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Friday, March 29, 2013

What are we celebrating again?

It's a beautiful morning - finally! K and I ran our short, fast run of the week by the moon light, and even if it was painful...

(This is what my face probably looked like the whole time:)

... By the time we were done, the sun was coming up, and I heard the birds singing! BIRDS! BIIIIIIIIIIIRRRRRRRRRRDDDDDDDDDDDDDSSSSSSSSSSS! (Oops, I think I just go into a trance.)

The birds are coming back... please tell me this is a good sign? PLEASE!

Painful or not, runs are always a moment of awakening (and not only because I mostly run early mornings!) I can't seem to be able to get my feet going without my thoughts following at the same pace: on long, slow runs I get into a meditative state; on short, tempo runs, my head starts spinning with ideas; only during sprints do I not think much apart from "!"/$%?&* this hurts!"

My "running thoughts" are often metaphysical in nature. Once, after a Sunday long run, K exclaimed "Well, this surely beats going to church!" Not sure if her analogy arised from the fact that we pray (for it to be over) the whole time. One thing is certain, the repetitive movement of our feet, the regular inhale and exhale pattern and the inescapable beauty of our surroundings certainly make us feel like we are in communion with the whole universe!

Setting aside those spiritual elucubrations, today's questioning is about Easter.

What does Easter mean to you? Does it mean anything at all? What are the first things that come to mind when you think about Easter?

(For me it's chocolate, brioche, eggs, ham, lamb, asparagus... can you tell I was raised in a food-loving house?)

Corollary question: why do you celebrate it?

'Cause everyone does! (or so it seems!)

As I was pondering all that, this picture appeared on my Facebook feed:

Well, that's an interesting explanation. What do you think? Does it hold? I know I'm never gonna think about Easter the same way!

Have a great weekend everyone, whichever way you decide to celebrate!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

This post if for girls... er... for boys... er... for both!

Maud Lewis

Lately, my two daughters have begun noticing - and commenting on - the gender segregation that goes on in our otherwise "evolved" society:

"Mom, why do they say certain toys are for boys and certain toys are for girls?"

"Mom, why are there no women in the NHL?"

"Mom, why is it always the women who do this, and the men who do that?"

Recently as I was shopping with R for a new jacket, I pointed to her a few from the "girl clothes" section; most of them had at least a little bit of pink or purple or a "girly" belt or sparkle; R dismissed those jackets one after the other, only to set her mind on a green and black checkered one from the sales rack (smart move, daughter!) As she took it of the hanger to try it on, she noticed something on the tag: apart from the size and washing instructions, you could read "Boys".

"Why would a jacket be specifically for boys?, she asked, incredulous. That's ridiculous!"

Which made me realize that I have lost my own incredulity. When she was born and I went shopping for baby clothes, my first observation was that baby clothes are highly gendered. Dressing children neutrally is almost impossible. Soon enough you realize that organizing birthday parties and buying toys is also subject to a clear distinction between what boys and girls (are supposed to) enjoy. Our society has very clear expectations of what is masculine and feminine in appearance and behavior, too.

Is this as natural as we think it is?

Are those distinctions as innate as we like to think, or have they been cultivated to the point where we don't even see straight anymore? Some studies have shown that boys and girls are treated differently from birth; how can we claim that the differences we notice later were created by nature, not by nurture? Some studies show that the difference between genders is not as marked as we would like to think it is, and that our observations are often biased - a self-fulfilling prophecy if you will, where we see what we want to see and ignore what we don't want to see. This is understandable to a certain point: the human brain likes to categorize, and societies need a structure. But...

Is this as inoffensive as we think it is?

Aren't we limiting every one's basic right to be who they want to be by embracing this mutually exclusive view of gender without a flinch?

When I was a swimming instructor I noticed that the boys would categorically refuse to use any flutter board that was pink. When I babysat kids I saw more than one father become upset because his 2 or 3-year old son had decided to put on a princess dress.

What's wrong with us, people?

I advocate the power of choice. You decide what you want to look like, to do and to be, and no one else should have their word on it. To illustrate my point, I found those 2 pictures of me, both taken the same week, during a vacation in Cuba in the year 2000:

The trophy girlfriend kind of look

The trucker look, complete with a muddy 4 wheel drive
 and the elbow sticking out of the window

Yes, this is the same girl, and if you don't mind, she will behave and look the way SHE wants, thank you!

I hope I succeed at instilling that empowering feeling in my daughters. I surely work hard at it. Sweethearts, whatever you do or look like, you'll always be the best to me:

You can be silly...

...Very silly! (look at that bat face on the left)

You can be studious...

... So studious!

You can be strong...

... Just be careful not to overdo it!

You can hold worms...

...And spiders...

... Okay, puppies too!

You can feel at home in the great outdoors...

... Be it on land...

... Or on the water

 You can drive skidoos...

You can climb trees...

... Hang upside down...

... Make a big splash

And when you feel like it,
you can always wear a pretty dress!

To me you're always the most beautiful...
... and strong, and smart, and interesting, and capable...
no matter what!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Road call: don't lose your bearings

One of the most important things my personal trainer, A, has taught me, is that a healthy lifestyle doesn't go on vacation.

But I do!, I protested. We had this conversation a few days before I left for my annual Quebec peregrination.

