my second language. Why not on a beach in France? Attention! Vague!

Movement During Surgery Recovery and EDS: Chapter Two: Why We Did It/Skin Care/What to Wear with a Cast on Your Arm

"We" includes a team; the one with the condition or injury, the ones suffering because of the injury (affected and affected's family), the health care professionals: primary doctor, alternative medicine doctor, chiropractor, physical therapist, surgeon, physician's assistant, and all of the other doctors and orthopedic specialists I consulted in the past. It's really a little embarrassing to think about. 

As someone who has a condition making every joint hypermobile, but who lived almost my entire life not knowing it was the cause of most physical problems I've ever had, the realization is still dawning on me bit by bit. This too??? The intention is not to whine, but to increase awareness of what people with EDS or on the hypermobile spectrum might also be experiencing. I see you.

-Over-extending elbows and ability to do the splits.

-Constantly sprained ankles and back pain that left me "stuck" often. (Both of these are much improved, hormonal shifts? Better exercise routine? Less sugar?)

-Sciatica pain- can still happen.

-Ends of pregnancy where walking became almost impossible from hip and groin agony.

-Knee flare-ups.

-Arthritis developing in highly inconvenient places like feet and thumbs.

-And, the worst part of all, knowing that I might have passed along these genes to my children. Should I have listened to the voice calling me to the convent after all? Life is far to short for regrets, but honestly!

In light of this, the decision to go in, break open and hopefully take care of one of these body parts seems almost ludicrous. But here's the thing...age is creeping towards us all the time, and how we want to spend that period of our lives is a decision we all have to make. I want to type and knit. I want to garden and ice-skate and ski.

I want to drive around the Midwest to interpreting assignments or along the highways of the world out exploring, climbing mountains, and leaping into waves. I want to weight-train to avoid further degeneration of my bone density. 

                And a working hand is key to all of that. 

As far as the feet are concerned, I can always wear old-lady  "comfortable, sturdy shoes," but for hand and wrist even the best support gloves have proven to have their limits, and braces have made things worse. (We have a whole Bag of Braces for different body parts we keep handy, along with walking boots and bath bags for casted bits.) 

When even the occupational therapist voiced the opinion that maybe surgery was a good option for me, after injections and therapy and regular exercises had failed, I made the final pre-surgery appointment to review my options with the hand specialist. After my initial visit, I had been leery of her decision  to recommend fusion. But after the follow-up MRI, conducted to explore what seemed to be cysts along my wrist, her choice of treatment was modified to joint replacement (because the imaging revealed more damage from arthritis than had originally shown up on an x-ray) and a mini-tight wire reinforcement, due to the added potential the EDS adds for joint laxity becoming problematic for the joints further up the chain of command. For some weird reason, this reassured me. "Fusion" sounded permanent, stiff, and final. Replacement sounds sustainable, workable, with a higher rate of mobility down the line. AND SHE LISTENED TO MY CONCERNS ABOUT THE HYPERMOBILITY/EDS. This, dear doctors, will do more for your scores on than any treatment, no matter how successful. 

Now for the wardrobe...left to my own devices early yesterday morning, I dolefully grumbled to friends that I looked like a bag lady, and wondered if this was how it all started for some of their ranks? 


You go home alone with an arm in a cast and find; you can't do your hair, so you pop on a hat that half covers the disheveled tangle. There is no one to hook your bra so a second layer is a must, but none of your sweaters will go over your cast, so it's a poncho on top of whatever sleeveless shirt you can scrounge up, and your yoga pants are in the laundry. so a skirt with an elastic waist band is the only other thing that  is not pyjama bottoms in your closet. Show up at work often enough in this get-up and you're likely to lose confidence and your job along with it and then you're left with...those very same clothes on your back.*

Responses from two friends;

(Zero commiseration, you will note, the hallmark of someone who knows you too well and is not taking your grousing for one second.)

-Embrace your inner Stevie Nicks.

-I happen to love the babushka vibe.

-I'm with E. Your inner French woman needs to learn how to let it hang.

Thanks, folks. That's friendship for you. Always moving you forward...or something. I mean, did you see the sorrow in that face? Not a single whoop given.

And then I got up this morning and decided I will have to find a way to make the closet full of perfectly nice items I have work for the next few weeks. Work is going to be a challenge, but that was also true when I went from semi-hippy-homeschool-mama to work with no transition. I used to justify every slightly insane outfit with, "It could be a French style, they will just think I am French." 

