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!

Saturday, July 23, 2022

I Had Lunch: Daily Life in a French Village

That has been the sum of my days until 4 pm every day this week. What did I accomplish today? I had lunch. Here is what it takes to make possible a meal here. 

A bergerie in the forest of Les Landes

The old house

I sleep too late; the charger for my phone is too far from the bed, so I leave it unplugged. Phone goes dead, most likely from failed attempts to join an inexplicably complicated wifi, and alarm is missed. Or I did not set an alarm, sure I would wake up with the sun.

But the sun is perfectly blocked out by heavy wooden shutters closed tight against the light and weather. No wakey. I rush to dress and be ready before it is “too late”. People keep reassuring me that it is fine, I am on vacation and I should sleep. But there is the midday meal to prepare.

Breakfast is a bowl of café on my way out the door to help with the grocery run. We have to go to the next village over for a real store, and it is the tiniest, tidiest thing you ever saw. Every bar of chocolate and every package of lardons is beautifully aligned. There are three people at the butcher counter in the back, and the owner is either welcoming you in at the front while she rings up another client’s things, “Bonjour mademoiselle, bonjour monsieur,” or busy cooking delicious dishes for the deli in the back kitchen, like lasagna with clams and cauliflower baked with white sauce and cheese, crisp on top. She will be out shortly if the latter is the case.  The greetings are effusive and detailed with my host-mama; bisous, inquiries about health and the book of her son and the cat…

These are the best dry sausages (saucisson), the ones that look rugged and artisanal because they have the most flavor, the best density and chewiness:

One might stop and have a coffee while out in the morning. Here maybe, with the best chocolatines in the world:

We return home to begin lunch preparations, or rather, I am shooed out of the kitchen while the real cooking is done and only allowed to return when it is time to set the table. Nothing has changed. I came to help out for a week or so, instead, I am being fed and taken care of and only allowed to do the most basic of tasks. I am allowed to chauffeur, sweep and take care of the kitchen after meals. I am not sure where the rest of the morning has gone, maybe I walked to the Tabac* hoping to buy stamps in one more spot-no dice here either, or I ran to another village with my host-brother to pick up some forgotten item. One morning we visited the tomb of my host-papa, the amazing, energetic, full of life, Tano. His absence is so large now.

Lunch is glorious, a feast of ridiculous proportions for my American habits. Here or at my in-laws, there are three courses and coffee. Many days we have a glass of sangria with sausage or chips. Today we’ll begin the meal with langoustine, a salad of grated carrots and probably some of the graisserons with foie gras (which would be lumped under “pâté” in English and that would be a great disservice to humankind’s palette, but never mind). The next course is a meat course, chicken in a delicious sauce or merguez or an omelette or both because there are leftovers of one or the other. There will be lettuce and vinaigrette, and sometimes the salad has walnuts and cheese in it if it is part of the opening course. 

Then comes the cheese tray, with another piece or two of the oven-fresh baguette we picked up this morning. The choices range from ripe and creamy like the chèvre to hard and just as pungent, like the P’tit Basque. Dessert may be a lemon tarte or yogurt and coffee will follow. By this time it is 2:30 pm and the kitchen can be cleaned and naps taken. Are you getting the picture?

And if that is not enough, the beach is half an hour away. Capbreton, les Landes, town of the bakery/café aforementioned.

***The Tabac is a shop in which things like tobacco may be sold, but also all stamps needed to send mail and pay for traffic tickets. You can also find the newspaper, a variety of books, postcards and other odds and ends. 

For more photos, videos and petites histoires, come visit me on Instagram: French Dialogues.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

A Bad Day...but Grieve with Hope and Text Through Telepathy

 A conservative funeral service and a cutting-edge technology conference dull the pain of a terrible choice.

-The choice to remove choice.

And encourage us to choose to use your voice to point to a better choice.

Text through telepathy.

Grieve with hope.

A doctor respecting the last wishes of his patient to choose to die makes a life-changing and hope-giving vow to change the world.