A said something along the lines of "Your body doesn't care if you're home or traveling. Your body doesn't care if you're on holidays or not. Your body will react to what you put it in and to what you do with it no matter the environment and the circumstances. Remind me of your goals again, J?" (I hired A for a year with a short list of objectives.)

"A, I said, you know what my goals are."

"J, she said, I want you to look at me and say them out loud."

I sighed.

"A painless half-marathon and 15% body fat..."

"Well, my dear, you'll have to keep that in mind while you're travelling, okay?"

She was right of course.

But how could I stay on track when there would be so many temptations? At home it's easy enough, but on the road? And in the most gastronomically tempting place on earth, namely, my mom's house?!?

Mama's dining room

A and I sat together to devise a plan.

First we talked about the food.

- J, how long are you gonna be in Quebec?
- 2 weeks
- Okay. You'll keep your usual 2 treats a week, which makes a total of 4. What are you gonna have?
- What do you mean?
- You're gonna decide in advance what your 4 treats are gonna be.
- Right now? But I don't know!
- If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. What is it that you just cannot go to Quebec/your mom's and not have? Pick 4 of them.
- Okay, I said, incredulous. Let's see. Well, I can't go to Quebec and not have a real poutine with the real "squeek squeek" cheese.
- Good. Poutine is your number one. While in Quebec you will have one poutine. What else?

I quickly came up with my 3 other treats: my mom's homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie, some chocolate ice cream (it was summer, after all), and some good wine (mom has an extensive cellar in which I always make wonderful discoveries!)

"Oh, and before I forget, J, you're gonna have to watch your protein intake to make sure you get enough (at the time I was in a "build" phase), and you will control your portion sizes, added A."

I was already exhausted by the program, and we hadn't even talked about exercise yet!

- Now let's talk about your workouts. How often are you planning to work out?
- Hmmm... maybe twice a week?
- I don't think that's gonna be enough, J. Do you think you can do 4?
- I guess I can...
- Perfect. I'm gonna put together a nice training plan for you that includes running for cardio and body weight exercises for strength training, this way you won't need any specific equipment. Just don't forget to pack your sneakers and work out clothes.

As much as I didn't think it was possible, I did what A and I had agreed on. When I came back I had maintained my weight and body fat, and my running was still going strong, which was an accomplishment in itself! I admit I ate more than 4 treats, but I also exercised more than 4 times a week (sometimes under my grandmother's tutelary eye), which evens it out I guess. I ran in the countryside around my mom's house among a beautiful scenery, smiling at the cows and horses (at home I mostly run in the woods among the deer and the bunnies!) I did most of my strength training outdoors in my mom's garden: I even used rocks from her pond as dumbells - but don't tell her that!

Mama's garden - I put the rocks back where I took them I promise!

A was right about something else, as I was soon going to discover: you don't need much equipment to stay in shape; there are so many great things you can do with your body (hey, I heard you have a lewd thought here!) After series of burpees, lunge jumps, squat jumps, push-ups with a side planks and the like, I almost started missing the gym! One sure thing: I was fit as ever!

I've learned a lot about keeping fit on the road, and today I want to share some of my tricks.

1) Always keep healthy snacks on hand.

If you don't, guess what will happen when you drive by Tim's? I've learned to carry snacks and a water bottle wherever I go. You just never know when hunger's gonna hit. What if you're in front of DQ when it happens?

2) If you're gonna stay longer, stock up! 

Most hotel rooms have a mini-fridge that can accommodate a little extra food. Most people have a fridge in their house, too! Don't be shy: put healthy food in it (and be willing to share of course). When I arrive in a new city, especially when abroad (you're not allowed to take fresh foods on planes), one of my first stops is usually the grocery store (or the market! Even funner!) I get fresh produce, Greek yogurt, cheese, nuts/seeds, etc. In NY last summer I even bought those individually wrapped hard boiled eggs (not super for the environment, but it was just for the time of the trip). If you're on a high-protein diet, bring your powder/bars. If you're watching your fiber, take Bran Buds with you. And carry camping utensils with you so it's not an excuse for not buying yogurt or the like.

3) Don't eat all your meals in restaurants.

(And if you do, chose healthy options and ask for a take out box; pour half the contents of your plate in it before you even start eating!) Restaurants make healthy eating a huge challenge. Especially those all-you-can-eat buffets. They spell the word DANGER in capital letters! (When I find myself in one of those buffets I use the smaller dessert plates for my main meal, and I cover such plate with green leafy stuff before I put anything in it - usually a fish fillet or a chicken breast. In Greece last year I focused on lean meats and grilled vegetables... can't say I felt deprived!)

That being said, eating outside restaurants not only will be healthier and cheaper, it's also a lot of fun! I've had the best tomato sandwiches on the beach in Croatia; we purchased all the goodies at the market in the morning and washed our fruit and vegetables in the sea! I kept dipping the cucumber in salt water as it gave it a yummy taste! Bench parks are another nice place to sit and have your little healthy picnic while you get your fix of people watching!

4) Enjoy local food... especially when it's healthy and fresh!

During my trip to China I was amazed to discover how different Beijing's food courts are from their North American counterparts. Many a place you fill a small basket with your choice of a dozen different green leafy vegetables and as many types of mushroom. The employee adds your choice of noodles and meat/seafood and dunks the basket in some hot broth for a minute or so. There, you have a quick, healthy meal!