Here was today's Sunday "fit", as the kids say. In which I embrace not only Bohemia but the Japanese girl with skirt and socks look I've always admired but never imitated. I still don't see walking into court in this one, but I've decided to be happy. And that extends to the length of time it will take to fully heal and get this hand working again. And it also includes messy kitchens and bathrooms and clients who arrive an hour late. I am happy.

* I must add a note of gratitude for this beautiful skirt brought back for me by a friend from India and the equally scrumptious warm poncho my sister gave me for Christmas, I love both, but I was in a mood.


Day 13 Progress and Movement Report:

Not much to report. I eased up on the amount of stretching I do, because the weight of the cast/splint (I guess I'll know tomorrow when it is removed) seemed to cause more pain and I was not sure it wouldn't pull too much on the joint in doing thirty minutes at a time.

We go for a walk every day and I putz around out in the garden in my flowers. I fetch my own things up and down the stairs and keep it raised much of the time. There is some discomfort, but it is not terrible.

My old nemesis, eczema has made a come-back, summoned no doubt partially from my belief that if I ever needed a cast for anything it would surely be a problem. My self-talk has been crazy positive, but alas, it has made my hand a crone's claw. Skin fragility is a big problem/main symptom of EDS.

Hey, speaking of crones, it is almost Halloween or Samhain. I wonder if I could pretend I got the date wrong and show up every day in skirt, shawl and pointy hat? I might start a trend among the legal profession. Actually, if I am in a splint for four more weeks beginning tomorrow, that will be day for day October 31. I would be seasonal. Or delusional. 

What have others come up with for both skin care for fragile skin in a splint or cast and outfits when you can neither pull up panty hose nor tug, zip and button pants? 

And for movement while healing; please send your favorite gentle activities and ways to move in any way while putting along until full speed becomes a reality once more. I know it will, but having patience is another story.

Please share in comments.



Friday, September 30, 2022

Call the Interpreter Tales

Now offering a new series on where life as a French-speaker and an interpreter might take you. One of my friends joked it could be named "Call the Interpreter" as one of my beloved t.v. series is entitled, just with "Midwife" instead. Only with less blood and gore and screaming, except during labor and childbirth, of which there was quite a lot for the first nine years.

And truthfully, it all began spontaneously. I was a former translator and interpreter, but currently a mom at home. The first phone call was to request I report for duty... at the western wall of the in-patient psych ward one wintry day. "Yes," came out of my mouth, it does sometimes. I have kept much of it tucked away as this used to be a homeschooling blog. But the hard, real, hilarious at times, truth of being a semi-working mom and wife and homeschooling five children will be interwoven in the fabric of these stories.

The plan

Share the juiciest, most exciting, lively, and tender moments of this 20-some-year adventure in every type of interpreting encounter you might imagine, but entirely fictionalized. No real stories will be shared, would-and-might-have-beens only.

        My short-list 

of people, places, memories and scars, as noted on my Ipad. Please do excuse the formatting, as I have only one hand and I'm relying on a write to text app to produce this.

People from:

France  🇫🇷                 Congo RDC 🇨🇬

la Belgique   🇧🇪     Congo RC 🇨🇩           la Cote d' Ivoire 🇨🇮

Benin  🇧🇯             Haiti  🇭🇹          Togo  🇹🇬

le Liban  🇱🇧                               Cameroun 🇨🇲

le Quebec 🇨🇦                 la Suisse 🇨🇭

le Maroc  🇲🇦           l'Algerie 🇩🇿                     Burundi  🇧🇮

Rwanda  🇷🇼                          Niger 🇳🇪                     le Burkina Faso 🇧🇫

le Mali 🇲🇱                                        Senegal 🇸🇳

                                The Central African Republic 🇨🇫

Gabon  🇬🇦                           Tunisia 🇹🇳                             Roumanie 🇷🇴



les Landes                         Springfield                  Las Vegas

Iceland                   Nashville                  Muscatine 

Paris                                Cedar Rapids

San Francisco                    Racine


                …and hidden FLW masterpiece gems like Cedar Rock and its boathouse

        Des Moines... my own capital (but hardly known)

        Chicago... my own city of proximity (scarcely visited)

Dublin                 Salt Lake City                     Rock Island

        London                             La Salle                          Adel  


relatively few

- one or two from biking the Golden Gate bridge...