Now, past the grief has emerged the science in the name of life, of hope.

Though paralyzed, walled in silence forever more, this human being, this marvelous miracle of life, can communicate again.

She can still live through the words she offers, he can express his love, they can possess momentum.

This without the drastic breaking apart of the skull, without an intervention that was a bad invention.


...just imagine.

Now death, the inevitable guest at this funeral, lets open the crack, the chance to remember, to feel the warmth, the love, the light that was Gloria.

Says the preacher, "remember and grieve, but with hope."

Our hope may be for the next life, as brings comfort to you, or it may be

in the very kindness and service that was her life

in that it lives on and burns in these hearts too. 

Keep believing and keep inventing.

A Brain Implant that Turns your Thoughts into Text

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Rare Bird (Flower) that is Each Child

You too have probably heard, and I may also have thought that part of the difficulty in raising children is that each of them is a different person; entirely and distinctly themselves. 

Today I saw this iris and remembered that it is exactly this "where did you come from" aspect of discovering the child who is briefly entrusted into our care that is the true job of parenting. 

I did not plant this specific flower. It simply appeared in the well-nourished soil of my back garden plot one day. This year there are three. A lot like what happens when a family is started and grown.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Cultural Dissodence: Transitioning from Homeschool to School and Hopping into Another Boat

I think about languages and culture all the time, so this thought may sound as though it came out of the blue, but it has been brewing for years. Despite our best intentions, our vision of reality is not always aligned with what is happening in our children's world. Sometimes it is a question of different cultures, from one country to another or (universally), from one generation to the next. Here is how my story might have a shot at helping the homeschool parent sending their kiddo off to school for the first, second or final time.

We are on the same journey with the same cap in view, but not in the same boat. Maybe we went to school our whole childhood and felt it was a "normal" thing to do. Maybe we ourselves were homeschooled. Maybe we are the instigators of a reluctant kid heading to school for the first time, or the one resisting our child starting school, or at least this particular school at this particular time.

When the first of my children to go to school decided he was ready to experience high school, I was not along for the ride with him. I mean, I was; I had the utmost respect for his decision-making, but I was also a homeschooling mama of four and there was no headspace to give over to the school system and figuring out those particular intricacies. He wanted to go: fine, he could go, we would sign him up, attend all obligatory meetings and be there for events.

But when it came down to it, later, I wanted nothing to do with the guidance counselor or teachers' efforts to coerce him into remaining in a harder class when he did not want to do the work. I was firmly in "free-range parenting" mode and school as a concept was fine, the teachers were devoted and excellent and trying to help him give his best, but he had to do what he himself was motivated to do. His education was his own affair. There was also a certain need to justify the choices amidst both homeschooling and school-going communities, a line had been crossed and the zig-zagging of it that would later become second nature felt ominous and forboding. Were we a public-school family or a homeschooling family? 

Three and a half offspring later, I see things slightly differently. School is a system, I was vaguely aware of that; going in, I told my son that he would have to play by the rules of the system if he wished to succeed. The system, however, is not well-thought-out for young men of fourteen with no prior experience and very little brain time to be spent on something like academics. There is a role to be played by parents in the system, that of they-who-encourage, chief nagger, head task-reminder, and spender of money, provider-of-copious-amounts-of-food and chauffeuring. 

School was, as I suspected, a gigantic drain on one's time and finances (sports, not so much, but just try show choir!), and I had so little of either at that time. Too, it can put students into a box they may have to fight their way out of in order to truly pursue an education.

The flip side, however, was beyond my expectations. There was and is superb quality in teaching, care given, dedication and enormous efforts, every day, from the administration to the teachers, attendance secretaries, guidance counselors and lunch servers who all show up to do a job they believe in. It is not just a system, it is a world unto itself, and it has been a good one for us.