5) Make sure physical activity is an integral part of your trip.

First, walk a lot. While travelling I avoid public transportation like the plague. Half of the fun is in the walking! In Rome I saw as many beautiful sculptures (fountains) on the way to the museum as in the museum itself! If you're vacationing in the great outdoors, easier still: hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking... the sky is the limit! Many hotels have gyms, some have pools: take advantage! Nothing beats a little sweat after a long day on the road! If you go down south the big resorts usually offer aerobic classes of some sort. Even when there are no amenities, you can always run or do body weight exercises (see above for examples). I've run up reps of staircases just for the sake of it. But of course the most fun is to run outside as you discover your new surroundings. I have fond memories of running along Lake Zurich, along the Mediterranean, and, closer to home, along Bras D'or lake. Don't forget the stretching, especially on planes (blood clot prevention). While waiting to depart for Beijing I did yoga poses in the airport terminal. One of the other passengers teased me: "You look top shape! Are you training for the Great Wall marathon?" (Nah, walking on the Great Wall is plenty for me, thank you!)

The only thing I need to warn you about is running in airports: I still have a big scar on my knee from a spectacular fall I took at CDG (Paris) while running to catch a plane (never got there in time - but that's okay... there are worst things in life than getting stuck in Paris!)

Yep, things really have changed since the time I used to spend my Christmas holidays on a "chocolate diet" (which mostly involves eating chocolate 24/7 and not much else!) I have loads of fun eating well and being active, and my vacation never gets in the way of feeling awesome, during and after!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Musings on the running life

(Note to the reader: I know, I have been a slacker regarding musical clips in my last few posts. I hope I am making up for that today with a bunch of tunes hidden in the text - red font.)

Start running, they said. It will put you in shape, they said.

It will make you feel wonderful, they said.

"They" were right.

With the exception of a few details. Here's what nobody told me about running, that I wish I had known from the beginning.

Forever it will take to become a seasoned runner

I was in an okay shape when I started, yet the first outings were plain torture. I used what I call the "Couch potato to 5 K" plan. It's a good program. But I have to admit the first few times, jogging for one minute non stop was almost out of my grasp. I kept looking at my watch, thinking "When is that effin' minute ever gonna be over?"

Well, I am happy to announce that this is no longer a concern. With very gradual increases I have been able to run longer intervals and distances. At the moment I am 7 weeks into a half-marathon training program, and it's going very well. Yesterday I ran for about an hour and a half without a pause, something I wouldn't dream of doing just a few years ago.

Running partners you should definitely consider

It took me a few years before I even considered running with a running partner. I was too self-conscious, mostly of my noisy breathing (I am an asthmatic). I couldn't begin to fathom how I would be able to run beside someone without annoying them big time with my huff and puff, let alone how I would ever manage to have a conversation while running! I was also worried I would not run fast enough, and earn the reputation of the one who holds everyone back. (I should have known that the running community is a very accepting and respectful and supportive one.)

One day, my friend K announced that she was looking for a running partner for early week mornings. I thought, "okay, why not?" Now I wish I had started running with a friend long before. Running with K has been so refreshing! Now in a much better shape, and totally able to 1) breathe pretty much silently 2) hold a conversation, even when running uphill 3) run at a reasonable pace for quite a while... I fully appreciate the fact that a running partner's presence takes the focus away from your discomforts; running conversations make the runs seem much shorter, with the added benefit that they give you an opportunity for sharing and venting. K calls our runs her "fix". I guess there are worst addictions in life! (Speaking of which... my running apparel addiction is getting kind of out of hand; I think I own more running outfits than all other kinds of outfits put together!)

These days I am in the process of training an additional running partner, who should be ready for long runs in about a year or so. For the moment my main concern is to let her empty often so that there's no overflow in the house, but soon enough those excretion issues should be resolved, and we will be able to focus on more interesting types of training. Here are some pics of that beloved future running partner of mine:

By Tamara McFarland at Unleashed Pawsabilities

Unexpected dangers you will encounter

It's happened again: K and I were accosted by a fellow runner about halfway through our run.

"Are you heading in this direction?, she asked, because I need to warn you that I just saw a coyote in the ditch!"

We modified our route.

Friends you will become with the foam roller

Who said that to improve your running you only needed a good running plan? Why did nobody tell me I would also need a stretching plan, an icing plan, and a rolling plan?

Running might be one of the most straightforward, "little-equipment-is-needed" activity, I'm sorry to say that it is time consuming. For my typical weekend long run, I have to go through the following steps:

1) get dressed, have a bite to eat
2) massage my own butt with a lacrosse ball (to release glutes and IT band)
3) gather my equipment (reflective band, head lamp, wildlife pepper spray, water belt)
4) run
5) ice my knees (to save on time I also have my post-workout snack at that point)
6) wait until they defrost, then stretch
7) roll my IT band on the foam roller
8) shower
9) get dressed and ready for the rest of the day

How do people get anything done?!?

Now my extensive background in foam rolling calls for a little course on the topic.

How to use a foam roller to release your IT band 101:

1) Lay sideways on the foam roller.
2) Move around a little bit until your face suddenly twists into a hideous grimace. Ow.
3) Put more pressure until your mouth suddenly utters a stream of expletives.
4) Stay there and roll on the area while moaning and groaning in unbearable pain. If you find yourself screaming and begging for an epidural, even better. (I didn't even get epidurals when I gave birth, for goodness' sake!)
5) Only stop when you are able to breathe normally again.