-psychological ones from high-winded, icy, bleak highway travel in winter

Memories made:

the best and the worst and everything in-between

Names and any other identifying factors shall be disguised beyond all recognition and stories will just be stories, based on treasures of all sorts I’ve seen and heard. Weird treasures. Beautiful treasures. Terrifying treasures.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

A Super-Bendy (Hypermobile/EDS) Recovers From Joint-Replacement Surgery; Chapter One

This is, in fact, Day Seven Post-op of having a joint replaced in the left wrist, or an arthoplasty CMC . ***If you cannot abide reading medical descriptions, skip to the next paragraph and cute dog pics. The trapezium bone was removed, replaced by a tendon graft and the bones hitched back together with a tiny tightwire. I always dreamed I'd do acrobatics and tightwire stunts. Fancy this being the first one.

I'll start here and in future chapters work back to when this hand first became a problem, but fresh things first. I am accompanied by a warm weight pressed up against my knees in the form of woman's most faithful friend (until the mailman shows up), Tuxy Pup. He desires nothing more of a morning than for his person to stay put for the duration of his morning nap.


We are back in a comfortable position, pillows in place under left elbow, ready to chronicle recovery as I live it. But earlier I did a very easy-going set of stretches. I am not going to get all stiff and old because of my left thumb. I am drinking as well, as much water as I can remember to drink each day. Recovery hinges on a balance of all three. Move. Rest. Hydrate.

Surgery Day, as you might imagine, was woozy, fuzzy, and tired until it wasn't. There was a good deal of meditation on gratitude and some silent cussing. My rambling notes, scrawled on a tablet with my Apple pencil went something like this, "Think of everything that is pain-free. Toes? check! left leg, right leg, torso, right arm, right hand, neck, eyes, nose, whole head? Check, check! I am so fortunate!" I even used pretty colors. And no cussing.

How could I complain when my husband had rearranged his day, his month around this to take care of every detail, meal, animal, and child? What's more, I was not going to whine about a choice I made freely. 

Nevertheless, the truth is, when the nurse tells you, "take a pain pill when you first start to notice pins and needles," it is a good idea to do just that. They know what they're talking about. I blame timing and a chronic low-pain tolerance for what happened. 

They said, "a nerve-block can last for up to 24 hours, if it hasn't worn off before you go to bed, take the meds to be safe." That was my plan. But, the pins and needles warning sign came two hours after surgery as I was being bundled into the backseat to head home. I thought it might just be the new positioning of my arm or imagination. I have a bright and vivid imagination that goes into overdrive for anything with the smallest hint of the catastrophic. When the pain began vaguely in the heavily-bandaged region of the joint that had been gussied up, I knew that this time it had to be my imagination. There was no way I could have any feeling at all in this arm when the nerve block was so clearly still at work. 

How did I know this? Remember when the fake wizard professor, Gilderoy Lockhart, casts a spell that eliminates all the bones in Harry Potter's arm? When it goes all gooey and limp right there on the Quidditch field? Yes, well, that was the exact appearance of my arm too. Like jelly, zero control over it, made you queasy to look at. The nerve was blocked. For real. Fingers could not wiggle. And...weirdest of all, I could not get a grasp on its coordinates. 

My arm was still in the position it had been in just before they jabbed me with the magical nerve block needle. This was the oddest encounter of the day, not the half-remembered conversation I had as I woke up still in the freezing cold operating room, nor the loopy happiness of seeing my darling still in my hospital room as though he'd never left, even though it had been almost two hours but felt like 3 minutes. No, what my brain could not wrap itself around was where it believed my arm to be and where my eyes said it was, stretched out and bandaged up, way off to the side.

But still it hurt in a dull, aching way. The wiggling capacity returned suddenly, and then it was too late. I accepted two ibuprofen. They did not seem very effective. One pain pill an hour later did not much help either, but I didn't know what other side effects the drugs might vomiting. Who wants to vomit when clean up will be someone else's duty? I would have to breathe through it. Until around midnight when I gave in and chose to take TWO pills. Best solution ever.

Speaking of decisions, this whole thing was not undertaken lightly. I have been present for too many limb surgery recovery visits as an interpreter (nine years worth) to believe in the always happily-ever-after of opening up body parts and making it all like new. It does happen and surgeons can be miracle-workers, but it is science, not magic. In science there are variables. 

My major variable is hypermobility (or super-loose joints), a form of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which has meant many things, as those of you who are familiar with it, (fellow zebras) can recount in detail. A few years ago, I wrote that surgery was not an option. What changed?

