Thursday, September 21, 2006

Lost in translation

Published 9-21-06

Learning a second language requires a certain amount of discipline to be successful. My daughter likes her Spanish teacher. She had two years of Latin before starting 9th grade and finds Spanish much more enjoyable than doing the declensions that weighed down her studies with Latin. I guess I don’t blame her. There’s not much opportunity to converse in Latin, unless she’s talking to God at Mass on Sunday. What makes the Latin so helpful is that it is a root language and all the other romance languages spring forth from it. To hear is to listen. I can’t do either, which is why I only speak English. My Spanish would translate something like this, “Paco and Maria have a house on their birthday and it’s blue. Paco lives in a refrigerator. They are very happy.”

How to immerse Shannon in Spanish? She has some tapes, but then there’s always television. JD and I talked about the Spanish language television stations and agreed that the soap operas are a little too racy; thus she’d get more than just a language education from watching Spanish television. Overall, the fluidity with Spanish makes it one of the most enjoyable languages to speak and listen to. Sometimes I’ll click through the sports that are in Spanish and I’m mesmerized by the energy of the Spanish announcers; kind of like Marv Albert on 10 shots of espresso.

A prime example of being lost in translation is the year 1978, when Mom and Dad took us on one of those cross country RV trips that I always talk about. Dad met this German man in the campground at the Grand Canyon. Being polite, Dad extended a visit to the German man, should he ever “hypothetically” make it to California. We weren’t home two weeks when a knock came at the door. “Gunther” stayed on the couch at our house for three days. Dad’s two years of German from his days in the Army failed him miserably, and we had no ability to converse with our unexpected guest. My best friend next door was in a high school German class and he came over to translate for us. The first night went something like this: “When is your birthday?” “Can I borrow a pencil?”, and the really engaging conversation ice breaker, “What is your Mother’s name?” These three questions filled up about two minutes of the entire three days he lived with us, and for the next two days we stared at each other until he left. What a great memory. Dad never used his two years of German again.

Some other things just get lost in translation when the music is really loud. I was working at this pizza joint in San Francisco, while I was in college. The music was turned up a little, when I tried to take a customer’s order. It went something like this:

Me: “Hi, welcome to the Front Room. What can I get for you?”
Customer: “Do you have pickled herring?
What I heard: “Do you have difficult hearing?”
Me: “Ugh… sometimes…..”
Customer: “Do you have some now?”
Me: “I hope not!” “Can you speak up?”
Customer: “Huh?”
Me: “What?”

I hope Shannon masters her studies of Spanish. I look forward to her thoughtful and engaging conversations with my buddies at La Fiesta Taqueria in Folsom. Last time I tried it on one of the fellows there during the lunch rush, he thought I was taking an exercise class. Maybe I looked like I needed one. There’s a lot lost in translation.

Learning good Spanish will open all kinds of doors, plus it’s the next best step to learning Italian and of course she will need immersion to master Italian. That would mean bi-annual trips to Italy, visiting the relatives and seeing the countryside. She might need a chaperone to take her there. I will certainly volunteer to go. The sacrifices we parents make for the sake of our children. I’ll be sure to bring along my hearing aid.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at or on the web at

Thursday, September 07, 2006

So long American Idols

Published September 7, 2006

If you didn’t watch American Idol last season, forgive me for this little pop culture digression. We watched the television show last season and became hooked after the first episode of auditions, primarily because two girls from Sacramento were featured as contestants. As a family, it was one of the only shows we looked forward to every week. I must be losing my mind to admit this in print. On top of planting ourselves in front of the television to watch it last season, we forked over an enormous amount of money to see the American Idol Tour at Arco Arena last week. We had so much fun with the kids. I didn’t have to worry about foul language, drugs or booze. My daughter, Shannon, had a homemade,” We Love Taylor” sign that one of her friends made for her, which was really sweet. These family friends went with us to the concert, and they, of course, were witness to my bizarre over-40 dance techniques. Our son Conor danced through the whole concert. He loved Chris Daughtry. I guess we all did. Aw shucks.

Our youngest, Birdy does a pretty awesome impersonation of Ace Young singing “We Will Rock You”. It’s hilarious. Birdy is 9 years old. So you can see we are not talking about serious culture here. As an old broad, I quickly became a Taylor Hicks fan last season. His entrance at Arco was hysterical. He came out from under one of the upper bleachers and danced his little “Taylor dance” all the way to the stage singing the Doobie Brothers song “Takin’ it to the Streets”. The crowd was on their feet right along with him. Yeah, me too. What a geek.

Most memorable was Mandisa, opening the show in her hometown, telling the crowd that it wasn’t too long ago when she sat in the upper deck of Arco Arena watching Janet Jackson belt out her favorite songs. Mandisa’s voice, large and soulful, commanded the stage with her rendition of “I’m Every Woman”. It was far better to see her perform in person than on television. She mentioned that her mother was in the audience. I wondered what she was thinking seeing her daughter perform in front of a sold out crowd at Arco Arena. Must be surreal. When Paris Bennett sang “Midnight Train to Georgia”, I got up for a little boogie stretch. Lisa Tucker was in rare form with her tribute to Elton John on the keyboard along with her Jennifer Holiday piece “I am changing” that won her over to everyone on last season’s show. Her Mom was in the audience too. I guess all of the parents in the audience were proud of these kids.

One of my favorites from last season was Elliot Yamin, the young man whose mother followed him to Idol after a serious illness. This is the same lovable Elliot, who is deaf in one ear and a diabetic. Yep, that Elliot, who has a voice like Stevie Wonder and a face only his mother could love. We loved him too. I probably voted for him 100 times.

Bucky Covington looked like he was enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame. He interacted with the audience like a kid in a candy store. He took the show outside in the parking lot afterwards and made sure he met and greeted everyone who was willing to shake his hand. Kelly Pickler hugged everyone outside like a bride at a wedding reception. It was hilarious to watch all of us old folks with our kids waiting for them all to come out of the Arena to their motor coaches. Our kids met Kelly, Bucky, Kat and Taylor Hicks. Birdy will never forget when he touched her thumb. The kids talked about the concert all the way home. I was just happy our kids got to met celebrities who are real people, even if it’s all just a bunch of hooey.

In the meantime, we’ve shut off the television, to get back to school and to life. The time we spent with the American Idols last season reminded me of the days when I was a little girl and my whole family sat down to watch The Carol Burnett Show.

Photo of Taylor Hicks courtesy of Tami Esling- who had really good seats at the concert!!!!

“I’m so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh and sing a song. Seems we just get started and before you know it, comes the time we have to say “So Long”.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at familyfare@ or on the web at