Relax, and repeat after the next run!

Pissed off you will be at relapses of the Winter

A few days ago it was so mild that all the snow melted. I got so excited when I saw the grass I almost composed an ode to the spring; I seriously considered at least writing a haiku. We spent hours outside, enjoying the warmth of the breeze and sun rays, listening to the birds. We put away boots and scarfs. When we ran, doing so on a dry surface at last was almost orgasmic.

On Saturday morning when I got up for my long run, the ground was covered in white powder. I tried to remain composed; this is only March, after all, and it's to be expected that we will get more snow. I reluctantly installed my traction aids on my sneakers. Then in order to decide on the number of layers I would wear I checked the outside temperature (wind chill included).


Seriously, Mother Nature? SERIOUSLY?

Now I was really pissed. While grumbling an assortment of bad words I won't repeat here, I dug for my balaklava and mitts.

Seriously? !"/$%?&*()

Got out the door, still in a foul mood. Luckily K was there waiting for me down the street. She emitted a comment on the weather, but as soon as we got going, we also got busy with other, more important conversation topics: how she hadn't slept a good night in a week (she has 3 young children), and how tired I was of my puppy's jumping and nibbling. As we kept ranting, we barely noticed, but the sun got up. Eventually we couldn't ignore it anymore: the absolute beauty of the scenery. I regretted not taking my camera.

Really, one has to admit it was a ravishing sight for a Christmas morning. Only one problem: this was MARCH 16!

Oh well. The good news is we ran our long run like troopers. The rest of the day, at random moments I would surprise myself thinking: "Why would I worry about anything, this day is a good one, I ran my long run this morning".

This coming April 13, my team Alung the Road and I will be running for research on lung diseases (Lung Association of Nova Scotia). To support us, please don't hesitate to make a donation right here. Thank you so much for your support!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

An unknown species: the translator

The Tower of Babel, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Following my post on how to pick a career, I thought I'd make one on the specific one I've chosen. Or, to be more exact, on the one that chose me.

To paraphrase Lennon, translation came to me while I was busy making other plans. It seems like I'm not the only freelance translator in this situation. The ones I collaborate or hang out with were trained as family doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers. They didn't really like their job. And so they became a translator (specializing in medicine, law, business, technical).

For me it crept in gradually. That gave me time to get used to the idea. Acquaintances asked me to translate something short for them. I thought "hey, this is a cool way to make money!"

I also thought "hey, this is much harder than it looks!" But I kept at it. Word of mouth helping, I gained more and more clients. Slowly but surely, the home based business grew. I loved the flexibility it offered since I had young children and wanted to spend most of my time with them. When they entered school, I decided to make this my full time occupation.

What I love about translation

I spend my days reading, writing, correcting other people's mistakes (we usually work in teams of two, the translator and the reviewer/copy editor - I assume both roles alternately).

I learn about all kinds of fascinating subjects (see below for a list of topics I have worked on recently).

The business grows on its own as you're busy making money (just make sure you deliver good quality, and soon enough clients will start telling each other about you). Even better, the business grows as you're busy having fun. I met many a client while chatting at a wine and cheese, absentmindedly mentioning I was translator and copy editor.

The deadlines are short (ah! the world of publishing!), forcing the procrastinator in me to "just do it", as the popular sport apparel company would say. I work well under pressure (some would say procrastinators can only work under pressure, but that's another discussion entirely).

What I love about freelance

It's contained in the title: as a freelance translator I am free! (Not my work, of course, but my schedule!) From one contract offer to the other I can decide if I accept or decline. While gaining expertise in the field I have become picky; I will only work on projects that offer a good retribution in relation to the amount of effort I have to put in.

As a freelance worker you can work as little or as much as you do; you can thus make as little or as much as you want. I know of translators who do it as a sideline to another part-time job. I know full-time, experienced translators who make six digits. Once you've been in the field for a little while, it's really up to you. The sky's the limit!

Your schedule is flexible as long as you respect the deadlines. You can say goodbye to commuting. The only real downside is you have to be very organized and self-disciplined. Family life and various chores have their way of interfering with work, and vice versa... all the more so when you work from home! It's a fine balance. As tempting as it can be, you can't become a slacker. Your enterprise would not last long. In all my years as a translator I think I've only worked in my jammies once.

What I love about medical

I think it was clear in my previous post: I've always been fascinated by anything that revolves around health and wellness, both physical and psychological. I get to read about that every day. Sometimes it's a little depressing (e.g. questionnaire about suicidal thoughts in teenagers), sometimes it's plain disgusting (e.g. description of gastrointestinal microorganisms and their effects), but most of the time it's rather interesting.

The (fun) challenges of my job

It happens time and again: an acquaintance will announce that if they wanted to, they could just be a translator. Tomorrow morning. I usually say nothing. But I think it all the same: translation is not what it seems!

Translation is not for the faint of heart. Being fluent in two languages doesn't suffice. You have to be very fluent in the source language (the one you translate from - English in my case). You have to be absolutely flawless in the target language (the one you translate to - French in my case); subtleties of the target language (and god knows French is full of them) should have no secrets for you. Many serious clients specifically require that the translator be a native speaker in the target language. As much as I can say I am fully bilingual, I don't translate towards English. There's proficiency... but then there's that extra level of mastery I only have in my first language.