That is a topic for the next post. Suffice it to say that the arthritis pain could no longer be dealt with to my satisfaction in an alternative manner.

Today I will focus on recovery.

Day One following surgery, ugh, the barf I had avoided and feared appeared. Pain and nausea...typical post-op misery I knew, how many times had I seen patients in similar straights? Was it due to tacos for lunch or the pain medication? Hard to tell. I ended the day with tea and rice crackers.

Day Two, I sleep until 9, which is noon in my normal world.

-I read, clean up left-over invoices and emails, read and sleep.

-I get dressed, professionally, and work for two hours plus over Zoom. I thought I was going to be ready for this. It was a long and emotionally taxing interview. Once finished, I am wiped. 

My thoughts on Day Three, still mainly resting sitting still but off the strong stuff, down to a couple NSAs twice a day:

-Marvel at what a gifted surgeon can do today so that a person will be able to move; lift, drive, type and knit tomorrow. And wince, just a teensy bit, from time to time.

-Contemplating the terms Arthroplasty CMC and mini T-rope fixation, which serve as a reminder NOT TO USE THE THUMB. The only admonition from the doctor.

-Fortunate indeed to be free to swivel my head from side to side, to feel I lack no flexibility of body or inferior limbs (did this hypermobile human really say that?)

-Even luckier to have scrumptious food brought to my side at any hour of the day or night. Thank you, sweetie doing all the cooking and cleaning and thank you to the friend who showed up with a whole beautiful meal.

Day Four, in which I wake up and get up and moving.

-Yesterday I moved, allowed to go up and down the stairs on my own finally. OK, the instinct to protect me from myself is not necessarily out of line, I am ever-so-slightly pone to running into things. I also went for a drive to see the river because I know it was missing me.

-Today though, the garden beckons in the fall air and sunshine, it is irresistible and being outside feels healing. I garden, or rather, I spend an hour picking disgusting bud-eating caterpillars off my geraniums, one-handed, being extra careful not to splash the cast as I drop their squirming forms into a blue ceramic bowl of soapy water. At least I grant them a somewhat noble end. 

-Rest, tea, snack then a stretch. As usual, when there is pain, I go to a pain-relief Essentrics slow video. It feels good to gently, gently stretch every body part, minus the thumbs. 

-This is the end of not resting for the day. It feels better to have my hand raised and cushioned. 

Day Five

-We take two walks, one with Tuxy Pup held in place by my sweetheart, one alone, just to make the most of yet another beautiful autumn day.

 -I feel much like normal; I even wake up before 7. The pain definitely is more apparent with exercise in which my wrist is free and blood can flow into it rather than away. Back up we go.

Day Six

-There is no one free to supervise a walk until evening and it feels like a betrayal to go out without dog, so I work all day, with no fatigue, then break at 5:30 for another Essentrics video, this one is called a connective tissue workout.  After the first two minutes of warm up exercises, it slows way way down for the rest of it. I adapt for this heavy thumb I'm toting around by doing the warm-ups in halftime and instead of reaching for a feather, it becomes a fluffy white kitten. For others who have EDS, you might want to remind yourself that "pull your shoulder right back, stretch it way out" may need be be modified to "gently, ever so gently extend whichever body part we're stretching today," lest the helpful exercise become less helpful.

-Remarkable for today: no pain medication until early evening, no fatigue, a little achiness and twinges, both of which have been present since surgery.

Day Seven, Eight, Nine...

The week is a holding pattern of waiting to heal and have the next visit with the doctor. The pain is completely manageable with rest and one small dose of an NSA each evening. I always wait until the end of the afternoon so that the pain, if any, can be a reminder to slow back down and let this heal properly. 

I have a couple of remote assignments, but mainly I study to learn how to teach more effectively. This has been an exciting week as I go back through two online classes on better consecutive interpreting and do all of the exercises myself there and in Note-taking for Consecutive Interpreting. This freedom of having time to study and plan has been a great gift. I was looking forward before to teaching a class on interpreting for a local college, but now I am super-psyched about what we will be able to accomplish in that classroom and beyond, in our community.

What we all want to know does it turn out? Will I knit, type, drive and lift weights again? We shall discover it all together. 

More details also on the decision-making that went into this and the options offered and tried.

In the meantime, let me entertain you with strange tales of travel and encounters as a French interpreter, à tout de suite!