One more surprise has been community. Although it is a large school, our high school has been a place to get to know other families and other children. Some have wandered in and out of our lives, others have remained or taken up a little spot in my heart where they will be forever. Who knew teenagers could be such a joy to know? And I had not imagined how many people lived within a 2-mile radius I might never have met who would become friends.

It would be easy to fall into paroxsyms of regret for not having figured it our earlier and been more cooperative, but that would serve no purpose. I think that each child who went to high school has found something different that has been useful or interesting; music, writing, art, math, business, languages, athletics. What that first child found was of value to him too; school was not his thing. 

The wide world and an active life was and is his thing. He played more frisbee golf, recorded rap tracks and skateboarded more hours than he spent studying any subject. Today he builds things, with energy, strength and intelligence. The friends he made in high school were there to greet him this week as he returned from the road to move into his own home that he bought. They were there to celebrate this milestone  right by his side...and help him cut the heavy limbs from the tree in the backyard before it crashed onto the power line. Mad skills and good times. 

Should school NOT be the choice your family makes, that's OK, and an article for another day. Suffice it to say that the one who never went to school adapted like a chameleon to college and "real life" too. As homeschool author David Albert told me one day, "Nobody has all the answers all the time. No matter how you parent or what school choices you make, just remember to save equal amounts for college and for  therapy."

Monday, May 2, 2022

America; Let's Wake up Bilingual


I Want the World to Wake Up Bilingual...or at Least North America

Imagine…if we could understand each other twice as well, if we were always able to see double; both sides to every event, if we could hear and see and speak to each other on more than one level. What if we all dreamed in two languages?

I know you have thought about it; “I wish I spoke French: I would be able to tell the Über driver I need to stop off for a photo op in front of the Palace before we head to the airport. I could order wine like a local, and find the best place for cheese near my Air Bnb in Toulouse.” What other connections could I be making on my next trip?

“I bet the Greek grandmother next door would have insights on gardening to share; have you seen those roses?! And she looks like fun too; I see her laughing uproariously with her son every evening around the table out back. Too bad we can’t communicate.” People flit in and out of our lives every day who speak to us in broken, proficient or even excellent English, but hide profound depths of wealth and fascinating stories in their own tongue. 

As an interpreter, I know from experience how nice it is to exchange greetings in Spanish with my colleagues from Mexico or Peru, but also how I long to read Rumi in Farsi, or not to miss out on the chatter of my Polish colleagues…in Polish.

Language is most fundamentally human. Communication can pass through a gesture, a glance, a word, or all three, but these are person to person moments rich with meaning and intention and human interaction. Language allows us to ask, to answer, to appreciate and to grow. Staring and mumbling into a screen doesn’t quite make the grade, does it? Yes, subtitles are excellent, and language apps bring us one step closer, but speaking to a friend, a child, a lover makes it real. 

And, yes, people of Quebec, I know you are the exception to my dream AND the example we might heed!

Bonne journée, très cher lecteur/lectrice. Have a marvelous day, dearest reader.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Cabin on a Small Lake a Short Drive to the Large Lake (Michigan); Perfect.

A post left to thaw out in the busy days since it was written. Here we were, just a few short weeks ago.

Has this become a travel blog? It is just two of the kids, husband and little me, off to Michigan for a long weekend in lieu of spring break in southern climes. It is surprisingly beautiful, the yet partially frozen Lake Michigan, even with a temperature of minus 50,000 degrees if you take into account the insane wind speed and chill factor. Springlike!

We are accompanied by only two of the five children, the others being otherwise occupied at life and school. It is a peaceful trip, in our little cabin on the shores of Lake Chapin, which could not be more tranquil if it competed for the prize of "Idyllic Lake Spot of the Year".

The tree branches out my bedroom window are perfectly bare, yet shining in the setting sun with the lake blue-grey behind them. Mahogany, gold and chestnut sway gently in the breeze as the lake flows past. It is a moving loch, flowing into the St. Joseph river a few miles downstream. 