Some translation can be easy. I've been paid big bucks to translate the days of the week and the months of the year. But most of the time, translation gets pretty technical. You better know your field and have the right tools for terminology - dictionaries and glossaries galore... in paper and online versions.


That being said, the most challenging assignments I've had were not technical. Marketing documents and advertising copies are the worst. I've had to translate perfume and cosmetic descriptions filled with metaphors. Did you know that lipstick coming out of the tube is a blooming flower? Did you know that perfumes have a personality of their own? Not to mention that idiomatic expressions are completely different from one language to the other. I've scratched my head quite a lot!

At the end of the day, a serious translator cannot afford to make mistakes. Whether you translate user manuals for heavy machinery or medical procedure documents (I've done both), the consequences would be disastrous! Another good example: standardized tests. Reliability and validity of the test have to be maintained throughout the translation process! In all cases, a bad translation just gives the client a bad image. Most of them will avoid that at all costs.

(Some of them don't seem to mind though.)

For some appalling examples of what happens when you let a machine or someone who's not a native speaker do your translation, look here (mostly French). (And my reaction, initially posted on Facebook):

J'adore les pois de poussin! Si délicieux! 
Et que dire de jouir sur les rochers! Mais jamais sans mon oreiller de voyage pour fourrer!
Les parents de petits allergiques seront heureux d'apprendre qu'on vend maintenant des aliments
 sans écrous.
J'ignorais aussi qu'il fallait se brosser les mamelons... quant au
« kit de manucure », il est destiné aux bourreaux, non?
Finalement, « ne pas analer », ça veut dire qu'il ne faut pas se les mettre dans le c**... c'est bien ça?

Some of my clients have recourse to additional processes to ensure quality:

1) Adaptation: adapting French for a specific public; a text that was written for France will be rewritten for Quebec, and vice versa.

2) Reconciliation: assigning the same translation to two different translators, then having a third translator compare the two resulting documents and produce a final document, justifying each and every choice along the way (sometimes this is done in collaboration with the first two translators).

3) Back translation: after the text has been translated from English to French (for example), have another translator (who hasn't seen the original document) translate the French back to English. Then have the first translator compare the original English text and the English back translation, and justify (and adjust, if necessary) any discrepancy.

4) Validation by a field expert: once the translation and editing are done, a field expert will review the text in search of nonsensical passages. This is of paramount importance in highly specialized subjects that even a senior translator cannot be expected to master.

What I don't like so much about my job

Translating, especially from home, is a solitary endeavor. My only work interactions with other human beings are done through email, sometimes on the phone. There are no chatty coffee breaks. You have to find out other ways to nurture your social life. A colleague and I have begun exchanging long, personal emails on a weekly basis or so. We call those our "virtual coffee breaks".

As important as it is to match your job to your interests, you cannot expect it to fulfill all your needs; hence the necessity for activities and pastimes that will serve that purpose. For my social and teaching needs I have been a Girl Guide leader for a few years now.

My home office is also the place where the kids store anything and everything they don't know what to do with.

Like any other freelance job, this one has no benefits. No paid vacation, no sick days, no pension plan. When you just get started, the revenues are variable at best (it gets better with time, obviously). It requires thoughtful financial planning and a hefty dose of personal discipline.

Sometimes the source document is a mess. How do you deliver a well-written translation that still meets the requirement of remaining close to the original?

Once in a while you'll have to review that translator who thinks Google Translate is a reliable work tool. Once in a while you'll be approached by a client who thinks minimum wage is acceptable for professional translation services. Once in a while a client just won't pay (this has not happened to me yet). My only advice: do your homework. Research the client. How serious are they? Other translators (professional associations and online networks are great for that) might be able to give you some insight.

What I've been working on lately

Just for fun, I did a quick inventory of the assignments I got in the past year or so.

A- In my main field (medical, health, wellness, fitness, nutrition and everything in between)

1) Research protocols and questionnaires about:

  • Hypercholesterolemia
  • Endometriosis
  • Stem cells
  • Acute urticaria
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus
  • Cirrhosis
  • Gaucher's disease
  • Type C Niemann-Pick disease
  • Prostate cancer
  • Gout
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Chromosomal anomaly detection
  • Sexuality satisfaction
  • Sleep apnea
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Neuroleptic treatment
  • Suicide
  • Cellulite
  • Medical ventilation
  • Breast cancer
  • Asthma
  • Chemotherapy/radiotherapy
  • Dermatology
  • Pain medication use
  • Hyperactive bladder
  • Macular degeneration
  • Alzheimer
  • Infectious diseases
  • Podiatry

2) Articles on:

  • CPR and first aid procedures
  • Lifesaving/lifeguarding techniques
  • Defibrillation
  • Exposure to trichloramine
  • Drug shortages

3) Other documents:

  • First aid manuals
  • Practice standards
  • Pharmaceutical product labels
  • Dental implants/restauration procedures
  • Scanner (scintigraphy) user manuals
  • Fitness and nutrition websites
  • Smoking cessation websites
  • Weight loss and fitness program advertising
  • Health and safety guidelines
  • Cosmetic surgery satisfaction questionnaires
  • Food supplements advertising
  • M.A. thesis in clinical psychology
  • PhD thesis in neuropsychology

B- Other fields (projects with some beloved clients are always welcome even if not quite in my field)

1) Some examples:

  • Travel agency website
  • Language fluency questionnaire
  • HR letters and memorandums
  • Pension plan description
  • Union constitution
  • Theatre play description
  • Pedagogical tools (on environmental awareness)
  • Online tutorials
  • PhD thesis in Chinese philosophy
  • Boating safety manual
  • Restaurant equipment catalogue
  • Well drilling company brochure

2) Think big names:

  • Sport apparel
  • Food products
  • Perfumes and cosmetics
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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How do you choose your career?