Saturday, August 6, 2022

I Took a Nap and a Drive: A French Afternoon on Vacation…or La Farniente, Almost

There is life after lunch. Right after we’ve had a nice nap to recover from lunch. Which is after the hour of coffee-drinking in the shade of the trees in the garden. The nap, I mean, not lunch. I know, there is a lot to keep track of.

We go visiting or are visited. Marie-France, my French mama and I do much of the visiting. It is a day by day affair. The telephone is picked up around 3:30, a number dialed and I hear, "Alô? Angela est là, can we stop by?" and we are out the door. This will be one of the families who hosted me years ago when I was an exchange student. They have had dozens of exchange students in the Rotary club over the years, but not many ended up married to a local and with French citizenship. I also write at Christmas.
I chauffeur, Marie directs and tells stories. She has stories of her childhood in le Berry, where her father ran a great farm. There are tales of voyages around the globe, of great hardships, great joy, and hilarity. I try not to murder our backs with my driving, that second gear is always hard on the coccyx when poorly executed, but she is a model of graciousness, never once agreeing with me that I might have jolted her right out of her skull.
Contis-les Landes

The roads are the tiniest things you ever did see. I know I said that about the store yesterday, but the roads really are as teensy and tidy as those shelves of biscuits. See below (isn't that just peerless?)

Spar in Mezos, on the corner of Avenue des Écoles and Rue des Tilleuls

The "routes départementales" in les Landes are lined with the golden and green shades of burning ferns and pine trees mostly, with bursts of wildflowers in purple and yellow. Every three and a half seconds one comes to another roundabout signaling another village. The driver has just time enough to make it back up to the ninety kilometers an hour speed limit when it drops back down to fifty and then thirty. 

The main streets of villages are lined with hot pink flowering trees, glorious hanging baskets of flowers, and pretty little ninth or tenth-century churches. We can spot a small chateau or two, wells with wooden roofs, bread ovens, old communal schools; girls on one side and boys on the other, and town halls. I slow down to a crawl to get over the HUGE hump of a road bump. Every town has added these, sometimes two or three of them. They are called "dos d'âne" or "donkey backs" in French. The size of these has me thinking of much, much larger animals, maybe brontosaurus backs. I shift back into third and fourth gears and wait for the sign to signal the end of the village to speed up again for a very short while: fifty, seventy, ninety -roundabout.


Our teatime excursions took us to country places with stables and others in little villages. One property was tucked into one of the few hills in les Landes, most were on the plain, all surrounded by the endless pine trees.

On one occasion, a last-minute decision to go our for lunch was taken, highly unusual here. My French mama had just received bad news about her car that had been in the garage awaiting repairs; it would take longer than expected and she would soon be stranded with only an ancient, beat up truck to drive and besides, she just needed the cheering up that only a good meal would provide…I could but acquiesce and drive. It was not far, a small town a few miles from the coast. After a small glass of red wine and a giant plate each of all the good parts of a duck: gesiers, foie, magret, some pine nuts and a few leaves of lettuce to permit the name of “salade”,  the waiter brought out a little selection of cheese and then an expresso. If only either of us had had any remaining appetite left for the chocolat liegois...another time.

What next? It was raining lightly, but it might let up. It was decided that we should trust the fates and we drove the two miles to Contis plage, my first beach experienced in France. The rain let up as I snagged a parking spot vacated by a disappointed vacationer. We made our slow, digestive way up and over the dune. I will not attempt to describe how captivating the sea is here, but I have included a couple of photos above.

On either end of my week with Marie-France, I am back in my husband’s home town. In this space of "after the noon hour" here, my mama-in-law, my son and I make our leisurely way over to my sister-in-law’s to take a dip in the pool with the cousins or watch them do so from a cool spot on the patio. This has, of course, been preceded by exactly the same morning scenario, up to and including the sieste.



Today, I see that my kiddo is busy hammering and sawing things out on the patio with his Papi, so I think I will go out alone to fill up the gas tank of my little car that can go for 690 kilometers on a single tank. 

Then, perhaps I may just return to the boulangerie (bakery) where I found a delicious chocolatine and éclairs au chocolat yesterday to make the most of the beautiful fact that someone on this great green earth took the time to bake such a thing. I believe I really do owe it to bakers everywhere…don’t you think?



***There are more posts, videos and thrilling adventures, like; taking out the rubbish in the countryside in France and real photos of the weirdest parking lot ever invented (which happens to be at that very same boulangerie) on my Instagram: French Dialogues. Come see me there and please hit "subscribe" would you? It would make my day. 

Bonne journée to you!