Each morning the first two days, when we woke, Mother Nature treated us to a small snowstorm raging and then gently falling against this magnificent backdrop. Nobody but me cared that a hike was out of the question, did I mention there is also a giant television in the main room? One that has a paid movie channel on it? Philistines.

I, on the other hand, have reveled in each hour, even from just inside the balcony of the bedroom. There was a set of double doors and four large windows on either side of those. Yesterday was still white, a few inches of the stuff covered the ground. Today, spring has manifested in a bright day of 34 degrees or so and the great snow melt.

On a brave, brief venture to the beach on our first day, G. was delighted to discover actual icebergs, as he dubbed them, along the shore of Lake Michigan. We all marveled at the structures and sculptures made of snow and ice, and my husband could not believe he was walking on frozen sand. For this man of southern France and its beaches, it was an event. I grew up with everything in sight freezing every single year, so...why not sand? Of course, the only sand in Iowa is in a box in the backyard, which was not happening with my mother in charge, so my experience of sand has been limited to warmer places as well. 

As the days have grown warmer, our time out exploring has lengthened to walks along the wild shores of this sea/lake. The horizon is green prettily edged in a bright, deep blue. The waves crash against the rocks, pound the sand with a rhythmic roar that echoes gladly in my heart. 

Had I known winter would still be here mid-April this year, I might, perhaps, have chosen Florida again. It is back into the 60's this weekend, six weeks later, but I see the nights will still be hovering just at freezing, so the outdoor flowers will extend their sunroom stay another petit moment. 

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Trapped in a Kwik Star with Nothing but Ice Beyond the Door, but Rescued by a Library

In which the happy, adventuresome itinerant interpreter comes face to face with a near-ditch experience, seeks shelter in the first option available, and is rescued, once again, by a community resource, this time, The Maquoketa Public Library.

The First Place Available

As I left home

Courthouse in Dallas County, Iowa, a "normal day in the life"


Well, Susana, oh, what can I say? When I left, the weather it was dry. True, rain was predicted, but it has been warmer of late and this was not surprising. What began as rain had become a "wintry mix" thirty miles from home. My husband called, concerned. I saw nothing, but out of respect for how worried I would be in his place, I stopped for a coffee refill and to make sure my court of destination had not decided to switch to a video hearing today. I took the next ramp promising "food and gas" and that was almost my last move of the day; at 8:30 am. 

This library! Maquoketa Public Library

While the highway itself had been clear and on the dry side, the exit ramp, as I slowed, lost all sense of stability. My snow tires were glass, the road was an ice rink and the ballet of my movement on it clumsy, spinny, and desperate. I kept my calm, winter weather is home territory, no palm trees in a cyclone, earthquakes or tsunamis, in the strictest sense and at a speed I had no business driving today.

At the bottom of this endless hill, I had the choice between exactly two places to park; the Big W or the gas station. Hot coffee and individual doughnuts won that competition and I eased into the sludgy, crunchy parking lot, marveling at all of the available parking spots (every single one of them was free), and I parked, gratefully yet a little doubtful. I did need to be somewhere today in a certain number of hours, and it was not here. Again, it was in deference to my concerned husband that I agreed to exercise a little more caution, not from any natural aversion to driving in all kinds of weather.

In the twenty-four inches between my car and the front door I almost ended up on my tush. I grasped the handle to open the front door, my hand slipped and it escaped. The glass and the door handle were coated in ice already. What was I doing? I guess I could get some work done here for a little while. Doughnut and coffee purchased, I found a tiny table in front of a large screen and opened up my computer. 

That large screen really was a distraction. Well, I could check my email, tidy up a few loose ends. Already, the question looming in the back of my mind was; "And THEN what?" By then, meaning in the next ten minutes, I would be on my way, roads salted and normal. Workers walked back and forth, doors opened and shelves were restocked. My focus was un-stellar. I did give a deal of thought to offering some sisterly advice to a woman with pretty blue eyes, a shy demeanor and a hairdo that looked like she had set it with her grandmother's rollers. It was a shame, it made her look an entire two generations older. But I desisted. 