Communication, languages, writing, health, structure. With those 5 words, try to figure out what my professional occupation is (answer below). But first, let's talk about career choices.

Career choices are tough. You usually make them when you are still young, with little self-knowledge and hindsight.

A lot of people end up with a job they don't really enjoy. It's a shame since your job is something you devote a third of your time to.

Some (more and more of them it would seem) decide to change paths around midlife.

How can you maximize your chances of making the right choice in the first place, and thus minimize the risk of being unfulfilled at work? Here's my hint: stop thinking about the future and start focusing on the past.

Yes, you heard me well, to pick the right career you should look behind, not ahead. Let me explain.

Your career choice should not be based on what you'd like to do in the future so much as on what you've already enjoyed doing/learning about in the past. Your career should not be something you wish you were good at so much as something you're already good at.

What are your spontaneous interests, pastimes, talents? What do you find yourself doing/talking about/reading about when you have both energy and free time on your hands? What comes naturally?

Here's a list of questions (and my answers as an example) to help you circumscribe your potential "happy jobs" (because there's more than one, obviously. I never thought I would become what I've become, yet come to think of it, it makes total sense!)

First of all, here's what you should NOT base you career choice on.

You should NOT base your career choice on external factors like the pay or the prestige, or on what other people think you should do

This seems obvious, but unfortunately a lot of people still go that way, and the results don't lie: I've met my share of unhappy doctors and lawyers and financiers. Pay and prestige okay (some would argue "not even!"), but what about the fun? Everyone deserves a job they like, and once you have it, you might as well forget about prestige and pay altogether.

I know a few people who made the "wrong" career choice based on the fact that their family did not approve of their personal preference. In many cases this disapproval stemmed from intellectual snobbery. Those were kids whose parents had a liberal profession: doctors, lawyers, professors. Those are kids who had a "different" passion, and who wanted to become a police officer, an early childhood educator, a fashion designer, an actor. Some simply wanted to study philosophy. They were told that this wasn't good enough. Fast-forward ten or twenty years, where are they? Some are still wondering what they want to do "when they grow up" (even if they're well into their thirties or forties). Some work for minimum wage in a field they are not passionate about. Some are back to school after a couple years of wandering without a purpose. (Hopefully they are now happy and will get a job that resembles them.) A great passion and/or talent was wasted, the kid, now a grown-up, feels dissatisfied with his/her life, and I bet a few (now retired) parents are biting their fingers.

Personally I come from a family of number-savvy, science driven people. My father was a mathematician. My mother was in finance. My brother became a computer scientist. All of them enjoyed doing scientific experiments of all sorts as kids (to their respective parents' dismay).

Not me. You could say I was the black sheep, a letter-person in a world of numbers. My parents loved playing with words, but for a career, the choice was clear, and the pressure, overt or subtle, was there for me to pick a scientific curriculum. Don't take me wrong, I think science is both fascinating and tremendously important. (I'll come back in another post with some scientific concepts that are dear to me.) But I've always leaned towards communication and humanities. Who cares if there's better jobs in science (dixit my father)? If you really love what you do, and if you're really good at it, you will 1) be happy; 2) make an excellent living out of it (dixit my father again - a man of great contradictions!) So after a disastrous year in high school with advanced math, physics and chemistry (elective courses that I took because I kinda thought I had to), I made a 180-degree turn and plunged right into pure humanities. My father was disappointed, of course. But I became a straight-A student, and a very happy one. I never looked back.

Still, the interest for science was there, but in a literary way if there is such a thing. I enjoyed biology classes immensely, for learning all the terminology was very easy for me. I would see a term once, and remember it forever (I could spell it right, too). As for math, I had done best when it took the form of sentences. I got my best grade in math - a 100 % that pleased daddy! - when we spent a term on propositional logic. (In literature I particularly enjoyed syntax analysis. Structure and flow of text are still a hobby-horse of mine... even when working with Proust!)

Now the questions:

What do you do well?

What you excel at in school can serve as an indication. For me it was languages (my first being French) and humanities. Writing skills were my biggest asset. I aced spelling bees.

(In high school I also got excellent grades in economics, which surprised me a little bit, but it's true that economics are more about the concepts than about the numbers.)

The areas in which you perform outside of school count too. Is there anything you do really good at, more than your average peer? Look into it a little bit deeper. Each of us has a few of those talents. They might be a reliable indicator of something you would do well (and enjoy).

Another interesting way to look at this is to figure out what kind of intelligence you have. Spatial? Musical? Linguistic? Interpersonal? Intrapersonal? Naturalist? Logical-mathematical? Existential? Bodily-kinesthetic?