I sought some other sort of meaningful work that could be done in the moment.

I checked and rechecked phone and computer screens for weather and road updates is what I did. Then I tried to write, but my mind was tizzied and on its way somewhere else, anywhere else, forward to Black Hawk County, still almost two hours away, or back home, three-quarters of an hour behind me with good road conditions.

I attempted the compiling of a pick-up order at the drug store. They had sent out a 20% off coupon for the day, probably in anticipation of absolutely no one in their right mind leaving home without a little incentive, but I could not think, beyond bandages, which we always need, what else we might conceivably require from this store to which one of us is constantly running. My brain was mush, or rather, very busy, calculating mush functioning with the single-mindedness of bacteria. Bacteria needs to reproduce, I needed to move. 

In the interim, the weather was on a roll, it was one enormous ball of freezing, frozen, awful stuff coming down in drops, sheets and droves. 

I could stand back and see that my attitude was silly. This was not so bad. There were no toddlers in diapers to change, children to keep in check, entertain, feed. I was alone and my time was my own. It was almost paradise, except for the distinct lack of exotic dancers, quality cuisine and beach view. 

I tried to make myself see reason. This is really quite fortunate, you can refill that coffee mug indefinitely and there is even a ladies' room right there. I went back to the counter for a snack. I purchased a gallon-sized bucket of soda and a square plastic bucket of potato salad, just the thing to boost one's moral, but when I turned back to my table, I was aghast, a couple had come in and stolen my spot. Just-off-highway robbery. The other table in this tiny haven was occupied by a truck driver who said he had been there for two days. His English was slightly lacking in clarity, but he did not appear to be going anywhere else.

I tried to leave again, maybe I would take the call in my car, appropriate background be damned for today.* But on the way out, I spied a half table and two stools up against the wall of the vestibule, although that is rather a grand word for the freezing cold space between two sets of doors, covered in small piles of green salt that served this function. I sat, soda, salad, straw and plastic fork. I could not see out the window because it was entirely covered in ice bumps. I scooped out a spoonful of the potatoes and tried it. Too cold. Too sweet. Might as well enjoy another doughnut instead.

I checked my phone again, idly, for the latest cloud movement. A break in the pattern? Could it be? Was it going to be big enough for me to get back home? Perhaps...I turned my phone sideways and upside down and in doing so, I noticed the time. I was out of this last. I could, if it was close, get to the library downtown. I thought it might be, but my famous sense of direction now failed me, so I had to check. It was a 6-minute drive. I had twenty-five. I dialed the number hoping...yes, they were open, yes, they could let me borrow a room for an hour. MERCI! 

I ditched the soda, tossed the potato salad on the floor of the passenger place and inched my way carefully to the library. The streets were covered in a hail-like mess, but not too slippery. The sidewalk proved to be more complicated, but again, there was a spot right in front of the library door, so the walk was brief. My mother always said that as I child, I was capable of the most daredevil climbing and other stunts, it was only in normal situations I ever injured myself. In my element on ice then, as it were.

The library welcome was warm and everyone was beyond kind. Downstairs in the children's department was a beautiful room we had once spent an afternoon as a family playing card games when a camping trip nearby had turned stormy and wet. (I wrote about it here.) Upstairs, a kind lady invited me to sit in a large room entirely surrounded in windows and reference books. I took my call in here, as stately a setting as any judge in her law library. I was offered a newspaper, any help needed and even, at the end of my long stay and much discussion, a library card. Of this last, I am pleased as punch. I have never had my own card in a town in which I do not live, it almost feels like an honorary degree in a college I never attended. Thanks, Maquoketa! Way to turn a bad day into an experience.

*In a remote (video) interpreting encounter, a professional interpreter will either have her video off, for simultaneous, or on, for consecutive, with a neutral (blank) background and excellent lighting. A steering wheel between your face and the camera makes a judge nervous and they may even stop the proceedings to inquire whether one is driving right now.