In any case, stop wasting your time trying to be good at something you're not. (I have long renounced learning how to draw.) Go for something you already excel at. Everything will become a piece of cake.

What do you do a lot of?

As children evolve into teenagers then young adults, it's a fascinating thing to see them develop interests and hobbies, some of which will last a lifetime. Wouldn't it be great if their main occupation incorporated one or two of those interests? Not all pastimes can become a job (or can they?), but you can certainly exploit some of your natural inclinations... and some of your natural talents, for that matter.

What are you passionate about?

What do you find yourself talking about all the time? What kind of pictures and articles do you repost on Facebook? What do you watch on TV? You might not think anything will come out of this, but try to find a trend. What kinds of topics to you revolve around?

As I was looking at my bedside table this morning, I realized the books we read are an excellent indication of our passions. Here are the titles I am currently reading (yes, I do read numerous books at a time) or that I recently read - or that are permanently resting beside my bed in case I need to consult them in the middle of the night!

Bryson's Dictionary for Writers and Editors (Bill Bryson)
Quiet - The Power of Introverts (Susan Cain)
The Conflict - How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women (Elizabeth Badinter)
Gender Trouble (Judith Butler)
How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life (Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky)
Rêveurs et nageurs (Denis Grozdanovitch)
The Book of Wine (New York Times)
The Onion and Philosophy
I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar
The History of the World According to Facebook
A travel guide to the Greek Islands (about time I put it away, was there 6 months ago!)
A few manuals on dog training
A philosophy dictionary
A medical encyclopedia
An encyclopedia of literary terms and literary history
A running magazine

In fiction I have a Queneau, a Modiano and a Tournier.

Obviously the first thing one should gather from that list is that I'm a bookworm! If you get past that, remember that it is enduring interests we are looking for. Those topics that fascinate me - writing, travel, humor, health/fitness and numerous social issues - have been a passion for quite a while now, including the oenological one - I obviously started "acting on it" later, but the seed was planted early with a trip to Burgundy before I turned 10.

What unusual behavior/activities did you have as a kid?

Those are an indication of your early "tendencies", and reflecting on them can be enlightening!

First of, I started reading early - before school. And once that started, nothing could stop me! As Frank Zappa said: "So many books, so little time!"

As I child I loved to play "bookstore", and I remember wishing that one day I would find myself locked up inside a library for the night - even better, for a few years if such things happen! Among my favorite books was Robinson Crusoe. I was fascinated by the way he collected and organized objects and building material for his new life, and by the way he communicated with Friday.

When I discovered dictation, I quickly developed a love for it. For the most popular (and arguably one of the hardest) French dictation of all times, see here.

As a teenager, I took part in numerous dictation contests, and a few writing ones. I read the complete works of Freud (and some of Rogers) by the time I was 15. Around the same age, when asked what I wanted for my birthday I replied "a medical encyclopedia" (I still have it). I skipped science classes to provide free psychotherapy to my peers in need. I drew house plans every day. I had a sustained correspondence with thirty kids around the world (in either French or English). I also exchanged letters with my classmates, and to make sure the teachers would be unable to decipher them, we wrote them using the ancient Phoenician alphabet.

Gawd, now I look like a total weirdo!

What did you want to become when you grew up?

I wanted to be a vet, a nurse, a physician, a psychiatrist - do you see a healthy trend?

I wanted to be a psychologist. I did get a bachelor's degree in psychology. I loved it, including learning about all the nervous system components and their functioning... but it wasn't exactly what I thought it would be and I switched to French language and literature for my master's, hoping to teach French after. Which I did temporarily, with much pleasure.

I also wanted to be an architect. Turned out not to be such a good idea as it involves numbers. However, I can't help but see this as another sign of a fascination for structure - something I work on daily.

Finally, I wanted to be a writer or a journalist. Hmmm... getting warmer.

What student jobs did you have?

I was a lifeguard, a swimming/1st aid/CPR instructor trainer, a research assistant in neuropsychology and a volunteer with Alzheimer patients - again do you see a trend?

I was also a camp counselor (water sports) and a swim coach; my favorite part was the teaching component, which involves taking information and communicating it in a clear, organized, orderly fashion... something I do in my job, albeit in a completely different manner.

With all this in mind, and if you've been able to notice trends and recurring topics... what do you think your ideal job should be?

And with all this in mind, don't you think it would make total sense that I spend my days reading, reviewing, translating and editing medical text?

(As much as I love my job, I still haven't said my last word, and in a few years you might very well find me in the role of either 1) a freelance writer; 2) a sommelier; 3) a life coach; 4) anything else I set my heart to!)

In the next post: you will get to discover what a medical translator eats in winter!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Winter be gone!

Winter's lingering and we're all sun deprived. Nicer, milder weather will come shortly... just not yet.

We're all feeling a little bit crankier if not a little bit more depressed. What to do?

First, let's not be a cat (i.e. bully) about it. It's not other people's fault if we're so freaking tired of the cold and snow we could just pick up a fight with the first black bear that comes out of hibernation and starts foraging in our green bin.

Instead, let's find a way to put some fun in our lives. Can't go down south this winter? Not a problem. Dress in summer clothes, turn up the volume, and get the groove going! Dance like no one's looking!

In general just try to infuse yourself with all sources of energy you can possibly find:

1) Take advantage of any ray of light and go for a walk (better yet, go for a run, since running makes the weather feel ten degrees warmer!) 

2) Make sure you sleep enough. 

3) Eat your greens (and reds, and oranges, and yellows, and blues). Not always in the mood for healthy food? Just throw it all in the blender, mix it, and sip it. One's always in the mood for a tasty smoothie. And there's just so much you can hide in there. The one I had this morning contained: blackberries, strawberries, plain nonfat Greek yogurt, vanilla protein powder (whey), skim milk, celery, cucumber, avocado, beet and beet greens. Yum! 

4) Spend time with friends and family.

5) If you feel like it even the slightest, go ahead and start your indoors spring cleaning. Get rid of stuff. Reorganize. You will instantly feel lighter!

6) Start making plans for the summer vacation. I know I'm gonna be making an inventory of our camping supplies and looking at national and provincial park websites! (And getting all excited about the next canoeing trip!)

7) Go to a green house or start indoors seeding.

8) Enjoy for the last few times the joys of winter: have hot chocolate, take a bubble bath, go skiing, skating, snowshoeing...

And hang on there! Yes, we will probably have one or two more snow storms... but in only a few more weeks there will be no more white sh*** on the ground! I promise!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Do something scary... do something crazy!

Because life is boring without a real challenge once in a while.

I am talking about positive challenges. I am not talking of the unpleasant, sometimes cruel challenges life sends our way, usually with the worst timing ever, and that we did not need to become a stronger person (I've heard cancer survivors say this).

I'm talking about the stimulating challenges that we create for ourselves and that make us grow as a person.

Challenges get us out of our comfort zone. Don't get me wrong, they are scary. But they also have a tremendous effect on our self-esteem and appreciation of life. Like my fellow blogger Dr. J would say, we have to stop hoping that one day, we will get it done... and instead, "make someday today" (see Dr. J's blog here).

Not all challenges are good for you though. Aim too high, and you will probably end up overwhelmed. Aim for something that's not exactly tailored to your needs or hopes, and it will fail to fulfill you.

There are challenges I find deeply inspiring, yet would not be willing to embrace for myself. Examples include:

- Selling everything, building my own sailboat and traveling the seas for years on a very frugal budget (see this website for the story of a family of 6 who did just that... for 6 years!)
- Growing an all-inclusive garden, making my own bread, jams, soap, etc., raising hens and goats, in short, homesteading
- Writing a "roman-fleuve" (very long novel/saga)

Pick the right challenge, however, and you will be rewarded a hundredfold.

I have already talked, on this blog, of how I got rid of my shyness: once a day, for about six months, I forced myself to do something that generated social anxiety in me. Scary? Absolutely. But it effectively and completely dissolved the chains that were holding me back. I am so glad I took care of that while I was still young (early teens), because my life has been so much more enjoyable since then.

Getting rid of a heavy weight you're carrying, like shyness, is a huge gift to give yourself. Anything one can do to make one's life less miserable is worth all the effort: stop smoking/drinking/gambling, lose weight, leave an abusive partner, come out of the closet... none of this is a small feat, but in the long run the benefits exceed anything you could even begin to imagine.

Extending your arm and trying to get what you've been dreaming of is another type of a gift you can give yourself. You might feel paralyzed by fear, and that's normal. The fear of rejection (asking someone out on a date, applying for a new job/position, submitting your work for publication) and the fear of failure (registering for a sports event you've never done, trying a completely new activity), or simply the fear of the unknown (going on a trip in a foreign and distance place), are potent forces.

What's the worst thing that could happen? Maybe it won't work so well. But is that so bad? At least you'll know you did everything you could, and you'll be able to move on instead of ruminating endlessly! As they say: you'll never know if you don't try! So crush your fears down, and remember the wise words of Dale Carnegie: "If you have a worry problem, do these three things: 1. Ask yourself "What is the worst that can possibly happen?" 2. Prepare to accept it if you have to. 3. Then calmly proceed to improve on the worst."

Surprisingly enough, life is not always that cruel: you crush will not return your interest, but will be very nice and gentle about it, and you might even win a friendship. Your work won't be published (the world of publishing is ruthless to say the least!), but it will only motivate you to keep trying elsewhere. You will end up walking half of your marathon, but you will finish it and feel so pumped anyways!

And guess what... maybe it will work. Maybe you will be pleasantly surprised. The person you thought was way too hot for you will be interested. You will succeed at what you thought was a lost cause. Those things are commonplace! In the past I have applied for jobs I wasn't sure I was qualified for. Guess what? More than once, I did get the job (ex.: assistant-head coach for a university swim team). There would be so many examples of things I was sure I would fail at... yet worked like a charm (like obtaining my Beach Lifeguard certification). I'm sure you have examples as well!

No matter what the outcome is, if you focus on the fact that you gathered all your courage and took a plunge, the whole endeavour will leave you more confident, stronger, better equipped to tackle the next challenge in line!

The nice thing about fear is that if you confront it, you desensitize yourself, and what used to terrify you becomes unremarkable. The more you confront your fears, the more willing you are to confront other fears. Soon enough you discover that you're now doing things you never even dreamed of attempting a few months/years ago. And that's the best feeling in the world.

Make yourself uncomfortable. Do something you've never done. Take the plunge.